Inside Out Is The Epitome Of Great ArtPosted: June 20, 2015
I think it’s safe to say that the one absolute constant across all of humanity is our emotions. While we might have different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, cultures, finances, time periods or geographic locations from each other we are all unified by our emotions. That, to me, is what makes emotion such a crucial, essential ingredient to film, really to all art. If art is meant to bridge gaps and connect with the audience and enlighten us to our place in the world and our relationships with each other, then what could be more important to the success of a piece of art than the emotion it conveys? This is what makes Inside Out such a beautiful piece of art: not only does it dramatize those same emotions that every human being can understand, but it then connects with those same emotions in ourselves… and the results are truly wonderful.
While much of the emotional resonance of Inside Out stems from the major theme of the movie, it’s also worth noting all of the other amazing things Inside Out accomplishes. The visuals, unsurprisingly, are amazing as usual for Pixar. The way they conceptualize the human mind and all of the various aspects of it are inventive and funny and gorgeous, sometimes all at once, and the end result at times seems like pure visual poetry. And beyond the greater emotional catharsis the main story provides, there is also the arc of Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, who winds up as a beautifully tragic figure, enough for a film all his own. Plus there’s a nice amount of cathartic humor to liven things up throughout the movie, aided in no small part by the voice talents of Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Lewis Black as the Emotions Disgust, Fear and Anger respectively, and Richard Kind as the aforementioned Bing Bong. But, given this is a movie about emotion (coming from the director of Up no less) it should go without saying that the most impactful and universal aspects of Inside Out come from its emotional core and the themes that it explores.
The film is built primarily on the dynamic between Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and explores not just how they affect each other but how important they both are to all of us, as represented by Riley. Joy and Sadness are personified pretty much exactly how you expect: Joy is a bundle of unending energy and positivity, always looking for the bright side and always eager to take control, while Sadness is slow, quiet and somewhat depressing and constantly being shuttled off to the side. When you look at the already-sprawling collection of memories Riley has built up so far in her life, the vast majority of them are colored as Joy’s and hardly any belong to Sadness, reflecting the more positive outlook one tends to have as a kid. But, with Riley’s family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, Sadness begins to have a greater influence on Riley’s state of mind, much to Joy’s consternation. It’s in that frustration on the part of Joy that the emotional impact and thematic heft of Inside Out lives.
Early in the film, Riley’s mother asks Riley to try her best to stay positive and happy so her father won’t be even more stressed out than he already is. This is something Joy is more than happy to accommodate, and in trying to accomplish this she ostracizes Sadness even more than usual. But as the story progresses, Joy begins to realize that she can’t always be the solution to RIley’s problems; she’s always been dismissive about Sadness’ place at Headquarters, seeing her as a bummer that’s always dragging Riley down. What Joy (and by extension Riley and the rest of us) needs to realize is that sometimes you need Sadness to connect with other people when things are bad. Sometimes you need to be upset before you can be happy again, and sometimes being sad is what lets others know you need help. Joy thinks that Sadness needs to be pushed aside, just like Riley’s mom asked, but Inside Out argues that this is wrong. The film argues we shouldn’t suppress our sadness, nor should we respond to the sadness of others by expecting them to be happy again right away. Sadness, both the emotion and the personification of it here, is essential to who we are, and to shunt it aside and dismiss it is never a good thing.
I think we’ve all had times where we were expected to “suck it up” or “put on a brave face” rather than others having to help us with our own Sadness, and being reminded that it’s okay to be sad sometimes is not only touching but also an essential message to convey to an audience. This is the ultimate beauty of Inside Out: while the contextual window dressing might be specific in some way, the emotions on display and the catharsis to be had is something that I think everyone in the world can identify with and relate to. This is absolutely a film you need to see for yourself, as no written review can do justice to the emotional experience that this film provides, and that experience is one that everyone should take part in. Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen and the whole creative team on Inside Out have crafted a truly transcendent piece of cinema, one that should speak to every person that sees it in a very personal way. In doing that, I think Inside Out accomplishes the ultimate goal of art: it enlightens and connects people together. In that way, it’s the epitome of what art can be, and what higher praise can I give but that?