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  • Rukmini Ravishankar

Inside Out is a 2-Hour Psychology Class

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

Okay, I know you’ve probably heard this exact statement coming from film reviewers or Psychology students, and they’re also likelier to give you more factual and reliable information. I, on the other hand, am a rookie. I hardly know what I’m talking about. But I know that there were some key points across the span of the film that struck a chord somewhere. So, I went ahead and psychoanalysed myself. None of this technical. And this isn’t a film review either. I’m not doing that. No sane person would miss this film. Also, shame on me for watching it so late. I’m simply diving into new things that I learnt – about myself – from this film. I’ll try not to rant.

1. Different emotions develop over time.

First, it was just Joy. And there was only one way of expressing that single emotion – one single button in the control room. 33 seconds later, there was sadness. Although technically, real sadness develops a little later – when you have enough memories to feel sad about something. In other words, you feel sad when you first miss your parents (separation anxiety). And that only happens when you can remember their faces. Until then, it’s out of sight, out of mind. Notice how each memory was only one colour until the end? In my opinion, it takes a certain amount of emotional maturity to accept the fact that you can feel two different ways about any given incident.

Personally, I have been mad at my school and my schoolmates for the better part of my life. I was never truly happy there. I always felt out of place, and it was as if someone was constantly watching me and making me feel terrible about my every move. And that anger didn’t subside until very recently – when I realised that if not for how shitty my life was back in school, I wouldn’t have been half the person that I am today. So now, I am mad at them, but also grateful, in some way. And it took me more time than I care to admit, to understand that.


Exactly like it is in the movie. The fact that Joy wanted so badly to be in control of things in Riley’s head is a reflection of Riley’s relentless need to be happy about everything in life. She didn’t want to feel upset – she thought it was a bad thing to feel sad. It was only much later that, both Joy, and, as a result, Riley, understood that sadness is essential in building your personality. Speaking of…


2. My personality was built over my memories.

Riley remembers these moments in her life that changed her for good. Her first accidental hockey goal and subsequent celebration, the time she spent with Meg, the times she spent with her family behaving like a monkey, etc. In the movie, they call these her core memories – glass orbs, each powering a different island, each in turn, responsible for different aspects of her personality.


Although there’s no scientific term as “core memories”, it is conceivable that there are some key moments in life that define who I am. And sure, there are no islands in my brain. But these key moments are also instrumental in powering the different elements of my personality.


For example, one of the things I pride myself over is that I’m humble (yes, I see the irony, it was on purpose). The fact of the matter is that it’s not humility as much as it is a terribly low self-esteem. I think I talk about this a little too much with anyone who’s ready to listen. Maybe I should change that. Anyway, I won’t go into the details, but the low self-esteem comes from specific incidents in my life.


There are also several examples of how children grow up to be social awkward or introverted as a result of witnessing their parents’ divorce at an early stage of life. So, it makes sense to derive such a conclusion – key events in your life define your personality.


3. It is natural to want to run away when everything seems to be falling out of control.


When Joy and Sadness disappear with the core memories, Riley suddenly feels empty inside. It’s as if her entire personality has fallen apart, and there’s no emotion driving her forward. She needs sadness to figure out what’s wrong with her life, and she needs happiness to fix it. And when neither of those things are there, her other emotions go out of whack and do everything they can, to bring back a sense of normalcy. And the last she knew of normalcy was when she lived in Minnesota. So, she takes off. And it’s completely normal to feel that way.

I find that this point in the film symbolizes an emotional breakdown of sorts. And the few days that follow – when the other emotions are trying to drive her – are like a depressive episode. When Joy and Sadness return, Riley is finally able to cry and release everything she’s feeling on the inside – the much-needed catharsis. At this point, her emotions grow – they understand that there is so much more to Riley than any single one of them can comprehend. They no longer fight for control; they work in harmony – resulting in the multicoloured memories.



I feel like this specific thing happens in another dimension – time. The last trace of normalcy that Riley remembers was when she lived in Minnesota. So, the big change in that sense of normalcy was her moving to San Francisco – a spatial change. But for many people, that big change has nothing to do with space, and a lot more to do with one single significant event that throws things out of control. The best example I can think of is a sibling’s wedding. I am personally terrified of that date sometime in the future when my sister gets married. When such a time comes, I will not be able to run away, physically, to the last known trace of normalcy. So instead, I’d sink myself into memories from before that matrimonial boulder came and shattered my family, changing my life as I know it for good. But the concept of running away, or finding an escape, still remains the same.


I find it incredibly difficult to critique animated films. Each one of them conveys a message so perfectly and in such perfect humour. Inside Out proved to me that complex psychological principles explained with the help of cartoon figurines inside a cartoon person’s head can be so much more effective than the average live-action psychological thriller. And I love that.


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