I’ve always cried easily. Whether it’s been a bad grade on a math test, a relationship, or a life event, if I’m sad or upset or angry, my body’s first instinct is to cry. I’m still making my peace with this part of my personality. In today’s world, crying or expressing emotion is often seen as being weak. The respect seems to be more tied to the stiff upper lip and “faking it ‘till you make it”, both viable strategies.
The new Pixar/Disney movie Inside Out crafts a new narrative around Sadness and the importance of taking time to feel emotions.
Inside Out takes place in eleven-year-old girl Riley’s mind. When Riley is born, Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, is the only emotion in mind headquarters, and eventually Sadness (Phyllis Smiths), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) join as well. If for no other reason, you should absolutely see the movie for this all-star cast! Each emotion has a specific job. Joy of course keeps Riley happy, Anger is for when Riley feels strongly about something that’s unjust, Fear keeps Riley safe, and Disgust also keeps Riley safe, while keeping her standards high (read: she never lets Riley’s fashion choices suffer). Joy confesses that she doesn’t even know why Sadness is there.
Sadness certainly seems like the dead weight of the group. She basically mopes around, always is looking on the dark side, and often is unable to physically or emotionally move forward due to her sadness.
If you’re a fan of Parks and Recreation, you will love the character of Joy, who is not unlike Leslie Knope. She’s clearly the leader of the group, and is always trying to make the best of each possible situation. Joy takes an almost manic approach to making memories as joyful as possible, saying things like, “Another perfect day in the books”, which is a clear foreshadowing of what is to come.
At the beginning of the movie, Riley’s life seems completely idyllic (great family, friends, hobbies, etc.), until her parents move the family to San Francisco. The pizza has broccoli on it (which Disgust has already deemed an unacceptable food group), the family’s belongings have been lost in the move, and more importantly, Riley is homesick and doesn’t know how to express that to her family, who relies on her to be their “happy girl”, a dangerous narrative.
Sadness reaches out to literally touch some of Riley’s memories, they switch from being joyful to sad, and suddenly the emotions are on a mission through Riley’s mind to restore Riley’s memories and upbeat personality. It’s a hilarious and devastating mission, and I won’t ruin all the fun surprises and insights about memories that occur along the way. In the meantime, on the outside, Riley is not making friends at school, is defiant and rude to her parents, and at one point becomes completely numb to her situation, refusing to feel at all. That’s a pivotal part of the film, the moment when the emotions switchboard goes completely dark, and Riley is no longer accessing any of her emotions.
I know I can relate to “numbing out” when situations get too difficult, and I’m guessing that many of you can as well.
This is where Sadness, who has previously been of little to no help finally gets to step in. Another character they meet along the way (you’ll just have to watch to see who it is) is upset. While Joy urges him to move along completely and just look on the bright side of things, Sadness takes a moment to empathize with him, sit with him, and let him cry. After feeling Sadness, he’s ready to move on. That’s a game-changer for Joy, who is used to shying away from all negative emotions, constantly trying to find the next happy memory.
In the end, Riley must first get in touch with her Sadness in order to reconnect with her family and fully embrace her new life.
So often people are expected to play certain roles for others, meaning that their personalities are viewed as static. The problem with roles such as the “happy girl”, the person who has it all together, the rock of support, or the cheerleader, is that these roles don’t allow for any mixed emotions, which is impossible.
I believe that there is no such thing as a perfect day, or someone who is happy all of the time. All emotions are important, and it’s vital to express them rather than repressing them, numbing out, or always trying to move on right away. I’m so glad that Inside Out brings this subject to light in a hilarious, touching way.
How do we change the narrative on the validity of feeling and expressing sadness and other emotions? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.