We go to the movies so rarely now, it was odd to choose an animated Pixar movie for our “date” on Dan’s day off this week. Inside Out was the best movie we’ve seen in a long time! What a wonderfully creative way to imagine emotions, memory, hardship and growing up, all inside the head of 11- year old, Riley. I loved the image of memories as colored balls – much like the ball pit in many fast food “playlands”. Each primary emotion is personified with a color and an attitude—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust along with an imaginary friend, Bing Bong.
“Sadness” seems to ruin everything and suck all the fun out of the room, but “Joy” learns that once Sadness is felt and expressed – healing begins. We discover that the real danger is not sadness, but apathy—feeling nothing at all. Far from ruining our memories, acknowledging and expressing our pain and melancholy in a good cry can help us begin again.
Continuing with this theme of entering into loss, another poignant moment if the film is when Joy and Bing Bong fall into the abyss of forgotten memories (this is below the realms of core memories, long-term memories, and the subconscious—I love the map of the mind this movie portrays!). After 2 valiant attempts to get back to the emotional headquarters to help Riley recover from a traumatic cross-country move, Bing Bong purposely falls out of their wagon-rocket so Joy can make it safely out. Leaving childhood comforts is a painful, but necessary stage in growing up. It reminds us of the Apostle Paul’s reflection in 1 Corinthians, 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
This scene also teaches us again what Scripture, religion, myths, stories and fairy tales have conveyed for centuries which we often resist with Herculean effort: that the way up is the way down. The way to healing and growth is achieved by going through pain, difficulty, loss, failure, and sacrifice. Much like Hercules going down to Hades to save his true love and become worthy to live among the gods, Cinderella disappearing and being lost before she’s found, Aslan, the Lion and true King of Narnia sacrificing himself to save Edward in The Chronicles of Narnia, and of course in Christian faith, where the death of Jesus is the only way to new life and eternal power, Riley must feel the depths of loss and let Bing Bong die in order to grow and experience new relationships in her young life.
Richard Rohr in his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life makes it clear that we usually don’t enter these stages of loss and renewal, death and new life, going down to go up, unless it is forced upon us by tragedy or circumstances of loss beyond our control. I suppose this is why a mentor of mine told me that 2/3 of adults don’t actually grow up; many remain stunted by refusing, for whatever reason, to not enter the emotional growth into which life’s difficulties invite us.
Watching this movie and inviting our “inside out” is a great way to continue the journey for us as adults, as well as children.