“Do you ever look at someone and wonder what’s going on inside their head?”

Last summer Ann, my wife, took me to the cinema to see Inside Out, the new animated film from Pixar. You might have seen it.  If not it’s just out on DVD.

Inside Out is a brilliant, positive compassionate exploration of what it means to be human. The film takes us on a journey inside the mind of Riley, an eleven year old girl who moves with her family to a new city.  Inside Riley’s  mind are five different emotions each played by a different character: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust (essential for responding to broccoli).

inside-outThese five emotions are in constant dialogue.  Inside Out describes the wonderful complexity of what it means to be human: the vast caverns of memory and the “islands” which shape our personalities and make each of us unique: our family, our hobbies, our friendships, our sense of humour.  The film’s story takes us on a journey (on the “train of thought”) to explore the memory banks, the deep subconscious, the dream factory which puts on nightly productions and the dark pit of oblivion.

We share Riley’s outer journey as she moves to a new city and a new school, copes with the stress on her parents and copes with the first real challenges of her life.  As these things happen we see the interplay between Joy and Sadness, Anger and Fear and, of course, Disgust (broccoli pizza this time).  The same five emotions are at the control panel inside Riley’s mum and dad and inside everyone else in the film.  All of us have a rich, deep, inner world.  Inside Out imagines that world in colour, brings it to life and makes us wonder.

So far so good. Inside Out will help a generation of children (and adults) think about what’s happening inside them, about what forms our character and about the role sadness and joy (and broccoli) play in a normal, healthy life.  But for all of the film’s brilliance, there is something missing.

rilesWell, two things actually.  The first is a sense of who really is there at Riley’s core. A human person is even more than a pile of different emotions taking the helm by turn.  Each of us is a unique individual, made up of body, mind, emotions, will.  The Bible talks about each of us having a soul, that precious inner part of each person, which brings life to every other part and animates them.  When we encounter someone else we are meeting their whole self – all that makes them special.  According to Genesis, when God made man and woman, they were incomplete until God breathed into them and made them live.  This soul or spirit or breath of life is at the heart of all we are.

The second missing piece is this.  God’s breath in us, this soul and spark of life at the centre of who we are, longs again to be connected to the God who created us and all the world.  Our lives have a spiritual dimension.  Something within us yearns to connect with the love and beauty and purpose which is the heartbeat of the universe, something bigger and greater than ourselves.  Until we do, we are incomplete. There is a wonderful Christian prayer which starts like this:

“O God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.

In the words of Psalm 42:

“As the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God,

My soul thirsts for the living God. When shall I behold the face of God?”

It’s hard to see where God fits into Riley’s world.  Where is the wonder of learning to pray and to worship, to give thanks for the beauty in the world, an awareness of truth, the sense of forgiving others and being forgiven?  All these things are missing.

I enjoyed and appreciated Inside Out.  It’s funny and hopeful and helps us see some of the wonder of what it means to be human.  But the picture isn’t finished.  There is more yet to be discovered than five emotions squabbling for control.  Within each of us is a soul, the breath of God’s life, a unique human person.  That soul is made to know God and to enjoy God for ever.  We need to listen to that yearning deep within and reach out to our creator.

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Nick Jowett
Nick Jowett
8 years ago

I too thoroughly enjoyed this film and indeed found it a moving exploration of what it is to be human. But can you imagine what it would have been like if the makers had tried to bring in something ‘extra’ called soul, let alone ‘God’? It could only have been banal or excruciatingly sentimental. (It already was pretty sentimental, but appropriately to the nature of a cartoon.) So rather than complain that soul and God were left out, we should really be happy that imaginative film-makers gave us rich material for understanding and celebrating our humanity, and we should be… Read more »

8 years ago

Not being funny but I don’t think it’s incomplete. As it is it’s accessible to all religions, plus atheists and agnostic etc. Also any children who don’t even understand what religion is let alone have one. It’s not a religious film, and if it were it would alienate many of the people it has helped. The film has helped a lot of children who struggle with their emotions to be able to explain and express how they are feeling. It has helped people who struggle with mental health explain what is happening in their brain. As a children’s film I… Read more »