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Sociological Concepts in the “Inside Out” Film Essay


Film Summary

Riley, the central character of the film, is the cheerful and inquisitive 11-year-old schoolgirl. She lives with her parents in a small provincial town, where everyone knows each other. For several years, Riley has been communicating with the same friends and going to the same school. She does not suspect that all her relationships, thoughts, and feelings are controlled by five basic emotions: Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Disgust (“Inside Out – Official US Trailer” 00:01:01-00:01:25). These emotions live in the girl’s mind, and help her cope with problems, guiding her actions every day. Riley and her parents move to the crowded San Francisco from the small town in Minnesota. Suddenly, Sadness and Joy turn out to be in the storage of memory, and the girl falls into depression.

They are looking for a way out of the labyrinths of the long-term memory archives. There, these two emotions meet Bing Bong, the pink elephant, and Riley’s imaginary friend. Understanding the urgency of the situation, he tries to help and lead them on the way to Headquarters. However, the path is not easy and straight: buildings turn into abstract forms, and several stations are passed. The situation is complicated because the long-term memory is demolished to some extent so that Joy cannot rejoice, Riley, while Sadness helps with her grief. Only after Joy and Sadness understand the significance of the collaborative actions, do they cope with difficulties and find the way back to Headquarters. This prevents Riley from the escape and makes her talk with parents about the fact that she misses her old life.

Concept Application

The conflict of this film occurs based on the necessity of the social integration that implies the adoption of an individual by other members of the group. In Riley’s case, she was threatened by the idea of losing the achieved status in a new city. The situation is complicated because she has strong gemeinschaft that is expressed in close relationships with the family and the community (Vaughan and Hogg 400). When Riley feels that parents cannot understand her concerns, her behavior tends to backstage. This means that the girl starts to act as no audience is present so that nobody sees her. At this point, each of the emotions believes that she or he knows best what to do in a difficult situation, and the girl has complete confusion. To build a life in a big city, get used to a new school, and make friends with classmates, Riley’s emotions have to learn how to work together and use groupthink.

When Joy and Sadness, along with an armful of Key Memories, accidentally fly into the pipe, Riley falls into depression. Her core values, based on her character, begin to fall apart after the first serious conflict. In Riley’s life, the main place is occupied by Joy, and when she is temporarily unable to make decisions, the girl’s personality becomes at risk of the collapse. The concept of looking-glass self may be applied here (Vaughan and Hogg, 106). Riley believes that Joy identifies her personality as people like when she is happy, and she becomes joyful as people around her view her in this manner. However, the short-term absence of Joy shows that other emotions are also quite important. For example, emotions understand that the successful game of hockey may benefit from Anger that acts as an excellent stimulant, and there is no need for Joy.

In response to loss and parting, the main heroine reacts with anger and rejection. It would be good to connect this situation to Sadness and cry, but the latter disappears as well as Joy. The world fades and turns into one great evil, in which there is no chance to create new contacts. The so-called destruction mechanism erases all the good from memory, including the ability to love and enjoy. While in the arsenal of a person, there is only Joy, his or her strength is not enough to cope with difficulties as the ability to withstand depressive feelings, loss, and parting is formed with the help of Sadness. The awareness of grief helps to understand and handle difficult situations and problems. Sadness makes a person stronger and wiser, expanding the possibilities of new relationships and recovering the existing ones. Thus, pluralism turns out to be effective and leading as it focuses on multiple emotions.

It is possible to note that the film focuses on a non-material culture that consists of mores, norms, and values. The mentioned elements interact with each other to initiate social change or establish stability in terms of the exchange theory (Vaughan and Hogg 502). Moreover, the fact that Riley puts sanctions that refer to restrictions, criticism, and ridicule regarding social norms proves that the attempt to lock emotions and squeeze out a smile leads to the breakdown. Riley loses her ability to be sad and happy, depending on the situation and instead of acquiring fear, irritation, and disgust for everything.

Five characters-emotions observe the islands that compose the personality structure of Riley: Friendship, Family, Honesty, Hockey that can be interpreted as self-confidence, because the girl is rather interested in this game and wins prizes, and Mischief. Riley’s balance is threatened: if the islands shine with lights at the beginning of the film, they are gradually covered with cracks and are about to collapse at all. While Riley prepares to do the thoughtless things that school girls do in desperation, as the stereotype states, her two main emotions are struggling to return to her from the most terrible place in the world – the Subconscious. Returning to Headquarters, Joy and Sadness restore the personality structure through the deep memories, resulting in Riley, who tried to escape, comes back, has an open dialogue with her nuclear family, and makes her life balanced and happy.

This history of emotions is not just a colorful setting of the visually original world, but also the mechanism of perception of the world, the formation of memories, and the changes in their emotional state. According to the containment theory, the behavior is shaped by what an individual wants rather than by the outside factors. The weaker the containment, the higher the risk of deviance, violating social norms. Riley’s first reaction to the difficult situation was to escape from problems that created depression primarily caused by her behavior and perception. The film shows how people forget the events from childhood, how they confuse the facts and the situation in which all their feelings turn off plunged into shock and apathy. All this is surprisingly simple and understandable in the movie.

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"Sociological Concepts in the "Inside Out" Film." IvyPanda, 24 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/sociological-concepts-in-the-inside-out-film/.

1. IvyPanda. "Sociological Concepts in the "Inside Out" Film." September 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/sociological-concepts-in-the-inside-out-film/.


IvyPanda. "Sociological Concepts in the "Inside Out" Film." September 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/sociological-concepts-in-the-inside-out-film/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Sociological Concepts in the "Inside Out" Film." September 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/sociological-concepts-in-the-inside-out-film/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Sociological Concepts in the "Inside Out" Film'. 24 September.

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