Why I Didn’t Cry At Inside Out

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me would not be surprised to know that I was dying to see Inside Out, a movie proclaiming to be all about feelings and “the voices in your head”.

I love feelings! I have lots of voices in my head!

Then the Facebook reviews started coming in and I could barely contain my excitement. The practically unanimous report was “this movie will make you cry all the tears!” My daughter, who went like a traitor to see it with her Nana, assured me that I would cry “at least twice”.

Crying at movies is my favorite pastime!

And so it was, armed with these expectations and hopefulness, that I went to a matinee showing of Inside Out.

And I did not shed even a single tear.

Not a one.

I laughed. I smiled. I “awww-”ed. I furrowed my brow a bit in sympathy. I even reached over once to squeeze the hand of my 15-year-old son.

But I most definitely did not cry.

I felt cheated. Duped! And wholly confused about what was supposed to have triggered the tears.

“What did you think?” I asked Devin as we walked home.

“I liked it; it was good.” Six whole words constitutes a rave review from a teenage boy.

“Yeah, it was OK,” I said.

“Just OK?”

“Yeah, I thought it was going to make me cry!” I said, revealing my disappointment.

“People probably thought you’d cry about the growing up parts. You know, the imaginary friend thing.” I nodded.

Maybe that was it, and with a kid just steps away from becoming a full-fledged adult maybe I was just having a hard time summoning tears because an eleven year old was no longer making up songs in the yard.

When I got home I took to Facebook to try and figure out what was wrong with me, or what I’d missed at the very least.


A friend of mine commented that she sobbed. SOBBED. And she didn’t even have kids! In other words: my theory that “it’s so sad because it reminds us kids grow up” wasn’t holding water.

I asked my friend to elaborate, and she did, sharing with me some very personal stories from her childhood that I wouldn’t dream of sharing on a public blog post. But the gist of it was this:

The idea that it was OK to be sad and your parents would be there loving you anyway hit a little too far from home.

It had never occurred to me that moment – the moment when Riley finally lets herself cry and her parents hug her – was anything radical.

We cried a lot in my house. We also screamed and yelled and said things that couldn’t be taken back. And I’ve always assumed that was another example of what was wrong with how I grew up.

But amidst all the yelling and the tears, there was never once a suggestion that there was something wrong with us for feeling less than happy. More than that, there was never a fear that my unhappiness would jeopardize my relationship with my mom. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The tears and the yelling were, in many ways, the cement that bonded us together.

“Don’t you dare walk out of this room,” my mother was famous for saying. “You are going to sit here and we will fight. We will cry and yell and it might get ugly. But you will not walk away, and at the end of this we will both still be here loving each other.”

I’ve sinced learned that it can actually improve communication to let someone walk away for a bit; so no, maybe my mom didn’t get it 100% right. But she did get something so right that I didn’t even realize there was another option.

She never expected perfection. She didn’t worship at the alter of the good mood and a smiling face. We were always, always allowed to fall apart. I never really appreciated what a gift that was until I didn’t cry at Inside Out.

It’s funny how that works: the Important Things we work so hard to make stick seem to fall through the cracks while the afterthoughts stick forever in the flypaper of our memories. Last spring I was in the Pittsburgh cast of Listen To Your Mother, a show in which writers read pieces they’ve written about motherhood, and I read a story about this exact phenomenon. The things that stick, the things that fade, the snapshots our kids may or may not be taking.

The videos from the show were just released. Here’s mine:

I owe my mom a lot of gratitude. I’m still learning all the reasons why.

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  1. Ann says:

    I didn’t cry either. We are loud and sometimes not nice but we communicate easily and I didn’t understand why Riley didn’t tell her parents how she felt. I have a teenager who doesn’t always tell me how she’s feeling and I have to pull, but I would hope it never gets to the point she shuts down like that. And she remembers her imaginary friends better than I do.

  2. H. M. Norrell says:

    I think you missed the point. Reilly’s parents wanted her to be happy. However, they treasured the other emotions as well. The big bonding moment of the story was sadness. Wait until they hit the puberty button…then you’ll see more.

    Take a look at Mom’s lead emotion. It isn’t happiness. Disney/Pixar was pretty subtle.

    Wait until your 15 year old hits his freshman year at college. Then the Bing Bongs of his life won’t be the imaginary friend from so long ago. It will be the little things you used to do together that he won’t remember until he has children of his own. (And in this, Disney did not do a great job at portraying how memory really works according to current cognitive psychological theory.)

    Disney did a great job in writing this movie on a whole lot of levels. Don’t assume that just because it’s not a tear jerker for you that it didn’t accomplish them well.

  3. dreamer says:

    feelings are cool and we must express them ;)
    dreamer’s most recent post: Why people hide emotions? Learn how to show emotions and express your feelings

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