Like many movie-goers, I recently spent 94 minutes of my Fourth of July weekend watching Inside Out, the story of 11-year-old Riley’s move from small-town Minnesota to San Francisco — as told by her emotions.
The narrator and primary protagonist is Joy, who introduces viewers to Disgust, Fear, Anger, and my favorite — Sadness.
In one poignant scene mid-movie, Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, whom some of the emotions have befriended, watches as his treasured imaginary rocket ship is shoveled out to the dump. Joy and Sadness react in distinctly different ways.
Joy, with characteristic gusto, tries to fix the problem (“Hey, it’s going be OK! We can fix this!”) and distract Bing Bong from the problem (“Hey, who’s ticklish, huh? Here comes the tickle monster!”). But, Bing Bong doesn’t budge.
Sadness, with uncharacteristic initiative, slowly sits down next to Bing Bong and says, “I’m sorry that they took your rocket. They took something that you loved.” Sadness reflects what Bing Bong is really feeling, giving him permission to feel it and express it too. Indeed, he starts to speak. Then tell stories. Then cry. Then brush himself off and get up. (Isn’t that rather like how grieving goes? Isn’t that a miniature model of healthy grieving compressed into one minute of a Pixar movie?)
It’s the first time that we see Sadness as something — a significant something, at that — more than a buzzkill in the background. Joy expresses this surprise:
Joy: “How did you do that?”
Sadness: “Oh, I don’t know. He was sad, so I listened to what…”
It’s quick. It gets cut off by continued dialogue.
But press pause: “He was sad, so I listened…”
There’s so much more that could be said about Sadness. But to avoid spoiler alerts, suffice it to say: We need Sadness. We need her calm presence; her absolute empathy; her reflections and affirmations; her listening ear.
But we don’t think we need Sadness. We’d prefer to skip to Joy. We’d prefer to “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know” — to quote another popular Disney movie. (No offense to “Let It Go.”)
So it’s a beautiful thing, I think, to see a children and family film communicate the necessity of Sadness.
Maybe this message could mean fewer parents telling children that “big kids don’t cry.”
Fewer teenagers (and adults, because let’s be real) hiding in their bedrooms or cars or offices late into the night, refusing to let their Sadness slip out into society.
Fewer awkward silences. More empathetic silences. The kind that says, “Wow. That’s hard. I can’t even imagine. But I’m here.”
More people embracing Sadness.