Inside out, the last film from Pixar factory has some ingredients to become a masterful piece of animation movies. It is not only because of the huge amount of technology developed in the performance of the movie. This fact by itself shouldn’t make interesting the film. In fact, there are now too many animation movies with gorgeous visual effects that have no interest at all, because their scripts are completely conventional and déjà-vu. Furthermore, we can object that the action in this movie is predictable or unequal. But Inside out has the privilege to share an original script based on the last research and investigations on the human brain. How can we mix it up? This has been the magic of the movie. 3D animation movies have more freedom and possibilities than conventional cinema to treat some topics, and neuroscience can be one of them. When neuroscience inspires arts and popular culture, it means that it is starting to create their own way to be known by the common people, not only the scientist community.
But we have to think for a while. Is this the first time that the brain is showed in the cartoons? We shouldn’t forget one of the pioneer works in this field: Once upon a time… life. These French cartoons pretended to popularize and promote the knowledge of human body and the brain. Every part of the human body had its own chapter, but the brain was a privileged case and deserved three chapters. Their educational purpose was too strong and sometimes didn´t leave enough time to show a story where the explanation made sense. They explained the brain as an extremely complex machine that reacts automatically to the challenges coming from the outside world. This was the first difference with Inside out: the story in the film (the girl who is suffering a personal crisis because their family moved from Minnesota to San Francisco) is not independent from the vision they want to communicate about how the brain works. The brain is not only depending on biology, but on the individual experience of personal life. Our brains are continuously changing and evolving, by our biological age and by our personal career. This is what neuroscientists want to convey when they are talking about the plasticity of our brains; on the other hand, the movie shows the image of the brain as a blank slate, easy to be changed, something that current neurology tries always to avoid.
And we discuss now the great innovation in the movie: how emotions control our decisions. Back to Once upon a time… life, there was a control room, too, old fashioned, with big computers and white-coated experts processing lots of data, commanded by a bearded old wise man –in other series called the master-, that could be understood as the rational spirit of our brain. Decisions are taken rationally, logically, with a careful prediction of the consequences of our actions. The 80s were the decade when the metaphor of the brain as a computer was at its higher popularity. Ironically, the metaphor taken in Once upon a time… life is more precise than the control room in Inside out: if we have to find some kind of control room in our brain is in the neocortex, our rational part of the brain, and not controlled by emotions. However, Inside out hits the mark when is showing how “irrational” emotions take the command of our brain: for instance, when the the girl’s emotion of anger decided by itself to leave the parent’s house and escape from the family. There are a few moments where emotions take control of the girls’ conscience, and become the voice of the girl in the real world: emotions and ego are only one soul. It seems that our “reptilian brain” overtakes the situation and silences our rational voice. Meticulous critics could argue that we have more than six emotions, but this is a movie, not an essay about our brain.
Our brain needs emotional stability, and it seems that we get it when all our emotions worked together. There is a central idea in the movie that sadness was useless, but at the end of the movie the other emotions realize that sadness gives us the ability of introspection and know who we are. It seems unreal –but very keen to teenagers and children- that cheerfulness should be the master of our brain, as if she were our rational, extrovert and social side. In fact, the brain of adults are commanded by other emotions, and not cheerfulness.
There are other interesting issues taken into account in Inside out: the memory and the dreams, and how they work; or how our brain change depending on the age and the gender. The memory is taken very seriously, when the movie is making a distinction between the long term memories and the short ones, and how our brain wipes out the memories that are not used any longer. Of course, our memories are not like pure and small marbles, but some kind of maps codified by millions of neurons, and they don’t disappear immediately, but fade away slowly. Dreams are taken like some kind of theater or cinema inside our brain, and the metaphor here seems curious, when we are watching a movie inside another movie, a metaphor inside other metaphor. Finally, the differences of age and gender are taken into account in the film. The girl starts her life with a single bottom control. At the end of the movie, she receives a new keyboard when she starts adolescence. The availability of resources and keys give us the idea that the brain is in evolution and that our psychology and personality change during our life –something more accepted by psychologist than neurologist-. On the other hand, the fact of growing and the decadence of our body was treated in Once upon a time… life. Finally, the differences of gender are taken in a funny way in the film, and sometimes, following the social conventions of men and women. The angry brain of the father, thinking only in football, against the sensitive emotions of the mother, missing an old ex-boyfriend and wondering what she is doing with such a rude guy, makes up the idea that men are from Mars and women from Venus. Even when every single brain is complex and different, the impact of this extended biases creates the funniest punches in the movie.