Disney/Pixar’s latest film Inside Out is a box office hit as well as a fan favorite and leads us to understand sadness and sorrow in a more Christian way.
Surface-Level and Subliminal Cinematic Success
Inside Out is the latest production of the powerhouse combo Disney/Pixar, and it is one of the best family films of the summer (this comes from a guy that doesn’t usually like family films). The plot is relevant, the characters (both within and without people’s heads) are relatable, and the messages are poignant. The subversive psychological implications are also continuing the discussion about this film, and they are just as buzzworthy among adults as they are among children.
The story follows the emotions of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust (respectively voiced by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling) as they live and operate inside the head of a little girl named Riley. Vocal performances throughout whole film are spot on, but special props to the main cast for being so malleable in their delivery. Visually speaking, the emotions are outlined in an electric, high intensity buzz that gives these characters their comic-book-yet-personal appearance.
The Christian Angle: The Redemptive Quality of Sorrow
In Inside Out, Joy is the leader of 11-year-old Riley’s mind. Joy directs the other emotions in the fulfillment of their duties and takes the corrective actions whenever things go wrong. While Joy allows Fear, Disgust, and Anger all have their turns at the control panel, she is wary of Sadness’s influence and believes it to be nothing but negative and detrimental to Riley’s overall emotional state. Without giving away the entire story, though, Joy then realizes that Riley needs Sadness in order to keep her from making some very climactic decisions. The film resolves with a truly galvanized relationship between Joy and Sadness that highlights how we as humans and especially Christians should embrace sorrow as a part of the God-given and God-filled life.
Most people would consider joy and happiness (yes, they are different) the stasis of human emotion (by stasis, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, I mean the state at which something is while it is at rest and not moving because of an intrusion). Original wise guy King Solomon, however, says that sorrow is better than laughter because sorrow has “a refining influence” on us (Ecclesiastes 7:3). Brother Paul further develops this train of thought in his second letter to the Corinthians:
Now I am glad I sent [my last letter], not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. (2 Corinthians 7:9-11)
According to Brother Paul, God wants us to experience true sorrow not because He wants us to feel bad but because it draws us closer to Him. Sorrow may hurt on the surface, but it also more deeply connects us to working out our own salvation. Like the tax collector in Jesus’s parable, God wants us to beat our chests in sorrow as we admit that our sin has resulted in being separated from Him as long as it turns us to repentance and ultimately working out our own salvation.
Inside Out brilliantly tackles this notion and aptly provides a platform from which to share this important aspect of the Gospel. A case could really be made with the other emotions as well (like righteous anger, the fear of the Lord, God’s self-sacrificing nature while maintaining a disgust for sin, etc.), but content of such epic proportions will need the form of a podcast. Until then, definitely watch Inside Out while it’s in theaters…and bring some tissues. No spoilers…but #TearsForBingBong.
Editor’s note: Watch our initial reaction to the Inside Out trailer in this video from December, 2014 wherein we predicted another Big Hit for Disney • Pixar (a bold prediction, we know).