Fun and Insight with Disney/Pixar’s INSIDE OUT – a movie review and spiritual reflection

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Disney/Pixar’s INSIDE OUT is a joyous ride through Psychology 101 fitting for children of all ages.  Well, I’ll qualify that: 8 or older.  I think it is a little too complex for the Pre-School and Kindergarten set, although it is colorful to an eye-popping degree  The heart of the story concerns an 11 year old girl adjusting from a family move from Minnesota to San Francisco.   Encouraged to be the family’s “happy girl,” as an anchor for her parents’ anxieties, Riley has nowhere to go with her feelings of loss of place, friendships, school and those deeper ones evoked as she tries to renegotiate her relationship with her parents and her new surroundings.

Enter the film’s central conceit: Riley’s” Interior Self” is personified by characters representing primal feelings: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear.  Empowered by Riley’s parents and our cultural compulsions to be “Happy, Happy, Happy,” the effervescent Joy works overtime in limiting the impact of the others–all to Riley and her families’ detriment.  Sadness in particular demonstrates through heightened dramatic conflict a truth that Joy tries desperately never to acknowledge:  all feelings need to be acknowledged.  Meanwhile, audiences can enjoy the affirmation of our interior feelings being exposed along with all their associated thoughts and impulses in such a playful, conflicted arena as the human heart and brain.  I give INSIDE OUT an A + for originality, cleverness and success in accomplishing its noble goals.  Indeed, INSIDE OUT is a wonderful movie that will surely evoke laughter and tears most readily in most viewers.

As for the spiritual dimensions of the film, I invite you to consider the many ways psychology and spirituality intersect.  The tremendous benefits of psychology and the advances in the behavioral sciences notwithstanding, there are deep spiritual roots in the value of tears.  After all, the phrase “It’s alright to cry” didn’t have its origin in the 1960’s.   Jesus conveyed this 2,000 years ago in his admonition “Blessed are those who mourn.”  For those who take the scriptures beyond their face value (I hope we all do), it is clear Jesus is highlighting here far more than basic grieving of the death of our loved ones, important though that is.  Building on his Jewish heritage as recorded in the PSALMS, Jesus acknowledges the benefits of lament, complaint and frustration over all kinds of “deaths” – failures, tragedies, disappointments.  His statement makes evident that tears, in fact, are prayers.  Tears also are indications of healthy bodies and healthy relationships—two essential LIFE criteria!

To cry with and for others reflects the reality that we all belong to one race, one humanity.  When we cry with others, we may find gratitude in the fact that we have cultivated relationships of trust and that there are those with whom we can express ourselves freely. When trust brings forth a wellspring of tears, we have a little bit of heaven on earth, a deeper experience of God’s compassion for the human condition through one another.

When we cry alone we are in fact reverencing our bodies and the way God made us; tears shed in solitude invite us to embrace the outright loneliness that is a universal aspect of the human condition.  In the great paradox of being, even experiencing loneliness unites us to everyone on the planet.  To quote an ancient Native American proverb: “Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth and the great silence alone.”  Ironically, accepting our aloneness can bring us to a place where we are more humble and more compassionate in the company of others.  Loneliness is not alienation unless we make it so.  Being alone offers opportunity to encounter God Himself/Herself.

However and wherever we find release of our emotions through tears, we increase our ultimate capacity for JOY.  As we and/ or others acknowledge our hurts, fears, angers and all of their composite sadness without judging or dismissing them, Joy is in the offing.   “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of JOY.”  (Psalm 126: 5)  You will experience both watching INSIDE OUT.

To explore the film’s psychological dynamics further, read this excellent article in the NYTIMES SUNDAY REVIEW, July 3, 2015:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-inside-out.html?rref=opinion&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&pgtype=article

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