Inside Out: a sad, sorrowful joy

American psychologist Paul Ekman pioneered the study of human emotions creating an atlas of thousands of emotions. These can be boiled down into seven: anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise.

For Disney Pixar’s latest film, Inside Out, we start with the basics.

A child, Riley, is born. In her head she experiences her first emotion and Joy (Amy Poehler) steps into the void. A bubbly, bouncy, excitable character who controls a console in Riley’s head dictating how she reacts to any given situation. She’s quickly joined by Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Thus making up five of Ekman’s seven key emotions (surprise and contempt not making the cut being similar to anger and disgust I imagine, and for the film’s sake, seven are too many characters).

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With this film, Pixar, in all their inventiveness, have laid out how the human mind works in a way that’s fully accessible to children and adults alike. For example, to begin with they introduce us to how memories are formed and how they’re attached to the emotions; glowing orbs that roll into Riley’s mind, each colour representing the overriding emotion linked to that memory. From a few scenes we quickly understand the concept of long and short-term memory and ‘core memories’ that form the building blocks of one’s personality, in this case Riley’s. These power the fundamental aspects of her personality: friendship, family, her love of hockey etc. We also understand how the five characters/emotions fight for supremacy when faced with certain situations and how they defer leadership to each other.

For example, for most of Riley’s life Joy has ruled the roost (and her emotions). Then the family move to San Francisco and Riley loses her friends and everything she has known and her personality changes irrevocably. Joy finds herself increasingly unable to control Riley’s mind and the other emotions. This was the building block – and brain child – of director Pete Docter, and the idea upon which he based the story.

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As things go from bad to worse for Riley (at least in her head, moving to San Francisco can’t be that bad surely?), Joy and Sadness find themselves out of brain HQ and marooned in her long-term memory. So theirs becomes a journey movie, as they must get back in control of Riley’s mind and back to HQ. At least, that’s Joy’s plan. Sadness sort of tags along for the ride dragging her down.

The way Docter and Pixar personified these emotions in order to explain growing up, being a child and the loss of innocence, is remarkable and, at times, quite heartbreaking (the loss of Goofball Island brought a tear to my eye). Rarely has a film so succintly laid out the inner machinations of a person’s mind before. We get Imagination Land, the Train of Thought, Dream Production, even the corridor of Abstract Thought. It’s like Google decided to set up an office in someone’s mind and let loose (scarily, this may happen in the future).

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And just to prove it’s not just Riley (and young girls) the filmmakers understand, at certain points they dive inside other character’s heads to hilarious effect. More jokes for the adults than the kids, but the balance between pleasing audiences old and young is never an easy thing, and here Docter and his team makes it look easy.

Like a mash up between Alice in Wonderland and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this is is a movie which tackles big themes and complex issues in an almost effortless way. It will make you laugh and cry (definitely if you’re a parent) and, as long as you understand the importance of – and why we need – both, then the filmmakers will, no doubt, feel their work is done. Hurrah Pixar, add this to your classics.

Rush: fear, rivalry, a playboy and a rat

‘With fear, you must prevent nor cure. Fear must not be allowed to take hold in the first place. If you are in a canoe, never listen to the roar of the rapid ahead before you let go of the river bank. Just do it!’ Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in Ron Howard's RushSome great men and women are defined by their parents, or shaped by the world around them, or simply, are just born champions. In the case of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, their rivalry – both on and off the track – fuelled their desire to win, honed their skills and gave them the drive and determination to succeed.

You could argue that, without the other, perhaps neither would have pushed himself to become a champion, at least not at the same rate. To backtrack a second, if you hadn’t guessed by now I am of course referring to Rush. A film about two F1 racing legends in the ’70s, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth as the charismatic playboy Brit James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as the calculating workaholic Austrian Niki Lauda. The film roughly charts their rise at the start of the ’70s in Formula 3, through to their intense rivalry for the Formula 1 title in 1976, culminating in an epic race at the Japanese Grand Prix.

With Rush, I feel director Ron Howard had a point to prove. Following the debacle of Angels & Demons (Ewan McGregor jumping out a helicopter to save the Vatican from a bomb anyone?) he wanted to remind us that this was the guy who directed Willow, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and Frost/Nixon, to name aRush-Chris-Hemsworth-On-Set-Photo-rush-2013-film-31196500-778-1024 few.

And prove a point he did, with a compelling, engaging and riveting tale. Formula 1 is not for everyone, some would go as far as to say it can come across as dull, being more a competition between mechanics and how they’ve set the car up, than driver skill. However back in the ’70s there was nothing even remotely approaching the levels of safety we have today. There was real risk, indeed there are numerous points in the film where Bruhl’s Lauda talks about percentages, how he’s happy with a twenty percent chance of dying, but no higher. Think about that for a second, that’s huge. No wonder these guys were scared.

Howard’s direction is telling in that sense, whilst he makes the races exhilarating and exciting, you get a real sense of the danger involved. Whether it’s Hemsworth’s Hunt vomiting before every race – with his team just saying that means he’s ‘raring to go’ – or Lauda demanding greater levels of safety and less risk, it’s nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat stuff.

And it’s not just the race sequences. Why would these guys even set foot in these metal death traps? Desire. The desire to win. The desire to be champions. RushAnd the desire to beat their fiercest rival and the only man equal to them on a race track. Whilst the other drivers during this decade had skill and nerve, Lauda and Hunt were a class apart. They needed each other.

A nuanced script by Peter Morgan (who also penned Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland and The Damned United among others) gave us a glimpse, not only of their rivalry, but within it, their admiration for one another. Both men were complicated and flawed, such are the minds of champions. Funnily enough, the quieter moments between the two are the ones that really draw you in. As such, you end up caring for both of them, albeit for different reasons.

Hemsworth cuts a dashing figure as James Hunt. Not a million miles away from Thor, but he plays it well. A thousand brake horsepowered thumbs up should go to Daniel Bruhl though. His portrayal of Niki Lauda was like holding a mirror up to the man himself.

Hemsworth will obviously dominate the marketing material to draw the crowds in but, in some ways, this is Bruhl’s story more than Hemsworth’s. And I imagine, come awards season, he’ll get the recognition he deserves. So hats off to him, and hats off to Ron Howard for a splendid return to form.