With Inside Out Pixar has done it again: Carsten Lohan

Few can deny that the producers at Pixar are capable of taking moviegoers on an emotional journey. Of the 15 Pixar films in the past 20 years, I can’t think of one that didn’t invoke several strong emotions, or a pull on my own heartstrings. They started two decades ago with Buzz and Woody in Toy Story, graduating to Nemo, WALL-E, Lightning McQueen, and most recently Riley of Inside Out.   The producers at Pixar certainly understand how to play to the audience’s emotions. Yet, Inside Out was different. The film was about emotions, and how they affected Riley in her tumultuous year that was compressed into 90 minutes. See, Inside Out was the first Pixar Film to make me think about what I was feeling as I was watching the movie. I cried when Bing Bong sacrificed himself so Joy could escape the abyss of the Memory Dump – but why was I crying? Was I crying because Pixar wanted me to cry, or simply because for a few moments I was transported to a more juvenile state where I could express my emotions freely? A week has passed since I saw the film, and I think I have finally realized why I was crying. The tears were the product of fear – a fear of forgetting those memories that I cherish, but are constantly being overwritten by newer memories. Perhaps this stems from a now deceased grandmother who had Alzheimer’s, and would constantly confuse me with my uncles, or worse, not even remember me at all. It was annoying at first, then terrifying, to have all these memories abandoned, forgotten and wiped. The visual depiction in the film was a strong one of bowling ball shaped ‘memories’ darkening and finally turning into dust. I could imagine this happening in the chasms of my own brain at an increasing rate – and the fear that comes along with it.

This realization brought about an internal dialogue on the differences between fear and anxiety. Was it anxiety or fear that drove my thoughts? There is a distinct difference, of fear being an emotional response to an implicit danger, and anxiety being the threat of a perceived danger. This I knew, but I believe the line between the two is not so sharp as some would like to believe. I will try to navigate the divide between fear and anxiety, however Inside Out allowed me to recognize the importance of all emotions – Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger.

Inside Out: Khaoula Ben

As an older sister to a 7 and 12 year old, I am extremely familiar with animated movies, particularly those well loved Pixar and Disney films our society holds so dear. Last weekend, along with about two dozen other college students, I sat through (and enjoyed) Cinestudio’s showing of Inside Out and Professor Helt’s interpretation and analysis of the film.

The movie allows one a glimpse into the mind of a young girl and five of her six core emotions, Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust, each in the form of a humanoid, three dimensional character “living” in her brain (with the final, non-personified emotion being surprise). Simply put, core emotions are those that are expressed universally, with culturally specific characteristics, with neurons firing, resulting in distinct, shared facial or audible reactions (Ekman). For example, any surprised person is likely to jump, gasp, and make a startled face, recognizable even in photos. In the movie, one is allowed the chance to directly visualize Riley’s exact feelings at a given moment through the actions of core emotions, which play bigger roles than most of the other characters. In reality, however, one cannot look into another person’s mind to ascertain their thoughts and must instead ascertain them otherwise, often using facial expressions to make such judgments. In the late 1970’s, researchers Ekman and Friesen came up with the Facial Action Coding System, which, as evidenced by the name, is the only method by which particular facial movements are scored. These recorded movements were then studied to come up with inferences directly relating to emotion and emotional expression. What they found was that all emotions, while they may or may not have a variety of sounds or actions associated with them, all have a distinct facial expression or set of facial muscle movements (Ekman). Your expression, therefore, is truly the most important indicator of how you feel at a given time.

Young Riley spend most of her life influenced by Joy, spending her time ice skating and having fun with her family and friends. However, as she turns 11, she hits the point in her life when such perpetual happiness no longer applies to such a degree, as is common at that time of pre-pubescence and end of childhood (Keltner and Ekman, 2015). Instead, the other core emotions begin scramble for control, to such extremes, that the young character experiences a numbness and emotionless dip mirroring that of depression.

Professor Helt claims that, just as in the movie, we all do tend to have a primary or dominant core emotions, though probably not the over-simplified degree expressed by the characters. For example, at the very beginning of the movie, Riley’s dominant emotion was joy, while her father’s was anger and her mother’s sadness. In reality, most people would also identify with a single emotion, as well, with the majority claiming joy to be theirs. Life changes, like Riley’s family’s move, can result in a sudden shift in emotional stability, sometimes even altering which core emotion dominates the conscious.

Riley’s emotional evolution is heavily based on an increase of Sadness’s influence, rather than simply a drop in Joy’s. It’s not as though a switch flicks in Riley’s mind and she’s automatically painfully desolate; rather, a series of unlucky and unforeseen losses allow Sadness to take control, in minute measures. However, both Professor Helt and Keltner and Ekman’s article agree that the movie’s portrayal of this Sadenss is somewhat inaccurate as the character’s depiction is a little too extreme, with features such as sluggishness and extreme pessimism mirroring attributes more akin to depression. Regardless of how it’s portrayed, the movie’s message is clear; the expression of sadness is necessary and can lead to happiness eventually, once the emotion has been properly processed.

After all, a single emotion is not enough for a functional, realistic life; they must all be felt for one to be considered “healthy.” This validation of sadness as a natural emotion and precursor to happiness, however, isn’t exactly reinforced by our society, which supports false optimism far more, leading to people feeling the need to apologize for sadness and thus numb themselves to avoid expressing or even feeling it at all. However, numbing negativity also numbs happiness, which as seen in Riely’s case, leads to a squelching of emotions and plummet into depression, where emotions have less of an effect and one can slowly lose interest in the things they love, resulting in a single dimensional personality. Though it seems counterintuitive, the happiest people are those who allow themselves to feel every emotion, including the difficult ones.

Emotions are the basis for people’s personality, memories, and the general autonomic expression. They are all equally important to ensuring an individual’s mental health and stability, regardless of whether they are considered to be “positive” or “negative” emotions.


Inside Out: Jonah Meltzer

“Happiness is a choice”. It’s a phrase that mom and dad would utter again and again as I toiled through my angst filled years. But did I really have a choice? Was it up to me? For Riley, the protagonist of the film Inside Out, the delegation of emotion was far beyond her control. In fact, the catalyst for Riley’s emotions comes from Joy, the physical representation of the emotion happiness. The people who inhabit Riley’s brain and control her emotions and memories are the characters: Anger, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Joy. These characters emulate the emotion that their names would suggest, and with Joy at the helm, the team does their best to guide Riley through life.

So, was it up to me? Was it up to Riley? Do we really have complete control over our own emotions? As professor Molly Helt, and others, would explain during the discussion that followed the film, the answer is not quite black and white. Through the pioneering work of Dr. Paul Ekman and many others it has been found that our emotions, which are largely defined by our facial expressions, provide the basis for our perception of the world. For example, if we are angry we are most likely to nitpick and find qualms with any incoming situation. Conversely, if we are happy we are more likely to find the upside in our life. However, emotions do not only affect our perception and interpretation of our surroundings. Ones interpretations of memories can be largely based off the emotions that you feel while you are recalling the events.

At its core the film centers around Riley’s struggle with her transition to a new city. She fights her way through her first days of school, her first hockey tryouts, and the loss of old friends. All the while Riley feels immense pressure to keep her head up, adapt, and enjoy her new home. However, all Riley wants to do is go home. She pressures herself to make the choice to be happy, even though straying from her emotions worsens her situation. It is not until Riley embraces her underlying sadness that she is able to start her progress towards happiness. The film stresses the importance of how our emotions, especially sadness, hold the key to moving towards something better, something positive. Ultimately, it is Riley’s sadness that brings her the greatest joy.

Inside Out: Chloe White

Throughout the movie Inside Out, five out six of the commonly accepted universal
emotions are personified within the brain of a little girl, Riley. These five emotions are Joy,
Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Fear (the 6th emotion that was left out was Surprise). In Riley’s brain, the emotion that often seems to control her life is Joy. When we get a quick glimpse inside of the brain of Riley’s mother, it appears that Sadness is her main emotion. For Riley’s father, it’s Anger. Until our discussion after the movie, I didn’t think much of this detail- it seemed to me that the directors of the movie were just trying to mix up the characters so they weren’t all the same. However, during our discussion I learned that for a lot of people, there is one emotion that dominates them. The more I thought about this, the more sense it made. There are clearly people who get angry easier and more often than others, as well as people who seem overly cautious or who become disgusted easily. I believe that if I had a control board in my head similar to the one in the movie, Joy would be dominating it. When we discussed the dominant emotions of the parents, another interesting detail came up: as they age, women’s dominant emotion often becomes sadness, and males often become anger. When thinking about this detail while looking
at Riley’s life, the character Sadness definitely inherited a larger role as the movie progressed. While Joy seemed to run most of Riley’s childhood, she and Sadness started running Riley’s adolescent years together. If Disney and Pixar created another Inside Out movie about Riley as an older woman, would we see that her dominant emotion had completely turned to Sadness? Although there were a lot of small details throughout the movie that resonated true to me, I can only hope that this is not one of them. Although it can be easy to lose some of the fun-loving qualities of the childhood years that Joy brought to Riley, I refuse to give her up as my dominant emotion.

The Neuroscience of Inside Out: Tommy Hum-Hyder

The story of Inside Out follows Riley and her family as they move their hometown in Minnesota to San Francisco. The Disney/Pixar animated movie follows five core emotions, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and, Sadness. As we follow Riley throughout her move, we become acquainted with each basic emotion and experience the complexities of emotions that Riley feels as a result of her move.

The beginning of the movie is largely dominated with Joy dictating most of the ‘controls’ in Riley’s command center. Joy prided herself on the four core memories that Riley has experienced, each of which was surrounded on a particular theme. These themes were family, trust, friendship, and hockey. These core memories focusing around times when Riley experienced immense joy, were on special display within the control center, which the movie portrayed as something akin to a marble. In the movie, memories were obtained through these marbles coming into the control center with a particular color: yellow denoting happiness, red – anger, green – disgust etc. For much of the movie, Riley’s memories were a single color – all memories were entirely dictated by one emotion. What I most enjoyed about Inside Out was the “long-term storage” area within Riley’s brain along with the commentary of the consolidation or removed of old memories. The movie accurately represented the ways in which memories are held within our brains. There are certain memories, referred to as flashbulb memories, which I found relevant to the movie’s usage of core memories. A flashbulb memory can be thought of a memory that is remembered very vividly or one that has significant emotional significance. Although most flashbulb memories are thought of with respect to negative feelings, it is possible to have positive flashbulb memories. Further, as Joy and Sadness were exploring Riley’s long term storage area, they stumbled across characters whose job was to dispose of memories that had lost their color, which signified that they were no longer memories that Riley had placed salience on. In many respects, this is accurate to our current understanding of the acquisition and holding of certain memories. We tend to hold on to memories with emotional significant or memories that we may need to recall, such as a birthday; whereas less important memories, such as someone’s telephone number, can be a memory for which salience can be easily lost.

As the movie concluded and the difficulties that Riley dealt with as a result of her move, we began to see a more mature Joy and Riley. Joy was able to learn that there is no scale for happiness without sadness and that a more complete individual is one who can appreciate the highs but power through the lows. Inside Out was able to beautifully capture not only the coming of age story or Riley but also the inherent struggles that we all go through in our lives, when we realize that the core memories that Joy had always thought were pure happiness was actually the result of another extreme emotion.

Inside Out: Amina Kureshi

After having seen Inside Out, I would say that my experience was not as expected. Though the movie tugs at the heat-strings, it was not particularly satisfying. Riley went through a lot of changes in this movie, and in a way progressed and matured emotionally in the span of two hours. But I still felt that she had not learned much by the end of the movie. Riley’s personified emotions learned that Sadness can bring back your emotions when you have gone emotionless, but does Riley know that? What would prevent her from becoming emotionless if another major change happens in her life? What was most frustrating was that we hardly heard Riley’s own thoughts and reflections, as they were reflected from the point of view of her personified emotions. I feel the movie could have benefitted by an ‘inner voice’ where we can hear what Riley is thinking throughout the movie, and then see how her way of thinking and decision-making changes from the beginning of the film to the end.

Furthermore, I took issue with Joy (as I feel I was supposed to). She essentially acts as a bully to Sadness and belittles her through majority of the film. Meanwhile, she is revered as the hero by all the other emotions. Perhaps Joy represents our culture of never revealing our sadness to others. Just as Sandness seems friend-less in the film, we consider sadness as an emotion experienced in solitude. Meanwhile, happiness or joy is most often experienced in the company of others. The main example of this is Riley’s memory of the day her teammates surrounded her to cheer her up after a hockey game. We see Riley alone, and the memory is blue, indicating sadness, then when others come in to the picture to cheer her up, she becomes happy. It’s no coincidence that sadness and loneliness go hand in hand. In sharing our true emotion with others, we can deal with and address negative feelings such as Sadness. Perhaps the reason why Joy has a somewhat dislikable character is to show the adult audience how absurd it is to constantly maintain an outward appearance of happiness. We all have a full range of emotion, but by hiding our sadness from others, it cannot be properly addressed.

Another small issue I took with the film is that Riley got a completely new personality (personality islands) over the course of a day. If anything, her personality islands would be in a constant state of renovation, so that at any point, “Silliness Island” is in the process of becoming “A Good Sense of Humor” island, and so-on. Furthermore, the subconscious should have contained many many memories of her parents, as I feel that a lot of who we are at our core is shaped by our experiences as children (just like subconscious fears). In fact, the personality islands and the bridges that lead to them should be made of her memories. The memories do not sit around living out their shelf-life until they get recycled; they are used to change her brain and therefore personality. We are, in most part, who we were and what we have experienced.

An interesting avenue to explore within the world of Inside Out would be the role of touch. Good touch and bad touch seem to have a huge impact on our memory. For example, Riley’s immediate family always interact with her with ‘good touch’ and I think that facilities their feeling of familial love and closeness. Riley would likely react in a very negative way if her parents suddenly stopped with the good-night kisses, but otherwise kept interacting with her in the same way. We were able to experience what Riley was seeing and hearing, but touch is a major sense that cannot be overlooked when it comes to certain memories.

Overall I think is a good movie for children. Not only will it hopefully spark their interest in Neuroscience, but it will help them better understand their own emotions and hopefully shows them the importance of sharing their emotions, both the positive emotions and especially the negative ones.


BIAC Internship: Week 2

This week began with a meeting about my role as the temporary Events Coordinator.  The executive director of BIAC and I sat down for about an hour and a half to discuss the Walk for Thought in its entirety, namely T-shirts and sizes, table and chair rentals, FirstGiving management, and donorperfect utilization so that I can contact former sponsors and ask them to sponsor the event again.

Sponsorship probably doesn’t require an explanation, but I found it interesting, so I’ll explain a little about it.

When a company sponsors the Walk, they can choose which level of sponsorship.  For example: the top sponsors are the Diamond sponsors, and they receive specific perks for donating their specific amount ($5,000 or more).  Their company gets their logo in the program and on the Walk T-shirt as well as a booth for exhibition and their name and logo on our website for a few months.  Gold sponsors, Elite sponsors, Silver sponsors, and Bronze sponsors all receive perks as well, though they receive fewer perks because they are donating less money.

As previously mentioned, one of my other responsibilities as the Events Coordinator has been to contact former donors and ask them to renew their sponsorship with us for the upcoming Walk for Thought.  It can be tedious because of the specifics I need to mention.  I haven’t received any replies to my emails yet, though, but I will update on that later.

Otherwise, BIAC has been great.  On a less-important note, I am trying to figure out a food truck for the Walk since the one we usually use is not available on November 1st.  I also will look into coordinating volunteers and two photographers.

BIAC Internship: Week 1

My first week interning at the Brain Injury Alliance of Connecticut proved to be what I expected: fast-paced and informative.  I was introduced to the staff I did not already know, shown around the office, and then I directly began working to organize the 11th annual Walk for Thought.

One of the great things about working with BIAC so far has been their attitude.  As opposed to previous internships, I feel that the work I do is valuable and necessary to BIAC’s well-being.  They have trusted me solely with the organization of one of their biggest fundraising events of the year, and I cannot be more grateful for that.

In the first two days there were quite a few small tasks to accomplish.  I spent the majority of those days in the office sending emails and making phone calls to past volunteers and participants to see if they would volunteer their time again.  Examples: calling Rentschler Field to set up a site visit, contacting various vendors to get their availability, and seeing if local fraternities and sororities are interested in volunteering to fulfill their community service requirements.  I found it especially helpful to make a list of important dates, as part of my responsibilities include scheduling meetings with companies we have purchased Walk items from and managing the FirstGiving website (i.e. closing early bird registration).

On Tuesday, Julie and I will sit down and go over what I have done so far and figure out some answers to a few questions I have regarding contact information for certain volunteers and scheduling.  This week I am also scheduled to meet with the company from which we order T-shirts to decide on colors and pricing.