I’m not much of a fan of Pixar’s movies, too often I feel like I’m played like a fiddle by a master-manipulator who tries to wrestle complete control of my emotional reaction from me. This time, though, I have to admit Pixar has really outdone themselves, going from figurative to literal and creating a masterpiece that not just plays with emotions, but makes them the main characters.
On the surface it’s a story about a girl growing up and sort-of a fable that shows the audience that with growing up our emotions mature and become more complex, requiring the full spectrum from joy to sadness. But what makes this a real masterpiece, is the not-so-subtle current underneath that shows that all humans are basically finely honed constructs with no ego or personality of their own, always under complete control of five little homunculi sitting in their own, updated version of the Cartesian theater.
The real question at the end of the movie, when joy discovers the meaning of sadness, is whether its turtles all the way down, with each of the emotions and all the other inhabitants of the mind having their own version of the theater with their own homunculi running around.
I applaud Pixar for this bold move of merging psychology 101 with philosophy 101 and showing us what we knew all along: we are just machines, there is no free will, no real I. All the human characters we observe in the movie are nothing but empty shells. Pixar’s brilliance is in telling us upfront that we are empty vessels and then make us love a story about how that insight is uplifting. Because little people inside our heads.