film reviews

Film review: The Intern

Entertaining, funny, easy to watch...and noble (mostly). This film offers us lessons in how to promote the New Evangelization and offer the Mass to the masses. Really, I mean it!

The Intern is an entertaining and very funny feelgood movie which has a good story and along the way reinforces good traditional values. It has greater depth than most critics give it credit for and furthermore, I think that this shows us how the mass culture could be used constructively to draw people back to the Church and the Mass more powerfully, entertainingly and in about the half the viewing time that Into the Great Silence ever could. It also shows us what the strengths of movies are in this regard.

It is not without flaws but, I suggest, these could be easily remedied and so that it could have made a strong endorsement of Catholic social teaching. I am hoping there are some Catholic film makers watching who might take note.

Any who read last week's review will be aware of my view of what makes a good film, but for those who didn't: I hate self-consciously arty films that stress character development or visual beauty at the expense of the plot. I think that all these have to be there but a movie is successful when all serves the narrative. This means that in my view the American film industry, which understands this, is superior to the British and European; and as a rule I avoid anything that has sub-titles because I assume I'm going to be bored to death. The famous line that sums up why the British film industry is so unsuccessful (a question that discussion panels on BBC Tv and radio programs have discussed ad infinitum) is that the British directors always make films to impress their friends at dinner parties and nobody else...and they do it very well.

For this film I read the reviews first and the critics seemed to split. Some found it entertaining and funny, while others disliked it for being shallow and lacking philosophical depth. Given what most film critics require to be philosophically stimulated - angst and doom - I took both types of review as an endorsement!

As it turned out it certainly wasn't self-consciously philosophical but in fact it reveals a natural philosophy of life that is, broadly speaking, good and derived from Christian principles. It doesn't feel deep because it doesn't challenge our sense of what is good, it affirms it.

The plot is simple. A retired 70-year-old business executive and widower, Ben (Rober De Niro), is bored and looking to 'fill the hole' in his life. He had already tried getting out and being involved in activities that gave him some human contact, but this was not enough. He needed to a have purpose and so he applied for a job at a new internet startup that had subscribed to a 'senior intern' program as part of a publicity exercise. He had a job interview with the 'talent acquisition' executive in which he was asked what was obviously a standard question given to all applicants, regardless of the job: 'Where do you see yourself in 10 years' time?' De Niro's perfectly timed response was, 'You mean when I'm 80?'

This being an internet startup, Ben is just about the only employee over thirty. The comic moments relate to the clash of the generations in which each misunderstands the other. Without pushing himself on them, or complaining, he gently offers his wisdom based upon life experience and the younger people around him realise that he can help them in their work and their personal lives.

Gradually, the founder and CEO of the company, Jules Austin, (played by Anne Hathaway) starts to rely on him for advice in the same way. We realise that he is filling the hole in his life not by getting a second career, but rather by being of service to all around him in the workplace. His new job is his opportunity for service. Through his example, others start to adopt his approach in what would be an otherwise cut-throat commercial environment. We see how, through his personal interractions with the people around him, he is affecting this society in microcosm for the good and helping to make it a community.

The climax of the film revolves around troubles in the marriage of Jules Austin. Her husband, a stay-at-home dad who gave up his career when the hers took off, feels neglected and retaliates badly (if you want the details you'll have to watch the film). The film does not justify the behaviour of either, however, but instead takes them to a point of reconciliation whereby each reflects on the situation and admits independently the part they have played. Each resolves to make personal sacrifices for the other and for the marriage (there is a synchronicity to it that reminds us of O Henry and Gift of the Magi).

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Although the story is simple, it is believable and the wisdom imparted through it seems true. It was also very funny and I wonder how much of this is down to the great performance of Robert De Niro whose timing and delivery are impeccable.

On the negative side, there's one risque joke, which stands out in contrast with the tone rest of the film and which, unfortunately, appears in all their publicity trailers that I have seen. Also, incidental to the plot, there are moments that go against Christian morality - for example, there is some reference to promiscuity that presents it in a positive light. These are almost to be expected nowadays, sadly.

Aside from these, the major regret that I had is the writer and director, Nancy Myers, did not in some way connect the good standards to that the De Niro character lived up to to their true source - God and his Church. I wouldn't expect a scene in which a character reads a passage from the Catechism, but it would have been nice if we had found out that Ben was a virtuous man because he was a Christian. I am guessing that the reason that this was not done is that Myers doesn't believe.

However, she almost did it.

There was an allusion to spirituality, at least, as the source of his strength. In the opening scene of the film we see Ben in the park participating in a controlled exercise routine - it looked to me like the Chinese practice of Qigong. We hear him in the voiceover describing his general disatisfaction at life as we see him doing it. In the final scene of the film, all seems to have turned out well and Jules is looking for Ben at work to thank him. She is told that he took the day off. She eventually found him in the park, back with the Qidong group. There was no discussion of what he was doing or reference to it in any other way. We just saw it as an aspect of his previous life that was something good and he he wanted to retain. This was reinforced by the fact that he asked her if she wanted to join in with him before they talked, and she did so.

I don't know if this was the director's intention but occurred to me that in an understated but powerful way, what the film had portrayed was a bit of Qidong New Evangelization! She had portrayed (perhaps unintentionally) the Christian idea of the cycle of worship: the exitus and reditus (exit and return) by which we are inspired by God and are dismissed to go out to love our fellow man. Then, transformed by our love for God through man, we come back to God as greater lovers, and the positive cycle is repeated.

How wonderful this film would have been if this little detail - the topping and tailing of the film with a spiritual reference - had been a one by which he went to a beautiful Mass. And rather than joining the stretching in the park, Jules was sat silently in the pews at church contemlating what was going on and listening to Ave Verum Corpus before they left to have their conversation.

If we want to get more people back into the Church, this film is showing us, is a small way, how to do it. So, Catholic screenwriters here's your challenge! Create a Catholic version of a film like, this. Once you have your script all you need is several million dollars and Robert De Niro and you'll have a box-office hit that promotes the Faith.

Film review: the War Room - portraying a suburban alternative to the Benedict Option

War-Room_300It also proves that Christian morality sells - the film making is not that great, but the message is good and that is why it is popular! I went to see this film because I noticed that it has been in the top three in box office receipts since it was released; and because it is clearly Christian in inspiration and is pushing a moral and spiritual message.

The War Room is about a troubled marriage in which the wife begins to pray for her husband and we see how this changes her and in turn her interaction with her husband and their daughter for the good. The plot is simple, the message is moral and uplifting and the portrayal of the prayer, if  a little on the protestant charismatic side of things for my temperament, is authentic, I think. There are no appearances of angels or visions - which while they do happen in reality are not the experience of most people in their relationship with God and so this helps to give the film a down to earth reality. The prayers are answered with happy results that work their way through via positive outcomes in ordinary events. All negative turns in the plot were neatly and happily resolved (and perhaps over simply treated).

The reviews of the film are mixed. Some critics, I sense, are reacting to the message itself which is good and overtly Christian. This can work both ways depending on the personal belief of the critic. Others do seem to be trying to detach from their personal beliefs and critique the quality of the film making. Most of the latter do not like it. Even in my inexpert opinion it could have been a lot better - the dialogue is wooden, the interplay between the characters is superficial and unsophisticated and the jokes are fairly obvious. This is no Christian Woody Allen film...but still, I do think it is worth seeing! I can see why it is popular and despite the negatives, I found myself genuinely enjoying it. I was uplifted by the message and it transmitted a strong affirming message of faith.

War room 16b25577-6c36-4459-a9ad-c1337371f31c

I am pleased that such a film was made and is so popular. What this tells me is that the market for good films is huge and if something like this, notwithstanding the negatives can be so popular, then anything that has the essential elements of truth and is at the same time well made cannot help but be a box office smash. Furthermore, it seems to me, if it were in addition overtly Catholic, then it would have the popularity of the Sound of Music and It's a Wonderful Life all rolled into one.


The 'war room' of the title is the converted closet that became he inner sanctuary of prayer. The young wife in the family posted prayer requests on the wall, prayed and then checked them when they were answered. She had been instructed by an elder mentor to develop a prayer strategy in the real war, which was not as she supposed, against her husband, but against the devil and his influence.

There is a point here for those of the Benedict Option mentality who wish to retreat from society, re-group and then emerge at some point in the future when the next Charlemagne creates a safe environment to be openly Christian. This film is about personal transformation and engagement, rather than withdrawal. I do think that retreat is needed but it is not geographical or cultural, but spiritual. The wilderness is the place where we meet the devil and we deal with him in prayer, then we emerge to engage with society wherever we are now, transformed by prayer. The inner room is the symbol of the place inside ourselves where we pray and engage with our demons. As I was watching I was thinking how a similar film could show the person engaging in the pattern of prayer described by Benedict XVI in his paper on the New Evangelization, and the person was praying not in the broom closet, but to the home altar or icon corner! The film strikes me as being closer to the Benedict XVI Option of personal transformation in Christ by which we transfigure the culture right where we are now; than it is the Benedict Option.

War room

Interestingly, there was an, apparently inadvertent, reference to the need for praying for the dead. I don't know if the protestant film producers did this consciously but as my friend Fr Nick, with whom I went to see the film, pointed out, it probably wasn't  a deliberate pitch for the existing of purgatory (which it can only have reflected in logic). Rather, it reflected something that is innate, a desire to pray for those who are gone, which has been planted in us by God.

I doubt that this film is going to convert many non-Christians, but I think it would act to help reinforce a lukewarm faith - this seemed to be what it was trying to do. The protagonists were just that, people of faith who were not fervent until the events of the story caught up with them. Nevertheless, it is heartening that a film is of ordinary quality in other ways should be so successful. It demonstrates, perhaps, that, despite what Hollywood is supposed to believe, morality sells!




Film review: the Gift

gift_xlgI like psychological thrillers and I think this is a good one. The story revolves around three main characters. Firstly we see Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) who move to California from Chicago because of Simon's new job (I wonder if the screenplay writer had just seen Pixar's Inside Out which starts the same way!).  This happens to be Simon's home town and shortly after moving in he is recognized by an old school friend, the third protagonist, 'Gordo' played by Joel Edgerton, who also directed the film and wrote that screenplay! Gordo insists on swapping phone numbers even though Simon is clearly hesitant. Then, a few days later, Gordo turns up uninvited at their house a few days when only Robyn is at home. She feels obliged to invite him in for dinner. For the first part of the film the suspense is slowly set up and we feel that this is developing into a reasonable, but somewhat predictable, psychological thriller with a few shocking moments - for example, we could see that it was foolish for Robyn to ask Gordo into the house and to stay for dinner.

However, the character development start to cast doubt on where we think the plot is going. We discover that each character is a mixture of good and bad. They are capable of being magnanimous and warm, but also each has aspects of their past that show them to be less than perfect and capable of behaving badly. This has a double effect. Firstly the film becomes more interesting as we find out more about the people who had seemed somewhat one-dimensional up to this point; and secondly, its starts to introduce doubt into our minds about where the plot is going. We're not sure that we can rely on  patterns of behaviour from our characters. This is well handled by the film for each introduced character trait or new piece of evidence from the past adds depth to what are more believable characters. All the time I found myself trying to judge, is this person predominantly good or bad? How do I cast each in this plot, hero or villain?


Finally key information about the past relationship between Simon and Gordo is revealed that completely changes our perception of what has been going on. We realize that we really have misjudged the people and in the second part of the film delivers multiple surprises and twists and turns. These make this a film that is worth watching, I would say.

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Wherever there are people interacting I always try find myself discerning the patterns by which each behave and whether or not these and the outcomes are consistent with what we believe to be good or true. It's not something I necessarily do consciously, it just happens naturally. If what is portrayed is ambiguous or not consistent with a Catholic worldviews, it bothers me. If it reinforces it in some way then I enjoy the film more. This is most enjoyable when the film is not overtly moral. I dislike soapbox preaching as much as anyone - the reason I go to see a film is for entertainment, it's just that I find that good entertainment is also moral. Even if we don't look for that moral message, to the degree that what we see is a believable portrayal of human behaviour, the pattern of that  behaviour as seen in the characters will convey a moral message to us at some level. A director is abnegating from his responsibilities as a creator if he ignores the power he has to influence in this way, or if he uses it badly.

Given that the moral message part of what makes a film good you would think, perhaps, that this would be something that film critics would at least give some indication about it.  But that's not what we see. It's probably a sign of the times and I shouldn't be surprised, but when I am trying to decide whether or not to go and see a film it is frustrating for me that so few film critics seem to show any interest in this at all. It's not that they critique based upon false morality - I could at least make some sort of judgement based upon that. It's more that they seem amoral - they're just not interested.  One exception is a good review and description from Joel Bardinelli. He doesn't dwell on it, its just a passing reference, but at least he does throw us something.


So what is the moral message here? Well I would say, as Mr Bardinelli points out, there is a sense in some way that ultimately justice is done. The unforgiving, pathological liar receives his comeuppance at the hands of his victim. But it is, again as Mr Bardinellis points out, one that reinforces playing out of Karma, a dispassionate natural justice working its way through inexorably in the lives of those portrayed, rather than the Christian message of the power of love and mercy overcoming evil. There were also some unsatisfying loose ends that left us dangling, I felt. The film introduces doubt about what the future of the couple, who have just had a baby, will be. I felt disconcerted that this wasn't resolved fully. The film seemed to generate the curiosity, but then left it unsatiated. There were a number of sub-plots that were left unfinished in this way.

Nevertheless, loose ends aside, if you like a bit of suspense then I would say that this is one that is worth watching.


— ♦—

My book the Way of Beauty is available from Angelico Press and Amazon.

JAY W. RICHARDS, Editor of the Stream and Lecturer at the Business School of the Catholic University of America said about it: “In The Way of Beauty, David Clayton offers us a mini-liberal arts education. The book is a counter-offensive against a culture that so often seems to have capitulated to a ‘will to ugliness.’ He shows us the power in beauty not just where we might expect it — in the visual arts and music — but in domains as diverse as math, theology, morality, physics, astronomy, cosmology, and liturgy. But more than that, his study of beauty makes clear the connection between liturgy, culture, and evangelization, and offers a way to reinvigorate our commitment to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the twenty-first century. I am grateful for this book and hope many will take its lessons to heart.”

Woody Allen's Irrational Man - the film that Crimes and Misdemeanors should have been?

irrational_manWoody Allen is a filmmaker who I always wish was a Catholic. He observes human nature brilliantly and knows how to portray that in film; he has an erudite wit and he seems to be able to write this into the dialogue of his characters without it coming across as forced or affected; and he knows how to reflect a philosophical outlook in that dialogue in such a way that even if you don't agree with it, you find yourself enjoying the film and laughing at his jokes. The problem with many of his films is that while he very often knows how to portray the absurdity of modern philosophy, he does not always leave you with a good alternative. Sometimes, from the message portrayed in his films, you wonder if he is unsure himself what the answers are. When he does seem to offer answers, it has looked to me as if he is trying to justify whatever aspect of his tumultuous personal life most recently hit the news. If only he was a Catholic, or alternatively we had Catholics who knew how to make films like Woody Allen, how much greater would those films be. Also, I would say in order to encourage any Catholic filmmakers out there, the films would be even more successful as a result because they would now represent more fully what is good and what is true. When any art form does this well, then it will have mass appeal for it will have greater beauty too.

When I saw Woody Allen's latest film, the Irrational Man I wondered if (at the age of 79), he is changing. You will have to watch the film to see the plot, but in general terms, this one struck me as a new version of his 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors.  Both have the well crafted dialogue and nicely observed human interactions in the context of the confused sexual politics of the liberal elite. And both have a murder in which the film examines the how the conscience of the murderer reacts and changes over time, placing this in the context of right and wrong.

There are two differences. First, the Irrational Man is not as funny - in this sense it is a little disappointing, but perhaps you need to the comic genius Allen himself or Alan Alda, who star in the earlier film, to deliver the lines. It seems that although there are a few chuckles as you go along, but I think that perhaps this wasn't Allen's intention with Irrational Man. Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a bitter and philandering (and murderous) philosophy professor in a Rhode Island college, plays it just right for me in a more serious role and doesn't make the mistake of trying to a replacement for Woody Allen in the way that he plays it.

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The other is the nature of the philosophical message of the resolution of the film. In this respect I liked Irrational Man much more. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, the conscience of the murderer, played by Martin Landau, is at first tortured, but in time, the discomfort disappears and the film closes with him a scene of him laughing heartily and saying to friend that he has nothing on his mind that he regrets - in time he indicates, all guilt disappears. This was reinforced by the line from character played by Alan Alda, who said that in the end all comedy is just 'tragedy plus time' - ie the worse it is initially, the funnier it is in the end.

I remember thinking at the time that this was a dangerous message - it was saying that there is no objective right and wrong. No matter how bad something seems, its just the perception, and time if nothing else can change that. I am convert and part of what brought me to the faith was the realization that there was only one thing that would appease my conscience and that was the mercy of God. My experience was that no matter how I tried to tell myself I was good person, I did not believe it until I had confessed my wrong doing. If I had listened to the message of Crimes and Misdemeanors, I thought, I might have found it attractive initially, but I would still be hanging around just waiting until I felt better, feeling miserable and heading, very likely, for hell. tumblr_m6p3gjQZmT1rzj6jyo1_400 In the Irrational Man, on the other hand, the murderer is initially exhilarated by what he has done as he believes his own hype but as time progresses things get worse and his crime, so to speak, catches up with him. The voice of his conscience is the student with whom he is having an affair, played by Emma Stone, who is initially in thrall to his reputation and all that he does. Gradually, she realizes what he has done and reacts against his justifications and the philosophical theories that underpin them. Unlike the plot in Crimes and Misdemeanors, the effect on the murderer of his past action will not go away in time. It becomes clear that he must face a choice. Either acknowledge what he has done truthfully, or else continue the lie and try to erase the voice of his conscience. From the point of view of moral law, he makes the wrong choice and attempts to do the latter. The outcome of the protaganist here, again, unlike that of Crimes and Misdemeanors, is a just reward for his actions. So as I saw it, the film resolves itself in support of natural law, objective good and bad and a condemnation of the modern philosophy that the professor espoused in the classroom to his students.

What is interesting is to me is to see how the mainstream film critics reviewed each film. They had just about the opposite reaction to me! They loved Crimes and Misdemeanors and at the time it was nominated for host of awards - best actor, best film, best director, best screenplay...the list goes on. But they hated the Irrational Man. I don't know if the differing reviews are a reflection of the differing quality of the films, or of the worldview of the critics. I suspect the latter! IrrationalMan_300415_263x351


— ♦—

My book the Way of Beauty is available from Angelico Press and Amazon.

JAY W. RICHARDS, Editor of the Stream and Lecturer at the Business School fo the Catholic University of America said about it: “In The Way of Beauty, David Clayton offers us a mini-liberal arts education. The book is a counter-offensive against a culture that so often seems to have capitulated to a ‘will to ugliness.’ He shows us the power in beauty not just where we might expect it — in the visual arts and music — but in domains as diverse as math, theology, morality, physics, astronomy, cosmology, and liturgy. But more than that, his study of beauty makes clear the connection between liturgy, culture, and evangelization, and offers a way to reinvigorate our commitment to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the twenty-first century. I am grateful for this book and hope many will take its lessons to heart.”

Does it really matter what Pixar do? Lighten up, it's just a children's movie...

2000px-Toy_Story_logo.svgThanks to Rick, whoever you are for your comment on the review of Inside Out, posted on August 17th. I responded to it in the comments page, but I think his simple remarks highlight some good discussion points that are worthy of wider consideration. Is the film industry important? Am I just over analyzing an innocent children's film?  pixar-inside-out-movieHere is Rick's comment, he first pulls a quote out of my blogpost:

' "No wonder Riley was struggling with life, she was living in miserable isolation! May the Lord be with your spirit." Just a thought, you might want to know that Riley is not real. It's just a movie mate, take it easy. There are bigger battles to fight.'

And here is my reaction. First the quick reply to this is: '...And this is just a movie review Rick, and that line you quoted was a joke! Lighten up and take it easy yourself…mate  .'


But there is a serious point here and in this I am not joking. In what was an entertaining film (although by Pixar’s high standards I would say only moderately entertaining) is the propagation of a false worldview. How important you think this is depends on how influential you think that such film will be. As a general point I would say that clearly certain parts of the film industry take it very seriously because they go to great lengths to engage the mass population with films that reinforce a false worldview in so many aspects – faith, morals, and attitude to the environment, for example. I would say that they have doing this very very successfully over the last 50 years particularly. This can be done sometimes subtly – as with this film – and sometimes more stridently.

som2For good or ill, popular culture both reflects and propagates a worldview as powerfully as any essay in an academic journal. If we do not like the wider culture, we cannot disengage from the culture, even if we wanted to. Even the most cloistered monk is product of the greater society of which he is part. The question is not whether or not to engage, therefore, but how do we engage? Are we going to do it well, or badly? How can we transform it so that it becomes one of truth and beauty?

Speaking generally, without having any particular film in mind, the degree of misery and death  that results from the propagation of a false psychology, or false morality, or a false environmentalism, or falsity of any form, is immeasurable (I do not exaggerate on this, see my posting on environmentalism next week), and that is what I care about. I am not suggesting that every film is a cynical attempt to manipulate. Very often it is an innocent and well meaning effort to entertain and make money (not bad things in themselves), by appealing to and reflecting the attitudes that it believes its market already has. When the seemingly innocuous presentations are taken to their logical conclusion, however, regardless of motives, the end result is the same in both cases.

images (1)The evangelization of the culture is the battle we must engage in and I would say that there are fewer battles that are more important or bigger.

Believe it or not, in the 1930s Pius XI praised Hollywood for the influence of the its films on society. However well or badly I am doing it, my motivation in doing a review like this is to try to encourage Christian filmmakers to be involved again and start propagating a worldview that will actually promote the general happiness and harmony in society and ultimately, the salvation of souls. I want to see them engaging as skillfully, as subtly and as engagingly as the secular materialists have been doing in film, music and all aspects of the popular culture. I am not thinking of in-your-face accounts of the gospel, so much as films like Inside Out, which are so engaging that they draw in and influence people without resistance.

MV5BMTU0MTA2OTIwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA0Njk3OA@@._V1_SY317_CR10,0,214,317_AL_Family films and films for children, incidentally, are an important battleground in this context for two reasons: first, as the Jesuits used to say, give the child and I'll give you the man. Children are the most easily influenced at will grow up to make future society reflect what they believe. Second, few children watch these movies on their own. There are usually adults with them. One of the ways of making these films so popular is to make them appeal simultaneously at different levels. They are designed to engage the adults too. If the parents are entertained also, then they are more likely to want to take their children to the film. This need to build in a dual appeal means that the genre automatically engages the creators philosophically - they have to be able to think about concepts at different levels; and it is what makes children's entertainment simultaneously some of the most sophisticated, engaging and powerful there is. At the root of every story are some assumed facts, premises about the nature of reality that govern the logic of the progression of the story and make it either convincing or not as the case may be. This is inescapable. If we ignore this then we risk inadvertently promoting falsity. If we use it, we can create a beautiful, wonderful, entertaining and stimulating culture that influences for the good.

Just to redress the balance, here is a Pixar movie I loved (and, I'm going to admit it, I saw it on my own, as an adult and went to see it twice!).



— ♦—

My book the Way of Beauty is available from Angelico Press and Amazon.


JAY W. RICHARDS, Editor of the Stream and Lecturer at the Business School fo the Catholic University of America said about it: “In The Way of Beauty, David Clayton offers us a mini-liberal arts education. The book is a counter-offensive against a culture that so often seems to have capitulated to a ‘will to ugliness.’ He shows us the power in beauty not just where we might expect it — in the visual arts and music — but in domains as diverse as math, theology, morality, physics, astronomy, cosmology, and liturgy. But more than that, his study of beauty makes clear the connection between liturgy, culture, and evangelization, and offers a way to reinvigorate our commitment to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the twenty-first century. I am grateful for this book and hope many will take its lessons to heart.”



Film review: Pixar's Inside Out - watch out, it's teaching your kids to behave like animals!

Inside outIn this animation by Pixar we see how a little girl called Riley copes with a family move from the Midwest to the San Francisco when her father starts a new job. Initially she finds the move difficult and through the film gradually comes to terms with it. The process by which she does so is portrayed as one of conflicting emotions. We look into her mind and see five personifications, of Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust and Anger which respond events happening to her as she perceives them, and information fed to her by the subconscious memory. Each battles to be the dominant and so control he mood and actions of Riley. The film seems to have been universally well received with most reviewers I have seen give it four or five stars. Although there are some great, funny lines in it, as with all the Pixar offerings I have seen, I did not share this view unreservedly. I thought the story was dull and the imaginary rules by which the competing elements of each emotion responded to the influence of the information seemed inconsistent and so it was unconvincing as an imaginary world inside the mind. You may feel different about that and side with the mainstream reviewers. In the little crowd with whom saw it I was probably the least entertained.

However, I would say that for other reasons, going beyond entertainment, that this is not a film to show your children. I thought it portrayed a flawed anthropology. Read this sentence from the Rotton Tomatoes summary: 'Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions - Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley's mind, where they help advise her through everyday life.'


And therein lies the problem for me. This is a portrayal of the modern obsession with passion and emotion that has been handed on to us from the Romantics of the 19th century and Rousseau in the 18th. In my understanding (supported by my own experience, even as an eleven year old), we are not all subject to our emotions in the way that the reviewer supposes and film makers want us to believe. We have reason, we have a will. We assess all the information and although we might choose to do sometimes, we are not bound to follow the dictates whichever emotion is the strongest. That puts us at the level of animals.


There is something important missing in Inside Out. There is a part of the soul that can make judgments and which, in some way, steps back from our instinctive reactions to things and influence of the memories. It observes all the information coming into the mind and then decides what to do. This the spirit. The spirit ican look to others in love and it is by the spirit that we relate to others and to God as a human person, (just as the persons of the Trinity relate to each other). This is what is special to man among creatures: he is able to observe himself. I once heard it put like this. Animals are aware of things, like man; but unlike man they are not aware that they are aware.

Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote about the spirit as the aspect of the soul by which we relate to other in an essay for the journal Communio published in 1990 (p 439, Communio 17, Fall 1990). In reference to the spirit he wrote: 'It is the nature St Francis-Shrewsbury School-1226of the spirit to put itself in relation, the capacity to see itself and the other...the spirit is not merely there, it goes back on itself, as it were; it knows about itself. It constitutes a double existence which not only is, but knows about itself, has itself.' In icons, you often see faces portrayed with a slight lump or dimple in the middle of the forehead just above the bridge of the nose. This can be thought of as a symbol of the spirit. My teacher would refer to it with the Greek term, the nous, (meaning literally 'mind') and call it the the 'spiritual eye'.


This is the spirit which is referred to by St Paul in Thessalonians, and by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews. It is referred to by Our Lady in the Magnificat, which is sung in Vespers every day, when she says: 'My spirit rejoices in God my saviour.' In the Mass, the priest turns to us and says, 'The Lord be with you.' And we reply, 'And with your spirit.' In both cases the spirit is instrumental in being in relationship with God.

Christian commentators can differ on precisely which aspects of soul reside in the spirit, but St Thomas, for example, says that it is the intellect and the will, by which we know and love, constitute the spirit. It is the spirit, he says, that separates man from 'brute animals' and likens us to angels. (I wrote a longer article on this anthropology, here.)


This is the great problem with Inside Out, in the child Riley there is no sixth personification. This sixth aspect of the soul should have been there, detached from the emotions and able to reason and to  love and be open to the promptings of grace and the Holy Spirit.

No wonder Riley was struggling with life, she was living in miserable isolation! May the Lord be with your spirit.

— ♦—

My book the Way of Beauty is available from Angelico Press and Amazon.

JAY W. RICHARDS, Editor of the Stream and Lecturer at the Business School fo the Catholic University of America said about it: “In The Way of Beauty, David Clayton offers us a mini-liberal arts education. The book is a counter-offensive against a culture that so often seems to have capitulated to a ‘will to ugliness.’ He shows us the power in beauty not just where we might expect it — in the visual arts and music — but in domains as diverse as math, theology, morality, physics, astronomy, cosmology, and liturgy. But more than that, his study of beauty makes clear the connection between liturgy, culture, and evangelization, and offers a way to reinvigorate our commitment to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the twenty-first century. I am grateful for this book and hope many will take its lessons to heart.”