Inside Inside Out, a review of sorts

In a culture that imagines a sharp mind-body split, it isn’t surprising to see images of a smart inner being controlling our physical “machinery.” Inside Out gives us a committee at the helm. Among feature length movies, it is unique in this respect, as far as I know.


There are many points to ponder during the film’s 90 spectacular minutes of Pixar 3D animation, but given my background, I was especially caught by the movie’s alignment with a key post-Jungian view of the structure of the psyche.

Michael Ventura, a journalist who has written at length upon archetypal themes, and who co-authored We’ve Had 100 Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse (1993) with James Hillman, said “There may be no more important project for our time than displacing the…fiction of monopersonality.” 

In Jung’s theory of archetypes, pre-eminent place goes to “The Self,” at once, the center of the psyche and it’s totality. The Self, for Jung, was the god image within us. The problem, according to both Ventura and Hillman, is that none of us ever experience ourselves this way. The idea of a unified, “monotheistic” Self is a longing rather than day to day reality, in Ventura’s words, “the longing of all the selves within the psyche that are starving because they are not recognized.”

Buddha came to a similar conclusion 2600 years ago, but Hillman, chose to rely on western models, and drew from Greek mythology to illustrate his conclusion that the psyche is “polytheistic,” with many archetypal centers.  A contemporary of Jung named these centers, “sub-personalities,” a term I have heard at least one Zen teacher use to illustrate the concept.

The Greek pantheon

The Greek pantheon

Thirty years ago, Michael Ventura wrote,  “It is crucial to every form of human effort that we forge a model of the psyche that is closer to our hour-to-hour experience, because, in the long run, as a society, we can share only what we can express.” (published in Shadow Dancing in the USA, 1985, now out of print but available used).

In the interim, nothing was actually forged – rather, a growing awareness of our “hour-to-hour” experience has emerged. How often do we say or hear others say, “Part of me wants to go left, but another part wants to go right?”

This awareness is now pervasive enough that it’s central to a summer blockbuster, aimed at a PG audience. Even if we don’t spend time studying differing models of the psyche, we understand Ventura perfectly when he says, “If you are alone in the room, it is still a crowded room.”

5 thoughts on “Inside Inside Out, a review of sorts

    • There is much to think about in this movie – it was certainly deserving of a write up in the June 29 issue of Time. One key theme, for me, involved the inner character, “Sadness,” the blue one in the picture. She was the troublemaker, the one the other inner presences tried to shunt out of the way, but she proved to be indispensable – at a critical moment, it was Sadness who was able to feel genuine compassion when it mattered. And at least one little reference for movie buffs – the writer’s could not resist paraphrasing a line from “Chinatown.” Worth seeing in the theater!


  1. Looking forward to seeing this at some stage, especially due to almost universally favourable reviews! By the way, I’m not the first (nor, I suspect, the last) person to note that the British Beano kids comic had a similar concept many years ago, albeit not so subtle as this film. This link ( may give you some indication of the similarities and differences!


  2. Morgan: I think you come much closer to the significance and meaning of this movie in your response to Rosi when you refer to the indispensability of sadness. To me the message of this great and profound movie is that when we try to shut down sadness–to make sadness go stand in a corner, as Joy did in the movie–we suffer in the long run. In the form of a story it makes the same point made in non-fiction books like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided, a powerful antidote to the Power of Positive Thinking movement, and Jonathan Rottenberg’s The Depths. There’s a role for sadness. The two pivotal scenes in the movie: the scene in which Sadness rather than Joy is able to get Bing Bong up and moving again, and the one in which Joy realizes that Riley lost not won the hockey game and came out of her funk only because she gave full expression to her sadness, enabling her parents to comfort her (which then of course happens again at the end of the movie).

    I think it’s one of the most powerful movies of the last 10 years. And it’s not a mere bauble to entertain kids, because when you think about it, it’s a movie about a young girl having a potentially-catastrophic emotional breakdown.


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