Turning the Mind Inside Out


“There are emotions we have all shared: joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness. Ever wonder where all those emotions really live?” This is how Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures introduced Inside Out (2015) movie, which delves deeply into brain science. It takes the audience onto a journey inside the mind, exploring the ups and downs of human experience, bringing our emotions to life in a comedic-dramatic adventure.

Inside Out focuses on the emotional turmoil of a cheerful eleven-year-old girl, Riley, whose life turns upside-down by moving with her family to another city; thus, getting separated from her friends, the places, things, activities, and memories she loved. The emotions are personified in the interplay of five main characters residing in Riley’s mind—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—who manoeuver her through everyday life.

The emotions, led by Joy since Riley’s birth and throughout her childhood, try to help her overcome that life-changing event; however, Sadness comes to the forefront as the depression of the relocation increases. The emotions conflict to adjust Riley to the new life, when Joy and Sadness, unintentionally, get swept away from Riley’s mind into a wider world of her emotional interior, leaving only Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

The team of the movie consulted psychologists and other experts in order to make the way Riley’s mind works scientifically accurate, making sense of the emotional turmoil. “The film takes place in the mind, not the brain” says Pete Docter, the Director. “We were very specific from the get-go. We did not want blood vessels and dendrites. The mind is metaphorical. We imagined our thought processes, memories, feelings” he added.

While watching the movie, one starts to explore situations and feelings experienced before; one understands how growing up is difficult, and starts to accept the feelings of sadness. Children learn about the transition from childhood to preteen and early teen years, to feel that it is normal and to deal with their emotions towards losing their childhood. In that sense, by the end of the movie the audience witnesses the arousal of nostalgia, which is a combination of the two main emotions, Joy and Sadness; we learn that nostalgia is important to understand who we are.

Resembling such scientific details in the movie helps kids understand their emotions and how they become in control of their actions and behaviors, to help build their self-awareness about what they feel and how they could act. Nevertheless, the parents must understand this connection to learn how to handle difficult child behavior.

The movie also encourages parents to help their children build their emotion vocabulary and communications skills at the same time. Children need to identify the different types of emotions and use their own words to describe their feelings. They also need to learn how to communicate these emotions to others appropriately, to learn to manage their emotions in a productive way, and to know that negative emotions are normal as their positive ones.

Moreover, the struggle between Joy and Sadness to prevent Riley’s core memories from being deleted shows how our memories are formed. The fact that short-term memories in Riley’s mind are made during the day, turning into long-term memories during her sleep, was cleverly presented in the movie.

Physiology, on the other hand, was also taken as a reference in the movie as noted by Daniel Holland, the Art Director. “We were inspired by shapes—the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, cells under a microscope. Everything was heavily caricatured, but we wanted to start from somewhere that made sense” he says.

Inside Out portrays Riley’s mind terrain formed of brightly colored floating islands dedicated to her interests, an imagination land, and a train of thoughts. In her mind, Riley’s experiences are also transformed into objects, and there are guards protecting her subconscious. Offering a visual tour inside the mind and emotional interior helps the audience visualize how the brain actually works. The designers brilliantly also resembled the folds of the cerebral cortex, which plays a key role in memory, by making the shelves of the long-term memory curve and bend.

The beauty of animation movies lies in being part of our lives. Complete generations have been raised on such movies, which have formed our subconscious and built our personalities. Filmmakers do not fear to surpass logic and portray truly heavy scientific content to all ages in the most attractive manner. Similarly, Inside Out portrays how our emotions govern our behaviors, color our past, and shape our future in a magical way, no matter whether to children or adults.



*This article was published in SCIplanet printed magazine, Autumn 2017 Issue.

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