Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Necessity of Sadness

7:30 PM

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Why sadness is the unanticipated hero of Pixar's Inside Out.


“Where’s my happy girl?” says the well-meaning parent, insisting a smile. It’s meant to be playful, harmless; Riley knows the drill. But though made in bad judgment, her parents seem to have all reason to expect cheer from their daughter – their soda-pop bubble of a girl who, before this, has always been, well – happy. But those four words prove to be worrying. As Riley steps into the strange new world of San Francisco, navigating her way through new friends and places, the subtle strings that enforce happiness over her quiet suffering grow tight and restricting. And everything pretty much goes downhill from there.

Pixar’s latest visual treat Inside Out introduces us to the team of personified emotions inside Riley’s head. There’s Disgust (the green one, permanent side-eyes, will veto broccoli anytime), Anger (red, can double as a portable BBQ grill), Fear (purple, has levitating eyebrows, might faint once or twice), Sadness (blue, sighs a lot, her tears have tears), and finally, Joy (the indomitable Cheer Leader). Among the cast, Joy is the Big Boss, stepping up to lead Riley through her daily encounters. It’s her that colors most of her memories, stored in rows and rows of glowing golden orbs. It’s not so tough to see why the “happy girl” is the face that has defined Riley for most of her formative years.

And then there’s Sadness, who, up to this point, seems to have little to do with how Riley sees the world. There is much confusion on where she fits in with the rest of the team. After all, everyone else serves a purpose, and that’s to take care of Riley: Disgust keeps her away from potential poisoning, Anger manages her boundaries, Fear keeps her limbs intact, and Joy allows her a blissful life in constant wonder with the world. But Sadness – not even Sadness herself has any clue what she’s doing. As far as anyone’s concerned, Sadness is a spot of bother. Like that last gloomy thought late at night to an otherwise excellent day: detrimental at worst, and useless at best.

And thus: damage control. Joy keeps her at the sidelines and insists herself at every turn. They’ve faced the world with bright eyes and happy smiles before; why stop now? But as Riley’s new life rears its head, any attempts to contain Sadness (both metaphorically and literally) prove to be futile. She seems to be drawn to Riley’s core memories. With one touch, she drains its golden light for her signature lonely blue.

What a metaphor for the expansive quality of sadness. How it can creep unnoticed and before you know it, everything is drab and droopy at the edges. In the film, the pressure for Riley to subjugate her unhappiness is twofold, both inside and outside. It's her parents' ignorance that births the latter, as they sweep her struggle under the proverbial rug and out of sight.

It’s not a stretch to say that most everywhere, joy is hailed as the utmost state of being. In Riley’s mind, this is even more apparent; Joy literally takes the top seat in the hierarchy of emotions. It's Joy that calls the shots. It's Joy who's the star. Audiences who have experienced depression will recognize themselves in the movie: “Turn that frown upside down!” people often remark. Or worse:  “Don’t be sad! Just be happy!”

But there are costs to repressing our feelings. As we see in the film, the more and more Sadness is glossed over, the more alienated from the world Riley becomes. She grows cold and distant. She snaps at her parents, gives up hockey, stops talking to her friends – a far cry from the bubbly girl we once knew. This is detachment, often the first telltale sign of depression. Soon, the buildup of hidden emotions piles and piles until it’s too late. In Inside Out, Riley forgets even herself; she leaves home. The wall she’s built is too high to breach, and people can only look on, clueless as how to help. Because she can’t tell them. Because she forgot how to feel sad.

Ultimately, it’s when Joy finds herself at a deadlock that she comes to a dazzling conclusion: Sadness doesn’t hinder Riley from being who she is. Sadness is a part of her, just as essential as all her emotions! Now armed with hindsight, she can see that Sadness is capable of things not even she can do. That their jobs may be different, but they work towards the same goal.

In the end, Inside Out paints Sadness as the unanticipated hero. As Riley closes on to the brink of a terrible decision, Sadness allows her a chance to remember herself. She lets her break down – and, as a result, break through.  It's Sadness, now in full display, that stirs empathy in her parents to reach out to her. Because of sadness, we have a sensitivity for the sufferings of other people. It's what makes us kind, compassionate, and ultimately, human.

Sadness and Joy aren’t meant to be at odds with each other; they are partners. By allowing ourselves to feel sadness, we invite healing to come. And more often than not – it does, with arms wide open.


Article by Andrea
Art by Chuu
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Andrea is a 19-year-old communication junior. Part meme supreme, part pretentious literary hoe, she's always cooking up something good.
Chuu is a Visual Communication student, currently blundering her way through university. Future food illustrator. She enjoys garlic bread and things.

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