Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

24 June 2015

On Happy-Sad Feelings and Memory in General

At the risk of having everyone jump down my throat, but with, perhaps, the goal in mind of some sort of identity with others who felt the same way I did, here are a couple of thoughts on Inside Out.

First, it strikes me as rather odd that internet list-makers and such evaluate Pixar movies vis-à-vis other Pixar movies. I do realize that there is a clear studio brand here, and that one can begin to chart a kind of shift when Pixar and Disney joined up together, but wouldn't it make a little more sense to evaluate, say, a Brad Bird movie against or alongside another Brad Bird movie, and then a Pete Docter movie alongside another Pete Docter movie? Why is the Pixar brand itself so often the overriding conceptual frame with which we evaluate these films? For the record (since I brought it up), Docter directed Inside Out, and Docter's previous films for Pixar as director have been Up and Monsters, Inc.

Inside Out is kinda smart about feelings. It powerfully charts the way that society demands that we all be happy all of the time, and how we also (at least a lot of us, a lot of the time) want to be happy all of the time. And the film teaches its audience that it is totally ok not to be happy all of the time, that sometimes you feel sad and that feeling sad is the best way to get through a real problem. Throwing happiness at a real issue or trying to push through and see the bright side of every thing is not always the best way to process that thing. Where Inside Out heads, to take it even further, is not just to a place that says that it's ok to be sad, but also to teach its audience that some of the best memories are both happy and sad, or are complex mixtures of a whole range of feelings. Experiences are not made up of simply one emotion.

If you're reading this and thinking Yeah I know, then you're reacting the way I reacted to the film. What Inside Out does well is make these things really clear for a teenage or adolescent audience, and I'm glad it did that. But I sort of understood the message way earlier than the film wanted me to understand the message.

I also just didn't understand the spatial elements inside the brain of the little girl. The film set up a whole set of rules for how the girl's brain worked, but I felt like it didn't really play by these rules. Where are we? How does an emotion get sent into a different area of the memory, anyway? If something is forgotten forever how, exactly, does one get out of that space of forgotten-forever? I was frustrated by all of this: this purse of core memories, all of the spatiality in which the movie was so invested. I just didn't get it.

The movie does some really great things, though. Inside Out tells us that as one gets older, memories that were once very happy become sad memories. And Inside Out illustrates beautifully what it is like to lose a personality when one is a teenager and has trouble making sense of one's own self.

Still, I couldn't help but feel like this abstracting of this emotional world (which was actually a concretizing of the emotional world), seemed unspecific and often generic. Happiness, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, Anger. That's all this movie thinks there is?