For quite a while, I had been hearing nothing but good things about Inside Out, and while the movie is by no means perfect, it was pretty damn good. One of the reasons I like this movie so much is because it has one of the most accurate portrayals of depression that I have ever seen. And not only does Inside Out portray depression realistically, it also presents it in a way that’s easy to understand.
Major spoilers after the jump.
Depression is a serious medical illness that is both mental and physical. It is a mood disorder, and there are numerous types—clinical, major, chronic, so on and so forth. I don’t know nearly as much about depression as I should, so I can’t say for certain exactly what type of depression Riley is suffering from. I also don’t think that Inside Out planned specifically to talk about depression—the movie is more about exploring the importance of different emotions and letting us know that negative feelings serve a purpose and are not always bad. Nevertheless, the movie still presents us with a character going through something that depression sufferers can relate to.
People with depression will go through low moods where they lack self-esteem, energy, motivation, or even the will to live. These low moods can last for quite a while and have a devastating impact on a sufferer’s life. It can feel as though their personalities and what makes them themselves are crumbling away—after a while, a sufferer can even forget what it’s like to feel happiness. And, just like other mental disorders, depression is not a choice that people can just will away with positive thoughts. This is something that we can see clearly in Inside Out.
In the world of Inside Out, every person has five personified emotions living inside them—Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust—and these emotions are responsible for driving a person through life and balancing how someone feels at any given moment. They are also responsible for helping their person create memories, and some memories become cornerstones—or “islands”—to a person’s personality. These memories are called core memories. Unfortunately for our character Riley, she falls into a depressive state early on in the movie, and like someone suffering from depression, she doesn’t have positive thoughts to fall back on when her life starts going downhill. Due to an accident at her control tower, Joy and Sadness get whisked away to her long-term memory, and while they are gone, they can’t affect Riley’s moods. Even more unfortunate, all of Riley’s core memories, the things that her personality is based on, are lost as well.
Due to Joy and Sadness’s absence, Riley loses her ability to feel either happy or sad. Instead, she is left only with negative emotions—Anger, Fear, and Disgust—and nothing to counteract them. No matter how hard these emotions try, Riley cannot make herself happy, and she begins to lose herself. She gets mad at her friends and family, things that she used to love only make her frustrated, and in an attempt to right everything, her remaining emotions inspire her to make the really awful decision to run away from home. They are trying desperately to make her happy again, and since Joy is gone, the only solution they can think of is for Riley to go back to Minnesota, where all her original core memories were made. While we in the audience can clearly see that this will not solve the problem—whether or not Riley’s in Minnesota, Joy is still gone—her other emotions are not thinking straight. They see there’s a problem, and they do the only thing they think will fix it.
Without her core memories, the islands of Riley’s personality begin to crumble and disappear. As the movie nears its climax, all of Riley’s personality islands have been destroyed, and the control interface loses all power. Riley becomes completely shut off from her own emotions, even the ones still inside her control tower.
When Joy and Sadness finally get back to the tower, Joy also can’t right everything that’s gone wrong, and instead Sadness has to take over. Sadness is able to bring power back to the interface and then she and Joy work together to figure out how Riley needs to heal. Riley then gains her first new core memory during a heartfelt moment with her parents.
What really struck me about the ending of this movie were Riley’s new personality islands. Though Joy and Sadness manage to save Riley’s original core memories, they no longer form islands for Riley’s personality. Instead, Riley has to recover by building up new islands with new core memories. So while the movie has a happy ending, Riley unfortunately loses a significant part of herself in the process. She will never get those old islands back. They’re gone forever. So while Riley’s emotions eventually right themselves, her relationship with her parents and friends and to her hobbies and interests are changed.
As I said earlier, what I find so great about this movie is how it deals with depression. Mental disorders can be hard for people to understand and empathize with, even for people who have them. Inside Out takes a very serious and widely misunderstood illness and presents it in such a way that people can comprehend and relate to it. They can see that Riley isn’t choosing to be unhappy and that she can’t just make the negativity go away with positive thinking. They can watch her personality crumble and understand why such a profoundly awful and self-harming decision like running away from home seems like the only way out of her predicament.
It’s not often that we see a movie for children directly address an issue like this head on, while giving us a happy ending that doesn’t erase, at all, the consequences of everything bad that happened. Depression affects a good portion of the population—nearly one out of every ten people will experience it as some point. Inside Out can help people dealing with depression to better understand and articulate what’s going on with themselves and recognize that they have a problem. Seeing Riley’s experience can be validating to people who suffer from it, and educational to those who don’t.