As a huge Disney/Pixar fan and a lover of the brainy bits, I knew from the moment I saw the trailer I would be seeing Inside Out at the midnight release. As luck would have it, the movie was showing in my area a whole five hours before midnight, and it was everything and more than I could have hoped for.
There are a few movie staples every psychology student is exposed to. Good Will Hunting, What About Bob?, Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest… Like the general understanding of psychology itself, these movies mostly look at the fantastical and extreme examples of psychopathology. While analyzing the Tyler Durden and Hannibal Lector portrayal of mental illness on film is a modern and exciting application of psychological theory, most mental health issues are far less flashy, pronounced, or extravagant. It’s like A Few Good Men inspiring you to become a lawyer only to find that the vast majority of the work is paperwork rather than epic courtroom showdowns.
These movies are great fodder for discussing psychopathology, but are not great at promoting awareness or understanding of mental health topics. They generally do not create an atmosphere for discussing topics such as depression and anxiety which are often considered taboo or trivial. They do not help build a vocabulary for talking about complex emotions, much less neuropsychology or cognitive functioning. This is where Inside Out definitely shines.
At several points during the movie, I excitedly clutched my husband’s arm and exclaimed in hushed movie theater tones about how the characters were using real neuropsychological constructs. Long term memory. 5 of 6 of Ekman’s basic emotions (in fact, Ekman is named as a consultant in the credits). Emotion literally coloring the encoding of memories!
As a lover of skull meat, I was blown away by the artistic representation of the brain and its functions. Pixar drew beautifully on metaphors to showcase abstract concepts. One of my favorites was the “train of thought” train. When Joy, the protagonist, ventures into the subconscious, I nearly shrieked with, well, joy.
All of this and I haven’t even touched the story, which might be the best Pixar has ever told. Taking a step back from anthropomorphized neurotransmitters, Inside Out is about coming of age and the complex nature of human relationships. It’s about exploring how our relationships shape our personality. And, most important to me, it’s about the complexity of emotion and emotional experiences. My personal feelings aside, the greatest accomplishment of Inside Out is its ability to effortlessly create language, representation, and awareness surrounding human emotions and experience.
After the movie, I couldn’t contain my excitement. As I walked to my car, I posted this message to Twitter.
I have already seen several posts and blogs from people who have struggled with mental illness or know someone who have who connected with this movie in a very personal way. They felt heard, they felt understood, and most importantly they felt they had a way to convey thoughts and feelings that otherwise felt trapped within them.
Inside Out raised the bar and is the new standard for media portrayal of mental health issues.