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By Eric Mill, MFT

At first glance Pixar’s newest film Inside Out may appear to be another children’s movie with unique characters and the Disney/Pixar sparkle, but ask anyone who has seen it, grown up and child alike, and it’s clear that the movie hits a soft spot that is somewhat unexpected.

Inside Out braves the task of going into the human mind and exploring the relationships and roles among emotion, memory, personality and human relationships. Pixar takes on this daunting task, but with the support of UC Berkeley researchers, it hits the nail on the head.

While there are many aspects of the movie that are food for thought (and discussion), the most poignant may be the relationship between the main characters Sadness and Joy. Without giving away too many spoilers, the movie’s exposé on our society’s treatment of sadness is directly related to topics often visited in therapy. People often come to therapy because of their desire to eliminate or control sadness, among other feelings.

Inside Out Movie Joy Sadness

In Inside Out, as Joy delivers roles to the team of emotions on their first day at a new school, Joy draws a chalk circle and tells Sadness it is her job to “stay in that circle and don’t leave it.” As one might expect, with any good movie, Sadness has trouble staying in her circle and mayhem follows. This moment gives one pause, specifically when thinking about therapeutic work and the process of healing. How often do we find ourselves asking Sadness to stay right there in that circle, and not touch a thing?

Much like what happens in therapy, Pixar challenges the thought that Sadness’ role is to stay out of the way. Inside Out explores the role of Sadness and along the way Joy learns just how essential Sadness can be. The movie challenges its viewers to think about the following:

  • What ideas do I have about sadness and its role in my life?
  • What emotions do I put into chalk circles and ask to stay put?
  • What is the mayhem that follows when I do that?
  • What can a children’s movie teach me about how I treat emotions?

A $13 trip to the movies may provide some therapy on its own and Inside Out serves as wonderful guide to the therapeutic process. Just as Inside Out informs and challenges some long held beliefs about emotions and the roles they play in one’s life, therapy can be a tool for that same process. Of course, if 90 minutes with some heartfelt resolution isn’t resolution enough, that process can be continued in therapy, where these questions can be explored with a therapist.

Inside Out is more than a movie for just children and families, people of all ages can benefit from the message about emotions and relationships the movie provides.



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