Category Archives: mental illness

Tackling Depression in Inside Out

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Inside Out is one of those films where you will hear adults sobbing in the audience. Job well done, Pixar. Numerous articles have already come out about the psychology behind the film and why the best character is the one left out of marketing, so I’m not going to talk about those. Instead I want to focus on how the film dealt with mental illness.

We champion Frozen as some pillar of achievement, especially because Elsa is often seen as a symbol of depression and anxiety. Inside Out took this exploration into mental illness a step further. When Riley loses Joy, Sadness, and her core memories, she exhibits symptoms of depression and doesn’t know what to do.

I’m going to start with a quick explanation of Core Memories, something the film makes up for the sake of storytelling. In Inside Out, Riley has about five very strong, powerful memories that supposedly make her who she is. One moment where she’s goofing off with her mom and dad is singled out as the genesis of the ‘goofball’ facet of her personality. Her scoring a goal makes up her love of hockey, another of her walking hand in hand with her best friend to symbolize her love of friendship. You get the point. These memories are stored in their own area and are very, very important.

inside out the accident oops

When Joy and Sadness have an argument and are ejected from Headquarters, it so happens all of Riley’s core memories go with them, hence destroying the facets of her personality. Joy and Sadness are in a race against the clock to restore the memories before Riley loses herself completely.

inside out how are we supposed to be happy

Now, the bulk of the film is spent following Joy (and mostly Joy), as she attempts to get back. But we do see snippets of how Riley is functioning without Joy, Sadness, and her core memories. Spoiler alert: It’s not good. Riley exhibits symptoms of depression, which we’re going to discuss now.

Loss of Interest in Hobbies and Irritability

This is biggest and most obvious one. Riley loves hockey, but when her family moves to San Francisco, she has to leave her team and friends behind. Her mom quickly finds her a new league in their new town, but Riley isn’t excited. She tries out anyway, but it goes poorly and she storms away. Riley ends up turning aggressive when she gets frustrated, and her mom is surprised; clearly this isn’t something that has ever happened before.

Riley’s irritability also comes through when her parents are talking to her and want to know about school in the famous dinner scene that’s been used to promote the film. Riley doesn’t want to talk about it and can’t keep her tone from verging on disrespectful. It ends in a yelling match that has Riley stomping to her room.

Loss of Appetite

Let’s stay on that same scene a bit longer. It’s dinner and both her parents are eating, but Riley just swirls her fork around the take-out carton, never actually eating anything.

inside out riley not eating

Earlier in the film we see her reject pizza in San Francisco, but that’s because she resents the idea of putting broccoli on pizza.

inside out broccoli pizza

inside out anger pizza ruined

In fact, Riley was the one that suggested to her mom they get food in order to lift the mood. But during dinner, after the fiasco with Joy and Sadness has happened, she’s not eating.

Difficulty Concentrating/Remembering

On Riley’s first day of school in the new town, she has to introduce herself. At this point, Joy and Sadness are still in Headquarters, so she hasn’t gone into a spiral yet.

However, Sadness keeps touching all the memories, turning them from happy to sad, almost as if she can’t help it.

inside out sadness touching core memories

This confused me for a bit, but now I’m going to explain it this way: Riley was already in a negative state of mind because of the move. Riley was already letting Sadness govern her (instead of Joy). She didn’t just fall into a depression because she lost her core memories. She was already struggling emotionally before Joy and Sadness went missing—which is really great since for awhile I was worried Riley’s depression would be magically fixed with Joy and Sadness returning while people actually struggling with depression don’t have such an easy healing process. Riley already struggling to function before the mishap shows that depression sometimes creeps up on a person.

When Riley needs to introduce herself to the class, she can’t focus (partly because Joy and Sadness are squabbling up in Headquarters and her memories keep changing) and ends up crying because she misses her home so much.

inside out core memory turning sad Sadness turning a happy memory being recalled to a sad one.

Feelings of Worthlessness

This one was done subtly, but I saw it in the scene where Riley video chats with her best friend from home. When Riley finds out that her friend has already made a new friend, she angrily ends the call (another sign of irritability) and presumably feels not too great about herself. How come her friend was able to move on so quickly? Doesn’t she miss her?

woe is me reaction

Difficulty Sleeping

This one is more due to Joy and Sadness messing around with Riley’s Dream Production for various reasons, but Riley has a nightmare and wakes up.

Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

Riley is obviously sad about the move to San Francisco. She left her home, friends, and familiar surroundings all for a rundown house, a new school, and a city that puts broccoli on pizza.

There’s a lot of anxiety around the move. Besides fitting in and trying to make new friends, Riley can also sense her parents’ tension. They moved for her dad and his job and Riley overhears her parents talking about money problems. Worse, the moving van with all their stuff goes missing and no one knows when their stuff will arrive. Having your things to make your new home homey and familiar can help moving go smoother and cause less stress, but they don’t have that luxury.

However, after her initial breakdown in school, she doesn’t cry again, until the end of the film, when equilibrium is finally restored. Riley tried to suppress her feelings of sadness and anxiety because her mom asked her to put on a smile. As a result, Riley seems to numb herself and since she doesn’t have Joy and Sadness, she’s not functioning properly. This made me think of Frozen and the “good girl” Elsa strives to be. Because Riley and Elsa are putting on a face, they’re not processing their emotions. They aren’t allowed to go through a spectrum of emotion and that numbs them, making them feel empty.

frozen strugglebus reactioninside out riley sad

The hardest part of watching Inside Out for me was seeing Riley become more and more numb to everything. She seemed like a shell of her herself.

Riley is for all intents and purposes empty. Her core memories are gone. The glass case that stored them is literally empty. And she embodies that, like I just mentioned.

Does Love Fix Everything?

Long time followers of AM know Mel and I have major beef with Frozen for how they closed Elsa’s story. Love is not the answer to every problem, especially mental illness. Inside Out, thankfully, knows that and did something different.

Riley appears depressed because Joy, Sadness, and her Core Memories are gone. So Fear, Anger, and Disgust have been left in charge of helping her function (spoiler alert: They suck at it).

inside out fear disgust anger fightinginside out fear disgust anger punch

Riley is not clinically depressed since not once are neurotransmitters mentioned—the chemicals in the brain that can get out of whack and cause mental illness or other neurological problems like Parkinson’s Disease. Naturally, Joy and Sadness returning to HQ and restoring her memories should be solution enough.

It’s not.

Now I cried a lot during Inside Out. I cried the most here.

the floor is my friend reaction

This is where the story cycles back to Riley feeling like she has to put on a brave face because her mom asked her. It also ties us back to Joy and Sadness and their own arcs. I mentioned Sadness had been touching memories, thus making them sad instead of happy. This freaked Joy out because of course you’d rather have happy memories, right? No one wants to be sad. But Joy, who has been trying so hard to be happy all the time, finally sees that being sad is a part of life. Nothing can be wholly happy.

inside out SADNESS SAVES THE DAY WOOOTTTT Sadness saves the day!

Joy gives Sadness control of Riley, finally letting her cry. Letting her feel the pain she was numbing herself to—just like Elsa, unable to experience a full range of emotions. Riley also opens up to her parents, who are there for her.

inside out sad end family hug

Because the good thing about being sad is that usually, happiness will follow. Joy and Sadness are able to join forces and new memories form that are happy and sad, not solely one or the other. It also means a lot to me that Riley’s core memories do become “sad” in the end since they will now carry a tinge of nostalgia and longing for her old home. But they also still make her happy.

my babies 1 reaction

Riley overcomes her depression not just by Joy and Sadness restoring order in her brain, but by Riley talking with her parents, the people who love her, and feeling the sadness she needs to in order to move forward.

If you are suffering from symptoms of depression and don’t know what to do please, please, talk to someone you trust because you and your life matter. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Take care and love yourselves. 

hug copy reaction

Cheers,

M&M

A Wish List for Frozen 2 Based on the Shortcomings of Frozen

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The news we were all expecting was just released a few days ago: Frozen 2 is go. We don’t know anything about the plot, but it’s been confirmed the creative team would be coming back together. In lieu of this, we decided to put together a list of things we hope to see in Frozen 2 based on what happened in the first film.

Can the trolls have a point?

It has been said numerous times that the trolls caused this whole thing and it has also been said it was her parents’ fault for doing the exact opposite of what the trolls warned them about. I don’t really care about that. What I care about is baby Kristoff and Sven having seen what happened between Anna, Elsa, their parents and the trolls. I was waiting for Kristoff to connect the dots the whole movie, to realize he had seen Anna before and bring the whole thing full circle, but that never happened.

frozen lil kristoff and svevn

I feel like Anna needed to learn what had happened to her, that her memory had been wiped, in order to finally understand why Elsa had locked herself away for all those years. Learning your sister has magic is one thing, but learning your sister’s magic almost killed you and she was so afraid of hurting you again that she isolated herself is just so much more emotional. It wouldn’t erase the pain Anna felt not knowing why she was suddenly shut out, but it could help her make sense of it now as a grown woman and move forward.

And that takes me to…

Anna and Elsa: A Stronger Bond

Everyone touts Frozen for having such an amazing sister bond (HELLO: Lilo and Stitch!!!), but really, their relationship is never addressed. Once Anna finds out Elsa has magic, all her hurt is erased and she’s all, “I NEED TO BRING ELSA BACK!” While that’s a great message to show that Anna accepts Elsa for who she is because she’s her sister, just moments ago she didn’t even know how to stand next to Elsa. There needed to be a reconciliation between them, an emotional payoff.

Anna and Elsa spend the majority of the movie apart, with Elsa angst-ing in her ice castle and Anna determined and ignorant of everything going on. In The First Time in Forever reprise she even says, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore” like it’s that simple. Elsa is heralded as a figure of anxiety and depression and Anna says to her one of the most unhelpful things someone can while one is in the midst of an attack, basically: “Smile,” “Don’t worry about it,” “Relax.” Anna has no idea what Elsa is feeling, what she has been feeling for so long. It is not something that can be switched off. Elsa’s self-loathing is something never really addressed once Anna sacrifices herself for her. And self-loathing can only be overcome from within. People can make the grandest gestures in the world, but it means nothing if the person struggling isn’t in the right state of mind. As a result, Elsa’s arc feels cheapened because it is erased once Anna saves both herself and Elsa with an act of true love.

I really want to see Anna understand Elsa’s emotional state and what Elsa gave up in the hope of keeping her sister safe. I want to see Anna reassure Elsa she’ll be there to help her along the way and Elsa actually find healthy coping mechanisms.

Romance

frozen IT'S TRUE LOVE

I find Anna and Kristoff adorable, but I don’t want to see anymore putting down of the “love at first sight,” “you’re gonna marry a man you just met” bashing aimed at past Disney films. The majority of previous Disney couples actually connected on a real level and did not just blindly fall head over heels with each other despite the short timeframes. Because guess what, Anna and Kristoff both fall in love over the course of about a day and the trolls try to throw a wedding for them. No other couple was TOLD to get married after a day. If they did, they did because they wanted to.

Villains

frozen hans

Hans was such a weak villain. Hans was underdeveloped and unneeded in this film. I understand that Anna was naïve and sheltered and lonely, so she went charging into the first relationship she found, but she does the same thing with Kristoff in getting him to take her up the mountain. She’s as nervous with him as she was with Hans during their first interaction. It’s not like her relationship with Hans solved all her problems. Anna would have approached the ice man with or without having met Hans. So if he doesn’t serve anything in helping open Anna out, he doesn’t do anything as a villain either. The real villain of this film was supposed to be the result of lack of communication (between Elsa and Anna, and also the parents) and Elsa’s anxiety. Hans and his MUAHAHA reveal at the end ends up being very one-dimensional, especially after the movie misled us about Hans’ feelings for Anna. (Ex: that scene when he’s on his own after he first meets Anna and gets that goofy smile on his face. That is not the face of an evil plotter.) Then we also have the Duke and his lackies. There’s just a lot of people in this film competing for time so nothing is fully fleshed out.

Anna and Blind Worship

Speaking of fleshing out, Anna is a character that is supposed to have the best intentions. She wants to help Elsa. She wants to bring her back. She believes wholeheartedly in Elsa so much that it isn’t realistic. It’s a great message to show you accept and love family for who they are, but family is hard and messy and people get angry. Anna should be angry for being shut out with seemingly no precursor. She should resent Elsa shutting her out. But she’s not. We all cried at Do You Want to Build a Snowman because Anna was brilliant. She wanted her sister back, she didn’t understand, she wanted answers. Later she wanted a playmate. Later she wanted someone to grieve with. And then she gave up. And then all of a sudden she’s just ready to believe again, which goes back to the aspect of the Anna/Elsa relationship I wanted to see be more nuanced and developed. People are allowed to be angry. Being angry at someone does not mean you cease to love them. Anna is stripped of her own emotional arc that began in Do You Want to Build a Snowman because of this. And speaking of arcs…

Stronger Character Arcs

Neither Anna nor Elsa has a fully fleshed out character arc in Frozen. Do You Want To Build a Snowman starts out Anna’s arc, but then it kind of falls apart when the story disregards Anna’s struggle with her sister later on. Anna finding out about Elsa’s magic should be a major catalyst that leads to something more, but instead ends up being anti-climactic when Anna barely reacts to the revelation. Any anger, hurt, resentment, etc. goes out the window entirely. A similar thing happens with Elsa. Elsa has this great conflict in dealing with her powers and the fallout of bottling up her emotions. But instead of Elsa fulfilling her arc by learning to control her powers, Anna’s true act of love makes her realize love is the answer and everything is fixed.

frozen wait what

This makes absolutely no sense. The movie gives us this fear = bad, love = good message, but the problem with that is that it’s inconstant. Elsa has a lot of fear, yes, but that fear comes from a place of love: she’s afraid of hurting her sister, who she loves. So shouldn’t that have helped her control her power in some kind of reverse psychology manner?

In Frozen 2, we hope to see the plot arcs of both sisters come full circle and be better resolved than the easy Band-Aid fix the first movie gave us. Those are some of our feelings about Frozen and some hopes we have for the second movie.

What do you hope to see in Frozen 2? Do you even want a sequel? Do you agree with our points? Disagree? Who was your favorite character in Frozen? What would you change about the film?

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Cheers,

M&M!