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Behind Every Beautiful Thing

Aaron Guest

12 Inside Out Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away Feel like my soul has turned into steel I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal There’s not even room enough to be anywhere It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

I’ve thought about Bob Dylan’s song “Not Dark Yet” for over ten years now. Ever since a lonely plane ride back from Texas, where I’d just help relocate my best friend. Some moments press down a sadness and leave a mark. Songs are like that, too. 

With three kids, it’s no surprise I’ve already seen Inside Out. It’s Pixar’s best movie since that plane ride. It deals with emotions that are central to us all: joy, disgust, fear, anger, sadness. Each emotion is a character, each assigned a color: Anger = Red; Disgust = Green; Fear = Purple; Sadness = Blue; Joy = Yellow. There’s much to Inside Out that captures Pixar’s creative genius. But I also think it captures a crucial and necessary aspect of what Walter Brueggemann calls the prophetic imagination. 

It was my Texas friend that first recommend Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination to me. It’s a succinct little theological book that examines the role of prophets in the Bible. One important condition of humanity that every prophet explores, from Jeremiah to Jesus, is the role of grief and sadness. That’s also at the heart of Inside Out. 

In the film, Joy doesn’t want Sadness to participate in the emotional activity of Riley—the human girl to whom these emotions belong. Isn’t this the way we all view sadness? We don’t want sad memories to imprint themselves on us. Let only the positive emotion be the one in control; Sadness mucks everything up. So often I see Christians mistakenly characterizing joy in this way. It’s the attitude found in what Brueggemann calls the “royal consciousness,” where the goal is self-satisfaction; joy manages and rules all.

But to embrace grief and sadness is what it is to be fully human. True joy never outflanks sadness, suffering, grief. In fact, it comes only through those very emotions.  Brueggemann says it’s fully realized in Jesus, whose ministry is one of “entering into pain and suffering and giving it a voice.”  For Lazarus, for Jerusalem, his crucifixion, “his grief is unmistakable.”

Color has a very specific function in Inside Out. So when a character has another character’s color as part of their being, it’s not only for aesthetic reasons. Joy eventually learns that Sadness has always been present, just behind the memories that were the most joy-filled. The astute viewer has maybe even noticed that Joy’s hair is blue.

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain Behind every beautiful thing, there must be some kind of pain