Full disclosure: At the age of 30, I sat with my wife in a movie theatre full of children this summer and openly wept for roughly 94 minutes straight while watching an animated 11 year old come to terms with her feelings in the movie ‘Inside Out’.
In what was possibly one of the most unique movies of all time, Pixar managed to tell the story not just of a young girl, but of human nature as a whole using anthropomorphic representations of joy, sadness, fear, disgust, and anger.
The film literally dives into the mind of a child as she comes to terms with the fact that her family has moved away from her hometown of Minnesota to settle down in San Francisco.
Although young Riley learns a lot throughout the course of the story, it’s the audience that is taught some of the most important lessons of all. Here are the top four…
1) Foster your “Islands of Personality”.
Within Riley’s (and every other character’s) mind resides various “Islands of Personality,” which represent her hobbies, personality traits, and passions. At the beginning of her journey, Riley has five Islands: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island.
Unfortunately, as she falls deeper and deeper into depression as the story plays out, these Islands don’t just shut down — they fall apart. As she moves away from her friends and her hometown of Minnesota, both Friendship and Hockey Island are the first to go. As she loses more and more of her identity while trying to make sense of her new life in San Francisco, her remaining Islands collapse, as well.
Without going too much into how the story plays out (don’t worry, it’s a Pixar movie, so you can be sure there’s a decently optimistic ending), the lesson here is obvious: It’s unfortunately very easy to lose a large part of who you are due to circumstances beyond your control. But there are always ways to recover your lost identity, and add to it in ways you never thought possible, too!
2) Don’t let Anger Take Control.
Throughout Riley’s life before the movie takes place, Joy has been in complete control of her every move. It’s only when the frustration of leaving behind everything she’s ever known hits her that Riley allows Anger to take the wheel.
When that happens, Riley begins acting erratically and irrationally, much to the surprise of her parents — and herself. Throughout the movie, Anger takes over at various times, causing Riley to act out in ways that she’s never done before. After her fits of rage end, she’s left confused as to why she even acted the way she did.
If that sounds familiar, it should. Everyone’s done it. We’re only human. But it’s important for all of us — animated or not — to recognize the warning signs when anger starts to control our actions, and remove ourselves from whatever situation we’re in, or employ a coping mechanism, before we do something we’ll end up regretting once we come back to our senses.
3) Emotions Are Complicated.
When Riley was younger, she experienced joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust independently of one another. If something bad happened to her, Sadness would take control and blind her to all other emotions. When she was happy, Joy let all the other emotions take a break.
But as she got older, she started to feel mixed emotions at certain points throughout the movie. Since Riley was still only 11, she had a tough time understanding why reminiscing about her former life in Minnesota made her feel happy and sad at the same time.
Many adults, myself included, struggle to understand this bittersweet, melancholy feeling that takes hold of us from time to time. But that’s all part of becoming a mature and stable individual: understanding how our emotions interact and connect with each other, and knowing not to let one emotion have too much control.
When we begin to understand just how complicated our emotional brain is, we can truly start to understand who we are as individuals.
4) All Emotions Serve A Purpose.
One of the main points the writers of Inside Out attempt to convey is that every emotion you feel is a part of who you are as a whole. All your joy, sadness, anger, and everything in between make you, you. Only after you recognize and accept this will you start to accept the less-than-optimal emotions you feel from time to time.
Sure, in a perfect world, and a perfect life, we’d experience nothing but joy every single moment of our lives. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and even the most content people in the world don’t live perfect lives.
Sometimes we need to be sad. Sometimes we need to let our anger show. Stifling these emotions only bottles them up bit by bit, which could eventually lead to catastrophe. Not only that, but when you let your negative emotions out once in a while, you end up learning something about yourself. Though it might not always be pleasant, it’s necessary in order to come to terms with the person you are, and the person you wish to become.