a complex system


{image is a screenshot of Joy from Inside Out watching Riley’s daily inventory of memories slide down the chute}

Brooke and I settled in to watch Inside Out the other night. Though that may seem like a simple sentence, for my girl, watching a movie is not a simple thing.

For various reasons, movies just don’t tend to work for her. While there have been a couple of exceptions over the years (literally two), even those have recently  fallen by the wayside.

Although all the characters of Godspell are still a big part of our lives, not long after Oomah died, Brooke declared that that we would no longer watch the movie or see the play. The scene when Jesus dies is now more than she can bear.

As for the other movie, The Chipmunks, well, I don’t know, after years and years on a loop, it just seems to have stopped holding interest for her.

But she had gone to see Inside Out with a birthday party and had even said that she liked it, so when I saw that it was available to rent, I went out on a limb and suggested watching it. I thought it was worth a shot since she’d seen it before, but honestly I was still shocked when she said yes.

Early in the movie, we meet the characters (anthromorphized emotions) who run around inside the ‘control center’ in a little girl’s (Riley’s) head. We watch as Riley makes memories that, in the form of bright crystal orbs, are vetted and sorted and filed away in a complex system of pulleys, chutes and vast rows and rooms of storage shelves. The balls, color-coded to match the emotion with which they are most closely associated, make their way from the daily inventory to long-term storage where they are culled by an impish staff who loves to toss an annoyingly catchy chewing gum jingle up to the control center now and then just for fun. A few are tossed into the abyss, some make it into the core memory where they stay forever.

I asked Brooke if she knew what the balls were. She said that she didn’t. I explained that they were Riley’s memories.

With this new understanding, Brooke watched intently as the balls whirled around the control center and shot through the chutes and pulleys and into the storage vaults, headed to the core.

She leaned forward on the couch, staring at the television.

Her entire body twitched with sudden recognition.

She stared for another minute and then asked a question, nearly breathless.

“Is Riley autistic?”

We lasted about ten more minutes. The movie became overwhelming and we had to turn it off, so I have no idea what happened next.

But for my girl to recognize a piece of herself – to see the imagined inner workings of a brain filing memories away in a complex, perfectly organized system and to see something familiar in that? In the infinite storage of past experiences, tidily sorted, easily accessible, and forever associated with the emotion with which they were most closely associated?

To see that and say, “Is she like me?”

I’m not often speechless, but all I have is wow.

16 thoughts on “a complex system

  1. I haven’t seen the movie yet – and I think it would be way too complex for my girl to tackle at the moment – but I have heard from other parents of autistic children that it gave them a brilliant way in to start talking about emotions with their kids.

  2. We watched the movie and now have a collection of books based on this story. I thought the pace and intensity was too much; the books are self paced and cover all of the story line.

  3. My son had that same reaction to Frozen. He then sat down, after months of trying but not getting anywhere, and pumped out an amazing college essay. It was about how Frozen mirrors his life in Middle School. Our kids are facinating!!

  4. My daughter has SPD and ADHD, these cause her to often not connect with others or their emotions. This movie was the first time she “understood” how others were feeling and could convey she got it. It was also the first time she cried at a movie and told me she knew why sometimes things made me sad. We own it now, and have watched it about 12,000 times in the last week. I think this is her new Frozen.

  5. My daughter prefers TV shows also. Movies for her started with Tangled, all the Chipmunks, Frozen everything and now Inside Out. She commented once that she wished she had those characters inside her too, like Riley. I told her that she does, we all have those feelings inside of us. I think she understood, she thinks about things like that deeply and processes it over and over. Only time will tell. She may a year from now start talking about it all, then I will know that, yes, yes she did know and understand it in her own way and time. : )

  6. Beautiful. You have such a gift for honoring who your daughter is and allowing her that space! I recommend the movie to you (not to force Brooke to watch). As a mom and having been a girl once…a long, long time ago…I thought it was a really well done movie. Really got to me emotionally.

  7. Seeing your child be self-aware is so awesome. I wasn’t raised to be self-aware but we’re raising our kids to be! I love it:)

  8. Wow Jess! You never know right? My son who is 8 wanted to watch it so bad. I rented it tonight and halfway through he was pretty upset. “I don’t like the memory balls.” Later at bedtime….he had questions.
    “Why are the memories alone on the shelf? Why are the emotions always alone? I don’t like the memory balls.” I know he feels alone at recess at school. Then he smiled and said….” My bedroom is dreamland.”

  9. Right there with you. My son (11-year-old non-verbal, autistic) actually sat through most of the movie without insisting on getting up every three minutes. This is something of a record for him. I practically cried imagining my son finding something he could relate to in a film that was made up of a lot of ‘talk talk talk’ scenes. #heartbreakinglybeautiful

  10. I watched it too. I read emotion makes strong memory, but change perspective. Makes sense the memory have colours.

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