Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
"Inside Out" and Maturity
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2015 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
I saw Inside Out last night on a date with my spouse.* I recommend that you see this film, and that you see it with someone you care about.
I stay through the credits when I watch movies, which means I saw Pixar crediting its consultant psychologists including Paul Ekman. (Ek is Hindi for "one" so whenever I see his name it feels like a trailer voiceover: One man...)
Leonard and I walked out of Inside Out wanting to know more about how accurate its metaphors for emotion and cognition are. I'd still like to know more, and look forward to more making-of commentary. A Fresh Air interview with the movie's director discusses how, for instance, memory realllllly doesn't work like that. But it's refreshing to think about the purpose of disgust, of anger, of fear, or of sadness, and I'm pleased that a mainstream Hollywood movie is telling people -- especially girls -- that each of these emotions has a legitimate role in our personalities and our lives.
Spoilers start here.
Sadness is the most interesting character in the film and I am still wrestling with understanding her, and I don't know whether that's a mark for or against this movie. Maybe the occlusion between me and her is in my own emotional blockage. Maybe Pixar couldn't quite get at the heroism of sadness. Maybe her very nature is one of empathy and relationship-building, one that does not make sense only as an aspect of interiority, so it's hard to demonstrate her powers and purpose in the confined set inside Riley's head. Maybe since Riley feels such pressure to be joyful and to perform joy, we rarely get to see Sadness's natural flow and ebb, and I need to see baselines as well as extremes to understand a system.
Leonard and I both think it's super-intriguing that Riley's mom evidently keeps Sadness in the driver's seat. What does that mean? How did that happen? Is this nature, nurture, other? The adults we see into seem to have emotions of all the same gender, which the director called "phony"; might Fear and Anger in Riley's head shift as her gender identity strengthens, or is this a hint that she's genderfluid? I am particularly interested in these nuances because I wonder whether they're in any way based on the science consultants' research.
When I was younger I wondered: what is maturity? What is the special skill or knowledge that you get from being older? In recent years I've begun to understand. Mindfulness meditation has helped me take a step back from the momentary caprices of mind. People I've loved have died, and I've achieved things I'm proud of and that will last; this too shall pass. Mel Chua's guidance gave me one lens, Dreyfus's model of skill acquisition; with more experience comes an entirely new way of seeing situations. And I've seen enough of lots of kinds of things -- people, elections, businesses, relationships, homes, jobs, cities... -- that I can pattern-match and predict outcomes better, and I can help people who haven't paid attention as long as I have.
...it's common to feel this way, and it's also common to feel more comfortable as time passes and you experiment with different strategies. To use Kathy Sierra's construction, these problems are typical and temporary. Quickly recognizing when you're in one of these failure modes and changing your habits will help you make the most of the opportunity you have before you. (Allison Kaptur, detailing four common failure modes of Recurse Center participants)
Inside Out is an entertaining movie, but it's also a primer in some emotional failure modes and how to recognize and stop them. I wish I could have seen it ten years ago. Maybe I should make a note to myself to watch it again ten years from now.
* For many years I've used "spouse" or "partner" much more often than "husband" because I didn't want to use the gendered terms until same-sex married people could use them too. Since June 26th that's less relevant in the US, but we don't yet have legal same-sex marriage worldwide. I also like de-emphasizing heteronormativity; it's more important for new acquaintances to know that I'm married than to know that I'm married to a man. So now it's a habit. I wonder whether I will ever try to change this habit.
10 Jul 2015, 14:13 p.m.
10 Jul 2015, 22:59 p.m.
Re (*): I'd like to think that gay rights movement has created a generation of people who refer to their spouses using gender-neutral words (originally as a political statement, then the habit stuck), and that this will be one of its long-lasting effects that will seem random and weird to future generations. Some day in the future, I imagine someone will wonder "why is this tendency so much more common among people born between approx 1975 and 1990?" and (hopefully) discover this historical reason. A more subtle version of http://theoatmeal.com/comics/gay_marriage , I suppose.
12 Jul 2015, 0:58 a.m.
John and I wondered the same about the sex of the adults' emotions. The "easy read" reason is valid, but I initially wondered if it had more to do with fluidity as a pre-pubescent.
Interesting. I found the treatment of Sadness very offputting -- it seemed to be that any sort of reflection or interiority or self-awareness was the sole domain of Sadness. Hence naturally the mother -- the only really reflective character -- has a committee headed by her Sadness. I wonder if it's the structural nature of the film industry to think that any time someone isn't speaking, it must be a sad moment.
(I also had different sexism issues with the film -- the standard comedy trope of all males being nitwits caught forever between obliviousness and panic -- but it seems rather meanspirited to call Hollywood on that given how much worse their usual alternative gender comedy approaches are.)<br/>