Going with the (E)motions—a short review of Inside Out

Going with the (E)motions—a short review of Inside Out

Inside Out started playing in my local theatre the day I left for college. I treated the film as something I could put off watching (but who could pass off Pixar?) until an HD stream was available online. I was crying and laughing more frequently than any film I have ever seen. All of this is a testament to how the film plays with emotional cadences beautifully, a see-saw of humour and catharsis that propels the narrative forward effectively.  

Inside Out is Pixar’s 2015 five cents in the film world that did not go unnoticed. Critics such as Matt Zoller Seitz from RogerEbert.com called it “the kind of classic that lingers in the mind after you’ve seen it”, while Anthony Lane of the New Yorker states that “On the scale of inventiveness, ‘Inside Out’ will be hard to top this year.” Directed by Peter Docter with a voice cast comprised of big names such as Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling, Inside Out takes the viewer on a journey inside eleven year old Riley’s head as she moves from her comfortable suburban life in Minnesota to the big city of San Francisco. Her emotions, all named after what they are, pilot her memories, thoughts, and emotions, from a control center in her head. Her interactions with the people and world around her are very much piloted by the varying emotions responding to visual and tactile stimuli.

Colour plays a very large role in the visual representation of the abstract concept of emotion. Playing off traditional tropes in colour theory, each emotion is coloured to their traditional Western associations. Anger is red, disgust is green, sadness is blue, fear is purple, and happiness is yellow. It is also important to note that the character for happiness has blue hair—it is as if happiness cannot exist with sadness, just as light and dark coexist with each other. All the emotions also have genders. Anger and fear are male, while sadness, happiness, and disgust are female.

By why gendered emotions? YouTube channel SuperCarlinBrothers discusses a handful of popular explanations for the gendering. The first one discussed was the possibility of Riley’s bisexuality. However, this theory was contested, as this implies that there are only two genders (which is not true), and anyone who identifies as queer has the predominant characteristics of the gender they do not identify as (which is also not true). This theory also eliminates the possibility of gender fluidity and transgenderism. Hence, this theory was found to be not valid.

The second theory one discussed that she has not matured enough yet to have distinct, “rational” emotions, hence why the emotions themselves are not of a uniform gender. Hence, “male” and “female” are rather arbitrary assignments and are used more to describe the personality of the emotion rather than the human subject. Regardless of whether Disney made conscious decisions regarding the gender of Riley’s emotions, the movie remains enjoyable regardless.

Pixar continues to deliver animated films whose messages resonate with audiences of all ages. Children, elders, and everyone in between can take away something about the importance of both positive and negative emotion. However, the most profound realization you will have after watching the film is that you are, in fact, also Riley. Everybody is. Emotions are a tints in which your memories are coloured, affecting how your memories are recalled. In a society that often celebrates rationality over emotion, it’s refreshing to see that sometimes, it’s okay to be human again.

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