Monday, February 1, 2016

The War Within

One of the better animated features to come out of Pixar (parent company: Disney) in 2015 was Inside Out, now available on Netflix and DVD.

Plot: Young Riley tries to adjust to her new life when her parents, who have their own reasons to be stressed, move from Minnesota to San Francisco. We see personifications of five emotions (Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness) vying for control of the console in her brain. The part of her that is Joy struggles to dominate the controls, and in particular to sequester Sadness, but Sadness cannot be controlled so easily. Sadness starts touching core memories. When Joy tries to intervene, both get lost in the inner structure of Riley’s mind. In their absence from the command center, control is handed over Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Riley becomes surly and erratic, and her personality is damaged. Can Joy and Sadness find their way back?

The message, of course, is that we cannot repress any natural human feeling without consequences. We have to learn to integrate them all into our personalities. Accordingly, Inside Out is more thoughtful than most animated films, but since it is aimed primarily at kids – and be warned that it most definitely is aimed at kids – it is a simplified and sanitized version of the real internal war inside each of us.

Moving beyond Disney for a moment, it is a curious development that perceptions of the human psyche among so-called intellectuals are more apt to be shallower today than they were a century ago. They tend today to be thoroughly politicized, and there are few better ways to drain a subject of real significance. The insights of Nietzsche and Freud are tossed aside whenever they offend political correctness, which they do at every turn. (Camille Paglia adds the Marquis de Sade to those two as another key philosopher; having read the bulk of his surviving work, I see her point, but I’m not quite ready to pay homage to a practicing… well… sadist.) Lately we even have re-invented thoughtcrime, from which Fred and Sig had done so much to free us by acknowledging both the arbitrary origins of morality and the predatory aspects of our underlying natures. There are no thoughtcrimes, only crimes of action. Nietzsche: “I laugh at those who think themselves good because they have no claws.” The fact that we can be predatory (and are aware of the fun in it) doesn’t mean we have to be; the capacity is what makes refraining from using it noble. In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud explicitly argued that thwarting the death instinct’s destructiveness was necessarily a cause of individual unhappiness but was the worthwhile price of civilization.

A version of Inside Out that featured a Freudian struggle between the libido (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos), among other motivations, might make an interesting flick, though it surely would not be for kids. Strangely, one film series that does include primary characters with complex personal motivations is Star Wars despite the simplistic Manichaean universe which they inhabit, but that is a matter for another blog: perhaps a matter for someone else’s blog.

So, given the age range for which it is intended, I’m still giving Inside Out a Thumbs Up.

Theory of a Deadman – World War Me


  1. I haven't seen Inside Out yet though it's in the queue. I watched Aladdin for the first time the other day. I think I was a bit turned off by Robin William's manic performance, as it can wear me down a bit. However, it was a pretty fun film and I enjoyed it. Some films strike me that way though, I sometimes have to be in the mood for them to work properly.

    Speaking of Eros/Thanatos, I saw an episode on the ID channel about a woman with a high IQ killing her husband, and trying to pull off the perfect crime by seducing the next door neighbor's boy into the plot hoping to blame it on him, and then killing him as well to make it look like a suicide. It didn't work, though could have come close if it weren't for such good forensic science these days.

    1. Criminal detectives know all too well that not just outright psychopaths commit murder and other heinous crimes: apparently normal people can “go a little mad sometimes” (to steal a line from Norman Bates) with the right motivation, though unlike psychopaths they don’t make it a hobby. It surprises me that there isn’t more discussion of the psychosexual roots of violent political and religious extremism as well; there was a lot of such analysis during the rise of fascism, and appropriately so.

  2. I really liked "Inside Out" too. Amazing visuals and so creatively executed. I especially enjoyed the scene at the dinner table where we got to see the emotional aspects of the mother, father and Riley and how they all impacted the approach to the conversation.

    It was pretty interesting to watch the film with my wife (who was once told she didn't smile nearly enough at her retail job). She was getting really mad at Joy's constant suppression of Sadness. When Joy failed in her attempt to get back to headquarters and lost another island my wife cheered and yelled, "Suck it JOY!" This cracked me up, because my wife has always had little time for overly cheerful people.

    Meanwhile I have to admit that fear is probably my primary emotion running in my mind. Oh joy hangs out quite a bit, but even now fear is telling me that I'm writing too much and should just stop before I say too much. :)

    And yeah Michael Giacchino provided a fun score to the movie. I love that his jazzy score went all experimental when they entered the Abstract Thought zone.

    1. Ernest Becker ("Denial of Death") credited fear of death (often disguised as other fears) as the prime human motivator. I guess we know who was at the console in his brain.

      Maybe the Joker should have gone into retail. He missed his calling.