Inside Out: A Look Inside Our Skull

The consciously aware try to avoid contributing to social injustices and inequalities. They may even try to call out forms of discrimination or implications of a unfair categorizations. The perceptively curious of those who are already aware of present-day injustices may stop and consider what the future of social issues may entail. There must be, in our society today, generalized prejudices against groups whom we do not completely understand, and will one day gasp in horror at upon revisiting these unnoticed topics at a later date. Far too many adults in our society remain unmoved by the struggles of one of the most misunderstood groups. Luckily, Pixar has taken it upon itself to spread an important message to children with the release of their new film, Inside Out.

By no means am I claiming that this is a “perfect” film. If anything, this film still adheres to far too many outdated notions of sexist, white heteronormativity. One article in particular draws attention to aspects of the film that fail to reach the bar of progressivism in films, one that isn’t even set that high, by presenting the protagonist’s father as the family breadwinner and obsessing over sports, while the mother fantasizes about marrying another heroic Brazilian man. The writer of the article poignantly goes on to write, “How come Pixar can seamlessly perfect cinematic narrative but they can’t seem to wrap their heads around characters and families that don’t conform to patriarchal, heteonormative value systems?”

But this film does do a fantastic job of crafting a film around something we don’t talk enough about: mental illness. The movie’s protagonist, young Riley, has recently moved to San Francisco, much to her dismay. Throughout the course of the film, we see how she begins missing everything about her old life, leading to her eventual mental deterioration. The film makes great use of the storyline “inside Riley’s head” by mustering up five lovable and unique characters, appropriately named Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

By portraying these emotions as delightful characters, memories as mesmerizing orbs, and personality traits as islands, the audience is invited into the depths of one girl’s mind. The materialization of these mental components, Pixar takes a, pardon the word, unconscious jab at Descartes’ archaic notion of dualism, one that calls for the distinction between “mind stuff” and “physical stuff”, crudely put. Viewers are made aware of the “realness” of mental conditions through Pixar’s acknowledgement and presentation of mental features as physical entities. These are not necessary things that are necessary “in one’s control” or dismissively put, “just in your head”, as if the individual is, through their own agency, willing themselves to be burdened by a mental illness. One cannot simply “cheer up” in depression, or “stop worrying” through anxiety. These imaginative, animated creations represent real components of the brain, whether they be neurotransmitters, hormones, neurons, etc.

If audiences, presumably children and their respective guardians, watch the film, they will be able to see the direct link of the world inside Riley’s head to Riley’s own behavior, mindset, and overall personality. Choosing to construct supportive parental roles also served the important purpose of acknowledging and discussing mental illness instead of contributing to either the stigmatization or romanticization of mental illnesses.

All in all, Pixar’s Inside Out served as a great stepping stone in paving the way for the future of discourse surrounding mental illness. We are beginning to present younger generations with the stigma-smashing, scientifically literate youth our world so desperately needs. We are in the process of creating a world that understands those who have been demonized, jailed, beaten, tortured, exorcised, discriminated, and killed for something that is, at its core, out of their control.

This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine. 

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