PIXAR'S "INSIDE OUT" AND THE STAGES OF GRIEF

I just finished watching "Inside Out" for the second time, and although it isn't my favorite PIXAR film, it teaches the writer a valuable lesson on the stages of grief.

The personified emotions inside Riley's head are: Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness, and Joy. After a life-altering event, Riley is faced with unfamiliar and initially unwelcome experiences that send her emotions into a frenzy.

Trying to preserve Riley's happiness, Joy attempts to control Sadness, but ultimately gets them both stranded in "long-term memory," far away from the control room of Riley's mind.

With Joy gone, Disgust, Fear and Anger are left to control Riley's thoughts. Throughout the 2nd Act, Anger makes all the Riley-plot-forwarding decisions that continually spiral towards the climax. Before Riley can "heal," Joy must get Sadness back into the control room to restore balance so Riley can have a second shot at happiness.

So, why does Anger end up calling all the shots?

That's where the "Stages of Grief" come in.

A character in any compelling story usually starts out by losing something. In Riley's case, she lost the familiarity of her mid-western lifestyle when her family moved to San Francisco. The rest of the film is about her ability to cope with her loss, or "Grief."

The simplified stages of grief are:

  • DENIAL

  • ANGER

  • SADNESS

  • ACCEPTANCE

All well-developed characters go through these stages! The character loses something, at first he's in denial, then he's angry about life's unfairness, then he's tired of running or fighting and succumbs to sadness, then he is able to accept his new circumstance and do something constructive about it.

Now, if Riley were able to be sad and accept her new life, the story would be 15 minutes long. That's why Joy and Sadness are whisked away to "long-term memory." The rest of the film involves an anger fueled Riley and a Joy in denial, both desperately needing Sadness to wash over them.

When writing your own stories, be sure not to have a "Sadness scene" too early in your film. Make sure your second act is all about your character jumping between denial (which is often disguised as hope) and anger.

And don't forget to watch Inside Out!

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