In Cinemas Now #1: Why ‘Inside Out’ should explode your head

Inside Out (2015)

IMDB 8.8
Rotten Tomatoes 98%
Metacritic 93%

It all begins with, “Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?” Well, after a PIXAR-short titled ‘LAVA’ that is, which by the way was wonderful – watch a preview here.

Getting back to Inside Out, the filmmakers have clearly explored much science that goes on inside our heads to come up with such titillating an experience. However, it might so happen that a casual viewer would miss out on some if not all the undertones that make the film an utter delight; and hence the need to read through this article.

And even though the film is not made from an entirely metaphysical standpoint, it creeps in whenever there is talk of dream productions, and memory storage and retrieval, and imagination islands to name just a few. But, because the way animation films are created, click here to learn it straight from PIXAR, the attention to detail is a crucial component and so making readings from the way the characters are coloured or the way things are textured, should make you ask a lot of why’s. Simply trying to answer a few of these, instead of only indulging in the candy coloured madness some scenes can become, would make your experience watching the film a lot richer.

Inside Riley’s head, 5 emotions namely Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger are shown running things from the headquarters with a screen that shows what Riley is seeing through her eyes and also dreams that she is only imagining, not seeing. This screen bears much resemblance to the idea of consciousness accepted by many in Artificial Intelligence research, one of them being Marvin Minsky who says, “Consciousness consists of little more than just lists that flash from time to time on mental screen displays that other systems use. It is very much like the way the players of computer games use symbols to invoke the processes inside their complicated game machines without the slightest understanding of how they work.” Perhaps the filmmakers agree with this, and also that they’ve not depicted these 5 characterised emotions as being concerned with how the personality islands or the long term memory departments or any other really operate, but only as having cause-effect understandings of their functioning.

Things I learned from Inside Out,

  • One of the first major realisations I had while watching the film was really a catharsis. When I first saw the dark abyss where all the old, very old and unaccessed memories were being dumped I realized I had lost so much of my experienced memories simply for the reason that I hadn’t accessed them for a long time and now they’re lost forever. Imagine all those joyous moments from your childhood, what pleasure would it have been to experience them again, through memory but experience nevertheless. I then made a decision for myself, to never let my memories gather metaphorical dust in the metaphorical long term memory departments. Basically meaning, I will spend more time with me. Also, in relation to this, the film shows us the abyss and the long term memory department but not entirely. Meaning it never hints to the extense of these. And, the maintenance guys are not shown dumping memories for reasons of lack of space for new ones to come, but on the grounds of non-utility of the old memories. Basically hinting that the powers of our minds are probably infinite.
  • There are a lot of infrastructural analogies presented that compare the world outside with things inside Riley’s head for better explaining the concepts, but one peculiar thing to observe here is even though the characters fear physical damage and are shown running for their lives at times, they don’t really get hurt when they fall from great heights. Hinting perhaps at the much argued upon but classical definition of mind, where it’s not a physical entity but something that exists when the physical, the brain is in function. Mind is like a set of processes running in the core processor of your computer, which are basically programs stored in a physical memory and only when in function are referred to as processes. So, if it’s a non-entity in physical terms, it can’t cause physical damage.
  • The Reality Distortion Field – Filter. This is a direct reference to former Pixar CEO Steve Jobs, where he would do anything to convince his employees they could get the job done: they called it Steve’s “reality distortion field.” Dream productions is shown using one of these to make major alterations in the final dream renderings presented at the headquarters’ screens. The one thing to take away from this is that such distortion filters can make drastic changes in the perceived information, so be on the lookout for these, you don’t want to be so easily duped; their applications are abundant in the outside world too.
  • Train of thoughts as shown in the film was something of a highlight for me. Running with the idea that it is a train, they’ve hinted at a schedule for the train with specific stations where it runs from and to. Trains of thoughts as we know of are moments of deep exploration using thoughts and thoughts about thoughts forming a ladder of sorts leading you to an overwhelming somewhere. Anyway within the film, there are a couple of aspects to consider, one being a schedule for these moments of explorations. Can we exact exploratory thoughts as and when we desire or as is the case with many of us, they just happen and we know nothing of as to why they did or when they will next. Another aspect is the two stations they’ve shown a train of thought begins its journey from. To get to one, an abstraction zone had to be crossed and the other was located on the imagination island. Both these processes are shown to be creating processed, highly precise information using memories and obviously some other data. Any train of thought then would be carrying this highly valuable processed information along with curated memories from these 2 of many possible stations to the headquarters, where the screen of consciousness is located. Losing out on it can’t be good, so I vowed to try my best in following these trains of thoughts all the way and become an explorer of the hinterlands of me.
  • Subconscious isn’t so heavily guarded after all. To explore what lies inside, one needs only to familiarize oneself with certain basic tricks. It isn’t an exact science but things like drawing from imagination, free writing, improvising over music, and many others help bridge the divide between the subconscious and the conscious essentially because these help bypass some core filtration mechanisms we have evolved to pick out information for sending to the headquarters, treating the entire brain as one undemarcated block to pick information from. Practising any of these can over time help you trick those guards into unlocking the flimsy gates to your subconscious.
  • Perception is the key. Each moment in our lives becomes a memory and if evaluated using the guides the film provides, also is accompanied by a dominant emotion attached. One thing to learn here is that this dominance is subjective, if the view is changed ever so slightly, the parts other emotions are playing in the same can be experienced. Basically meaning no days can be all gloomy, there are brighter sides and even gloomier sides to it, the only thing needed to access the memories this way is a mind open enough to change views dynamically.
  • Lastly, cats don’t have any clue what they’re doing. Ever. 😀

In conclusion, the idea of a self exploratory existence that I’ve been hinting at, appears quite fantastic but very possible and I believe this is what many of us need. To revel in the joys you’ll find hidden inside, answers to much of the questions of life and further. It’s a journey, probably to the infinite. Indulge.

I’d like to leave you with a question similar to the one raised by the movie in the beginning…

“Do you soul-surf within your own head?
  Do you travel through your unconscious as Carl Jung would say?”

Further Tripping:

Some TED-Ed videos to help you understand the science of the film here

An alternative standpoint from a philosopher’s perspective here

And a the trailer to the film


About Kaushal Parmar

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One comment

  1. Very well written article. Really felt like i am tripping with the movie again.. Good thoughts flowing

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