Inside Out (2015)

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Pixar’s films were always deeply psychological. Toy Story wasn’t just a film about funny toys coming to life. It featured a mental breakdown. The main message behind it was that we can’t be anything. We have to understand our limitations and make the best of them.

Inside Out is the most overt psychological film yet. The main setting is, after all, the inside of a girl’s head. It’s also their most metaphorical film to date. Nothing about the film is meant to be taken literally, not even the life of Riley. There is clear meaning behind everything happening outside her head. It’s that meaning that makes this film a success.

I can’t imagine anyone enjoying this film unless they’re past high school age. The fact that Riley is frustrated with the moving isn’t the point. The meaning of moving to a new environment is an extension of the new environments we encounter when we grow up.

Growing up is receiving blows to our core worldview. High school, a new job or a new town makes us question who we are. We’re forced into a new environment and have to make sense of ourselves over again. Riley moving away is paralell to any other radical change in your life.

The same goes for her running away. She’s not running away but she’s running back. She’s trapped in nostalgia. It’s reminiscing over old memories taken to the extreme. Since so far she only knew how to be happy, she thinks that simply going back to the old place means going back to happiness.

Happiness isn’t enough for deep thought, however. It’s often when we’re depressed that we ask questions. It’s when we’re depressed, seeing problems that we actually search for solutions. Sadness also makes us see reality for what it is. When Sadness (the character) colors the core memories with that emotion, it’s the realization that it’s over. You can’t go back.

The original meaning of ‘nostalgia’ is a form of homesickness. The term was coined to describe how Swiss soldiers felt, missing their land. I first felt this fully in the military when I was away from home. Looking back, I noticed how nothing will be the same. I was still with the same people, but how we are now is vastly different from the past. Growing up is having a whole chunk of past to look behind to and feeling sadness over the fact these happy moments ended. That’s why Sadness colors these memories.

Growing up also means seeing the various colors of life. In truth, no moment of our life has a single emotion. Entering a romantic relationship, you’re happy that she said yes and fearful she’ll break it tomorrow. Some people said of their loved ones’ suicide that they’re at least happy their pain has ended.

Inside Out doesn’t recall Toy Story just because of the artificial details (both films feature two characters who are opposites, on a journey of return). The main message behind it is that we should embrace our emotional comlexity. It’s anti-‘Be positive’. It’s amazing how a film with bright colors and cute characters can have such sentiments. It goes to show you that no matter how many gangsters, witty lines and suits you have in your film it doesn’t equal depth.

At this point, talking about the technical details of Pixar’s films is boring. They know their formula. The good old journey of return is back. Since it works, since they have enough visual ideas and depth to make it feel new again it doesn’t matter. After all, it’s the content, rather than the form that’s harder to get right. So if following this pattern means Pixar can focus on the themes and ideas I don’t mind.

There is a small alteration to the formula. Pixar tends to push their journies to the extreme. It’s amazing how always, no matter how hard they push the characters the solutions make sense. This time they’re more restrained. Althugh they had an oppurtunity to roll the snowball more and make it bigger, they didn’t. They stopped it just in time. The grand moment of realization is also more subdued this time. That’s a good thing. Pixar are always one step away from becoming manipulative and after the brilliant behemoth that is Toy Story 3, it’s good to see them more restrained. Success can get you drunk.

Inside Out is as brilliant as people say it is. Of course it’s beautifully animated and cleverly written. What makes it unique and what makes it another classic by Pixar is the deep psychology, the complex emotions and how maturely they treat their material. At this point, it’s ridiculous to call these films for children. Sure, Pixar never has any violent or sexual content but they can say so much without it. They make it seem so simple.

4.5 voices in your head out of 5

TumblrInAction, Feminism and The Straw Men

Look, I love TumblrinAction. The things they post are hilarious. They’re so disconnected from reality and logic, so dying to protect their little worldview that they will lash at everything. I talked to religious people who stick to their dogma, but it’s never like this. The religious often have a sense of doubt and humility. They think, “God shows me X and Y. The rest isn’t up for me”. The posts on TumblrinAction are different.

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Check this picture. This person is sure he has to resort to fanfiction because gay people are so hard to find in literature. Now, of course there will be less gay people than straight ones in literature. There are less gay people overall. It’s how I can’t expect Jews to feature in a lot of books, because Jews are a worldwide minority (Actually, they do have a presence in literature for some reason but that’s a different discussion). I only have to Google ‘Gay Literature’ and I get a huge Wikipedia article┬áthat even links to a page about gay literature from Singapore.

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In this one, they rail against nature. You were born blonde? Too bad! You appropriate cultures and are a racist! It’s funny how quickly this degenerates into saying people are X because of what they were born with. Isn’t that how racism works?

As hilarious as that subreddit is, we need to remember this. No matter how good an idea is, it can still attract morons. We will still eat our favorite type of food just because it has the potential to attract flies.

TumblrinAction is useful in displaying what went wrong with social justice. As an idea, it’s not bad. There’s no reason why one group should have more power over another because of illegetimate reasons. There’s no need to discriminate people based on skin color or sex or body structure.

Social justice, at its best, makes us question assumptions about society. Racism and sexism are dogmatic. They do not encourage discussion. They promote the idea that individuals belong in a certain group and that determines their value. These are inherent traits that can’t change. These are not fluid categories that change, nor do they have scientific basis. Sex exists, but it’s not our only trait. Race is complete pseudoscience.

Social justice should make us these question these assumptions and categories. It should question the main narrative, offers a new one but make sure the new one is also open to criticism. If you criticize something but refuse to check the flaws in your alternative, you do not care about improving things anymore. You only care about gaining power.

It’s similar to the Left/Right axis. The purpose stops being improvement or solving problems and it become defeating some enemy. That’s what we see in a lot of social justice discussions today. They’re not really discussing specific issues, but just look for ways to push the narrative of victimhood. That’s why EverydayFeminism publishes an article about how focusing on female pleasure is misogynistic (because it might! Just might put pressure on her) or the article about “People say Islam is homophobic because of racism”, sweeping away any evidence.

Criticism of these people can easily degenerate into what they are. If the only social justice content you encounter is from TumblrinAction, you’ll become just another raving extremist. I haven’t seen it in the subreddit itself, but I’ve seen people react this way to the content that gets published there.

A guy on Facebook keeps ranting about feminists, how they are all full of hate and uses examples from crazies on Tumblr. The irony is, MRA’s rarely talk about raped-males and such issues in a way that’s not a weapon against feminism (Dear MRA’s: Male victims of rape aren’t weapons in your silly little war). He cheered for the removal of feminism from history lessons. Apparently, since feminists offended him now it’s okay to remove facts from history lessons. There was even a post which could be summed up as “You got raped because it’s your own fault”.

This is not a person who believes in equality and is frustrated with what feminism became. I’m not going to get on anyone’s ass just because they don’t label themselves feminists. I tackle ideas, not people. Still, this is an example of a person who doesn’t care about equality or anything. It’s about defeating the feminists, the so-called hateful bigots. Issues aren’t discussed. Rather, he posts rants about feminists or by feminists and use it as proof they’re out to get our precious fluids.

We must be wary of being too attached to our ideas. The purpose of our ideas is to be useful. If an idea isn’t true nor useful, it must be discarded no matter how much we love it. Ideas are supposed to serve us. We shouldn’t serve ideas. The question rises: Some people will stick to ideas that only benefit themselves and might harm others, no?

Of course, but this is a different discussion, of selfishness vs. community. Even if what drives you is pure selfishness, you still need to avoid getting attached to ideas. You might miss ideas that will benefit you more.

John Corey Whaley – Where Things Come Back

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Someone decided to mix John Green and Chuck Palahniuk. He even decided to place his story in a dead end town that gave Local H their talent and their fear of failure. It’s a good thing I didn’t know all of this before I read the book. The disappointment would’ve hit harder.

Whaley borrows some stylistic choices from Palahniuk, but barely scrapes what made him worthwhile. He doesn’t borrow his shock antics, but that’s not much of a praise. Chuck’s choruses are here, only they’re not as inventive or informing as before. The purpose of this repetition is to inform us about the character. Victor uses the clinical “see also:” because he’s viewing the world in a detached way. Tender kept referring to cleaning because it was in his docile nature.

Cullen is an angry teenager, but this is where his personality ends. As an angry suburban teenager I recognize I was born to privilege, but it doesn’t automatically make for a happy life. You can give your parrot a safe environment and food, but ignore him and you might find that he discovered self-harm without Nine Inch Nails.

There is more to life than physical well-being. The psychological is just as important. Once we don’t have to fight for survival, we still need a reason to keep going. That’s one reason we get all these depressed teenagers. What do you expect when you put them in an isolated community where they spend most time studying and with little human interaction? Do you want to be the parrot who stares at people talking, joking and laughing while never noticing you exist for a second?

Other problems can strike suburban life, but this is a common one that’s easily brushed off as nothing by ignorant people (if they’re your parents, then the situation worsens). Cullen suffers none of that. He’s not a jock who gets all the girls, but he has a best friend with a girlfriend who feels comfortable kissing him. He has sex with two girls in this novel, one is slightly older than him and the other is the town’s main hottie (both of which make the advances). He also had a thing going on with another before the events in the book started.

Cullen’s life is kicking. Why he’s so angry is never made clear. He dislikes people, but no one is an outright asshole. Nothing about him makes him an outcast or a weirdo. He has no weird hobbies or habits. He can’t even get angry over being bored. If girls and driving around are available to you, then you have some joy in your life.

The whole disappearance thing is an external event that isn’t a part of Cullen’s personality. What’s important is not the tragic event but how it affects the character, and we don’t see it. Cullen stays angry without change. He doesn’t become more detached or more social. He manages his sexual opportunities like everything is fine. Sex is a positive force in his life. He’s neither encumbered by sexual frustration or relies on it too much like Palahniuk’s Victor Mancini.

The book is darker than John Green’s novels (excluding the cancer book). Whaley is more comfortable looking at the darkness and the story is less convenient. His characters are also more flawed than quirky. Whaley’s outcasts aren’t odd angels. Lucas has his Green-esque charms, but both he and Cullen are portrayed as stubborn kids who need to expand their horizons a little.

Whaley also questions Cullen’s hatred of everyone. Green tended to cast everyone out, put them on the bleachers so they’ll watch how cool the nerd is. Whaley has moments where we’re exposed to the others’ humanity and their flaws. A great moment like this is with John Barling. Cullen views him as a punching bag, but Barling’s scene shows he’s just another guy trying to find some value in his life. When the bully’s life gets wrecked, Whaley doesn’t celebrate.

In fact, the side characters are the best part here. Each has a little arc of its own, and a novel about them would be more interesting. Barling has a story about escaping failure and trying to do something big. If Quitman starred in his own novel, it could be a revealing one that gives us the bully’s point of view. How Cullen’s parents deal with grief is fascinating. Each deals in his/her own way and these means change with time. This is how Whaley brings a character to life:

“”Yeah, we used to fight over your cookies. And Dad would always come in and say, ‘Now, now, the only way to settle this is for me to eat the last one,’ and he’d snatch it before we could stop him.””

Such deeds can inform us about who these parents are. There are better moments here. If Whaley had so many, why aren’t they the stars of the novel.

It may be the brisk pacing. Every description of Cullen’s parents is insightful, but they’re not lingered on enough. Whaley moves quickly, as if afraid that lingering on characters will somehow boring. His story never resorts to lame action to make us feel something is happening. He knows better than that, but he doesn’t understand that a good enough moment is worth lingering on.

Unnecessary details still find their way in. Whaley gives a biography of a character whose only importance is its death. The specific details of his background, his time in Ethiopia have no effect on the story. Start from the death and drop a few mentions of his harsh family and you’ll have enough. At least Whaley’s antagonist doesn’t fit the role of evil asshole who ruins things for everyone. He couldn’t make the instigator’s madness understandable, though. Cabot felt more like a plot convenience. Again, Whaley should have slowed down and wrote more moments that define who this character is.

Whaley shows potential. His view of Young Adult is more mature. He wants to be up there with Catcher in the Rye (which is name-dropped, of course) and he wants to reach its depth, not just quirkiness. It’s halfway done. Whaley left enough annoying cliches, but the good stuff that remained are just seeds.

2.5 woodpeckers out of 5

Emma Donoghue – Frog Music

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The first line is already awful before you get to the end of it. No book that starts with such a stiff sentence can be great. Emma Donoghue thinks that telling us the characters are in the front room this early in the book means something. It’s not. It’s just another extra word, like a lot of words in this book. I have written so much about terrible maximalism in novels, it’s getting hypocritical. Yet books like Frog Music keep coming my way.

What happened between this and Room is a more interesting mystery than the one in the book. Room was blessed with flowing, unique writing. The langauge conveyed an atmosphere and the psyche of the character. It’s been too long since I read it, so I cannot remember whether it was more manipulative than deep, but it was a brave experiment that worked. It felt like the logical sequel to claustophobic films like Cube. Frog Music is Emma’s attempt at lifting the thriller genre, but I doubt there are worse mysteries out there.

Room worked because its claustrophobic genre relies on characters to drive the story. Thrillers need good pacing, easy writing and attention-grabbing events. Emma can’t divorce herself from a character-driven story, but she also can’t experiment with the Thriller genre’s main elements. She tries to write a Harlan Coben novel with the style of Ian McEwan. It doesn’t work.

The novel tries really hard to get you inside it. A lot of things are being described, and you’ll always know what the sky’s like or how high the temprature is. Each place gets an epic poem. The story also happens in a big city, so Emma spends a lot of time trying to give us a tour there. It borders on romanticization, but Emma describes plenty of the city’s uglier side.

Emma doesn’t have McEwan’s skill, though. McEwan built long sentences that were easy to read even if they ended up as non-sequieters. The langauge was beautiful, and McEwan was more selective in his descriptions. It felt like he described everything, but he just described a lot. He still had focus. In the hospital scenes, he confined his descriptions to the sick, the wounded and the attempts at treating them. By focusing on this one thing, McEwan makes the reader feel like they’re really there.

Donogue lacks this focus. She just throws any imagery she can think of. Descriptions of how full of life and cool the city is sit next to descriptions of poverty, who sit next to descriptions of the weather. There is no order, or structure to these descriptions. These various categories don’t compliment each othe. They just come from the mindset that thinks you can immerse your readers in your environment by describing every detail that makes it.

There’s also the litany of useless paragraphs that do nothing to move the story. They only repeat past events and possible outcomes, but that’s not very helpful. This is a novel, not an RPG game. Showing me the various dialogue options is useless because I can’t choose. Check out this awful paragraph.

“McNamara’s nightshirt, folded on the bureau. Could Jenny have gone back to the city already? Did she leave first thing in the morning, or in the middle of the night, right after Blanche lost consciousness? Could Jenny not even look her in the eye today?”

What’s the point of writing all these questions? The reader has plenty of questions of his own without the author forcing more on him. How is writing these questions down helps the post, or develops the themes? This is not a first person story. It’s okay to ramble sometimes in a first person story, because it’s a look into the character’s thoughts. This is an omniscient author, and a very bad one.

The characters are also just as dull as any bad thriller. The character-driven story only makes it more apparent. The story is driven by Blanche’s decisions, which is great. She’s an awful character though, and so is the story. She doesn’t have any character of her own. None of her choices point to a personality. She’s pretty stubborn, and she loves her baby. It’s not much of a character to build a story upon. The whoe baby thing is especially sad. Donoghue has an eye for women’s issues. Blanche and Jenny take the center not as womem but as human beings, but they’re shallow human beings. Blanche only cares about her baby and Jenny is very cool.

Jenny is even a worse character to drive a story. She’s very cool. We learn how different she is. She wears pants. She has sex with women. She hunts frog. She’s far from a ‘lady’. There’s supposed to be a feminist message here, perhaps. It gets lost among the blows from Donoghue’s hammer. She keeps beating into the reader’s head how cool Jenny is. That’s not very different than beating you on the head with the sexiness of Scarlett Joahnson.

She succeeds a little better with the antagonists. They’re assholes, but reasonable ones. Arthur is an interesting character. Donoghue beats the mighty Atwood for once because she’s aware that the power of attractive people gets them drunk. Arthur’s story of a fallen sex icon is an engaging one, especially how hits the bottom. Ernest’s arc also offer some surprises. They’re not completely fleshed out, but as antagonists they’re not here so we could hate them. They’re here so we could see their mistakes and falls, to confront why their ideas are wrong. Maybe Donoghue was afraid writing a book about an asshole like Arthur, but the fall of every girls’ dream guy is more interesting than this pseudo-thriller thing.

There is barely anything good in this novel. The writing is among the worse maximalism has to offer. The only worthwhile characters are the antagonists. Any theme or meaning is buried underneath this trash. It’s hard to believe this is the same person who wrote Room. Maybe that book was awful too, and I was just inexperienced.

1 lesbian out of 5