My prevailing emotion while watching the brilliant animated film “Inside Out” was sadness.
As personified in the movie, Sadness was blue and round and pliable, sort of like mushy clay. As experienced in my body during the movie, sadness was black and rough with sharp edges that poked at my heart and mind.
It made me think about all the things I was doing wrong, and especially about the surprising tragedy of becoming an adult.
It is also not a children’s movie, which may be why it only takes 16 minutes to make its point. There is no time spent just for laughs, nor is there a second wasted on heavy-handed explanation. (Not to imply that was the case with “Inside Out,” which I might argue is barely a children’s movie.)
As I watched the mini-masterpiece that is “World of Tomorrow,” I was reminded several times of the themes and triumphs of “Inside Out.”
I realized that Hertzfeldt’s cloning (a central premise of the film) is not dissimilar from the way “Inside Out” writer/director Pete Docter might think about the experience of growing up.
“World of Tomorrow” opens on a ringing telephone (of sorts). The ringing sound stops when a young girl pushes a series of buttons, answering this mystery call. The girl, we learn, is Emily. The woman calling her through this strange device is Emily’s clone, reaching back from 227 years into the future to contact her original, or, as she refers to the little girl, “Emily Prime.”
The clone Emily is a third-generation reproduction, made by impregnating a previous Emily with a clone and then uploading all of Emily’s consciousness into the new body so that she may, theoretically, live forever.
Emily Prime was the first in her line to be impregnated and then give birth to her clone. At the time of this visit, though, she is still just a little girl with no idea what is to come of her life. While being matter-of-factly informed of the terrible fate of humanity by Emily Clone, little Emily Prime talks of butterflies and rainbows and chatters on about her lunch. In this way, she is the perfect representation of childhood; of that brief time when all we know as humans is this very moment.
It’s a time of blissful presence and endless curiosity; the precise time that we see coming to an end for teenaged Riley of “Inside Out.”
While the respective packaging of the two films is worlds apart, their similarities run deep. Here are three more examples of the overlap between cloning and growing up.
The older we get, the further we become from our emotions.
As a third generation clone (i.e. very old), Emily is utterly disconnected from her source and hasn’t a hint of childlike wonder left in her being. As such, she has forgotten how to interpret human emotion – or maybe the often troubling business of feeling things has been selected against over time.
We learn that Emily Clone once fell in love with a rock, and later a fuel pump. Eventually, Emily asked to be sent to Earth so that she could spend more time with humans. It is here that she falls in love with another living being – a fellow clone named David. Even though they are both clones, Emily says she loved David, “as though we were originals.”
Replace the word “originals” with “kids,” and think of the fervency with which a child can love. As we get older, loving someone that freely becomes scary territory, and we may actually avoid such real connections. We distance ourselves from our feelings when we sense vulnerability creeping in. The same disconnection that occurred over hundreds of years for Emily Clone can take place over the course of just one heartbreak once we become adults.
We see it happening to Riley in “Inside Out” as she lets go of – or disconnects from – her treasured childhood memories. As she simultaneously experiences becoming a teenager and moving to a new city, Riley is ruled less by Joy and more by Sadness. The three other basic emotions, Fear, Anger, and Disgust – they all lose influence, too. The dynamism and relative emotional complexity of being a child is replaced by a more black and white dichotomy as we distance ourselves from our source.
“That is the thing about the present, Emily Prime. You only appreciate it when it is the past.”
Emily Clone learns this harsh human truth after David dies. Most human adults are aware of this truth but often struggle to let the knowledge effect how we conduct our daily lives. While watching “Inside Out,” that fact was one that hit me the hardest. It was the “I already KNOW this!” of it all — that I know it but I forget all the damn time.
When you’re a child, there is no conscious knowing to be done.
You simply live in every moment as if it were the only moment, without effort. Then moments become memories, like those colored orbs inside Riley’s brain, and we discover that we can learn, laugh, cry, sing out, all thanks to the memory of a moment in which we were thoroughly present.
I understand that it gets more difficult as we get older and take on mountains of responsibility or make a habit of juggling too many thoughts/tasks/people at once. It requires a lot of letting go. But if you allow yourself the space to breathe, each breath can hold the entirety of your attention.
Feeling sad can be a bummer. It’s also a sign that you’re alive.
As Emily Clone tells Emily Prime of the grief she felt after David’s passing; she adds, “I am very proud of my sadness because it means I am more alive.” This is a good one for me to hear since even watching an animated stick figure experience grief made me want to run and hide. I shy away from sadness because of an irrational fear that if I let it in, it will never leave me; that I’ll get stuck in sadness and never feel joy again.
The point that is so artfully made by Docter with “Inside Out,” and in “World of Tomorrow” by Emily Clone, is that sadness magnifies our joy and makes us distinctly human.
It’s a message that I eagerly relay to my two kids. Yes, it’s okay to feel sad or mad or happy and to feel all of these things at the same time! The point is to feel.
My intention now is to invite more of this awareness into my life and to do everything possible to encourage my kids to luxuriate in their childhood. Inevitably, their life experience will lead them in their own direction and things will change for them, just as they did for you and for me. I’m grateful that along the way we can all engage with works of art that remind us to slow down, simplify, and reconnect with the insanely brief and singularly fantastic experience of being a kid.