As a child, I was accustomed to having one Five-Star milk-caramel chocolate every day, sometimes even two. But over the years, that has changed. Now, the thought of something so sweet is enough to make me feel somewhat ill.
While this transition may have occurred gradually, there are sometimes marked incidents that contribute to a clear break from the past. Like in the case of 11-year-old Riley, the young protagonist of Inside Out, the animation film about how emotions drive mind, body and spirit.
In the film, Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness are five characters jostling for dominance on the control panel at the Headquarters of Riley’s mind. Each one drives her to feel and act in a certain way. As a result, the impression of the incident played out finds its way back into her mind as a memory ball. Each memory has the colour of the emotion that dominated the event—green for disgust, yellow for fear, blue for sadness, red for anger and a sparkling shining golden, for joy.
So Riley’s innumerable memories are balls of different colours, but mostly of joy. More importantly, her Core Memories, formed from a sense of love and stability from family and early environment, are also joyfully golden.
Change and crisis Crisis hits when the family moves from an open environment to a cramped city. Though she tries to keep her spirits up, young Riley finds herself in a damp and empty house (their furniture is lost on the way for now) and a new school, where she feels embarrassed the first day.
Unsure and disoriented, Fear, Disgust and Anger take control of her mind. They push her to be extreme and unreasonable. She feels suddenly snapped out of the joy she and her parents shared over little, goofy behaviour and things. “Goofy Island”, a vibrant, pulsating place so far, formed from all such memories, instantly comes crashing down in her mind and is lost forever.
Joy and Sadness are lost, too, as both these characters/ impulses are sucked out of Headquarters and are relegated to memory. Much of the film is about their journey through the recesses of her mind and their way back into Headquarters.
Together The breakthrough comes not so much with Joy and Sadness back at Headquarters, but with Joy understanding the value of embracing Sadness. For the first time now, together, they press the control key on the panel. Riley experiences both a deep felt sadness as well as joy, in the safety and comfort of the family’s love. The memory ball that comes rolling back into her mind is, for the first time again, a mix of blue and golden—poignantly pleasant.
When we bring the truth of two seemingly opposing forces together, with stability at our core, the result is often something beautiful and profound. Riley breaks from a past way of being, of things being black and white, to a more mature ground to nurture.
It reminds me of why I may not care for milk chocolate anymore, with its excessive sweetness. I prefer bitter chocolate instead. For me, the latter brings together two essences of life—bitter and sweet. Together, they are delicious.