How Film Metaphor is Used. Using the Example of Pixar's "Inside Out"

Term Paper, 2018

8 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. An Overview of Metaphor in General

3. How and Why the Linguistic Device is Used in Movies
3.1 The Concept of Metaphor Applied to Motion Pictures
3.2 Emotion Metaphors Visualized in Film

4. Emotions and Brain Function as a Metaphor in Pixar’s Inside Out
4.1 The Visual Representation of Metaphor
4.2 How Coming of Age is Illustrated through Metaphor

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The example of the common metaphor “life is a rollercoaster” portrays how even such a simple form of the versatile device communicates a profound message, and helps us, language users, to grasp an abstract concept. Metaphor however, is not just a linguistic device, it is indeed fundamental in everyday life (Lakoff and Johnson 3). Even in the medium of film people make use of the device in the form of filmic metaphor. In all these different instances the omnipresent device allows us to understand and grasp abstract concepts by mapping them to another domain.

Pixar’s Inside Out is a valuable example of how metaphor in film is used. The comedy-drama introduces five little figures who are embodiments of the five basic human emotions, and live in a young girls head. In the following paper I will analyse the movie Inside Out as an example of how metaphor in film is used to communicate and clarify human emotions. Prior to the investigation of the device in the computer-animated movie, a theoretical view on metaphor in general will be provided. On this occasion, I will present a rough overview of the conceptual metaphor theory. The concept of metaphor will then be elaborated in reference to film metaphor. Subsequently, I will apply the theoretical basis to the movie Inside Out. Pixar’s use of metaphor in the comedy-drama will be analysed in detail. With the focus on the following emotions: joy, sadness, and anger, I will demonstrate how the metaphor of emotion and brain function is displayed in the movie. Furthermore, the metaphorical visualisation of growing up will be addressed.

2. An Overview on Metaphor in General

First and foremost, the substance of every metaphor is “understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (Lakoff and Johnson 5). Hereupon, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson suggest the idea that the device of a metaphor is not restricted to the medium of language, but is indeed omnipresent in everyday life through thought and action (ibid. 3). In their book Metaphors we live by (1980) Lakoff and Johnson introduce the “conceptual metaphor theory” (CMT). This theory is based on the assumption that humans try to understand abstract issues, like an argument, through a less abstract domain, like war (ibid. 3- 6). Consequently, the CMT is used to make sense of an abstract, conceptual domain, which is called the “target domain” (Grady 190). This target domain is mapped onto a less-abstract issue, the so-called “source domain” (ibid. 190).

3. How and Why the Linguistic Device is Used in Movies

3.1 The Concept of Metaphor Applied to Motion Pictures

With reference to the CMT, the theorist Charles Forceville goes even further and suggests that conceptual metaphor is neither restricted to the field of language, nor to thought or action (Forceville 22). He points out that metaphor can be expressed non-verbally and has multimodal appearances (ibid. 21). This claim suggests that metaphor can also be displayed trough an unconventional medium, such as image or film. Thereupon, Forceville differentiates nine different modes of depiction which shall display how the metaphor appears to the human senses. These different modes emphasize how multifarious a metaphor in film can be. In contrast to conventional literary metaphors which usually only manifest themselves as “written signs” to the perceiver, the metaphor in film can appear in pictorial sign, spoken sign, written sign, gesture, sound, and music (ibid. 23). Furthermore, Forceville introduces the term “multimodal metaphor”, which entails the types of “metaphors whose target and source are each represented exclusively or predominantly in different modes” (ibid. 24). Forceville illustrates this term with the example of the metaphor “cat is elephant” cued in an animation movie. If an animated cat is called an “elephant” in the diegetic world, then the metaphor is triggered in two modes; language and sound, which are different from the source domain's mode; a visual elephant (ibid. 25). This matter results in a “multimodal metaphor”.

Moreover, the term “filmic metaphor” can be applied when “the filmic level is essential to identify the metaphor” (Coegnarts and Kravanja 103). As a result, a pictorial metaphor in an animated movie can, in all cases, be labelled as “filmic” because the filmic level is essential for the visual diegetic world to even exist.

3.2 Emotion Metaphors Visualized in Film

The following chapter lays strengthened focus on the metaphorical embodiment of emotions in movies. What is striking about emotions in general is that the conventional understanding of emotions is usually communicated trough metaphor (Kövecses 20-34). Thus, metaphor is a common and essential device for the understanding of emotional experience (ibid. 20). With regard to the emotion of happiness or joy, conventional conceptual metaphors are “happy is up”, “happy is light”, or “happy is vitality”. In contrast, common conceptual metaphors for sadness are “sad is down”, or “sad is a lack of vitality” etc. (ibid. 24-25). In movies, filmmakers often make use of a visual source domain to conceptualize human emotions. Thus, by displaying a multimodal metaphor, filmmakers make use of the audio-visuality of movies in order to depict a source domain, which formulates an abstract target domain. When a multimodal metaphor is used to describe an emotion, aspects of the experience of that emotion are adapted to the visual metaphor. This particular type of metaphor in animation movies can also be called “ontological metaphor” (Lakoff and Johnson 25). Lakoff and Johnson describe the ontological metaphor as a metaphor which gives an ontological basis to an abstract concept (ibid. 25-26). This is made possible by the embodiment of abstract concepts as the experience of an emotion in physical or visual substances. Once an experience is identified as an object, or substance it is a lot easier to grasp (ibid. 25). In film, this usage of metaphor helps the audience to understand the complex target domain, and also acts as a visual prop for the viewer’s imagination.

4. Emotions and Brain Function as a Metaphor in Pixar’s Inside Out

4.1 The Visual Representation of Metaphors

The comedy-drama Inside Out, which was produced by Pixar Animation Studios, uses filmic metaphor to depict the emotions of an eleven years old girl, called Riley. The movie is told through five figures who are the embodiments of the five different basic emotions; joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. The figures metaphorically live in Riley’s head. The five emotions steer a control panel in the so called “headquarters”; Riley’s brain. The different figures take turns at controlling the young girl and her actions, which is a playful filmic metaphor to illustrate how human emotions work. Here, the emotions and the diegetic fantasy world, located in the girl’s head, is the source domain, which is used to visualize the target domain; the complex set of human emotions.

The movie introduces these five opposed figures who embody emotions, which are normally insubstantial and abstract. Thus, the movie makes use of its audio-visuality and uses an ontological metaphor to present a visual body, which grasps the insubstantial nature of an emotion. These embodiments of the abstract emotions are also multimodal metaphors because the abstract source domain is triggered in the mode of a pictorial sign, spoken sign, gesture, language and sound. The character called “Joy” for instance is a yellow-skinned, lively creature with blue hair and a high pitched voice. Through this metaphor joy becomes a body, which the viewer can see, and hence becomes a lot easier to grasp than the idea of the abstract emotion, which makes one feel good. Joy is a skinny figure which permanently jumps across the screen in its light green summer dress. The filmic metaphor of sadness, in contrast, is a far less motivated creature, which moves slowly, or is trailed by Joy. The chubby Sadness has blue hair and blue skin and completely sinks into a big turtleneck pullover. These characteristics of the figures are applied from the features of human emotions in order to illustrate the emotions trough an ontological metaphor. Therefore, Joy is a combination of emotional signs which humans have when they feel good. The aforementioned conventional conceptual metaphors of Joy, such as “happy is light”, or “happy is vitality”, are embodied by the vital creature (Kövecses 24-25). Hence, the lively and bustling figure's bright skin actually illuminates its surrounding. Sadness, on the other hand, portrays everything that the viewer associates with the feeling of being sad, as for example, a lack of vitality. The noticeable differences between the two characters clarify how opposed the two human emotions are. The radical diversity is emphasised by the fact that the two figures are displayed together the entire duration of the movie.

Moreover, the filmic metaphor of anger is a red-skinned, well-dressed little man, who tends to raise his voice. If Anger becomes particularly angry and gets to be at the control of Riley, actual fire comes out of his head. This characteristic is motivated by the conceptual metaphor of “anger is fire” (cf. Forceville 243). Besides, Anger's red skin colour is another pictorial metaphor for the idea of someone being “red in the face with rage”.

On the whole, these related aspects between the embodiments and the concepts of the different emotions depict the “structural correspondences between the source and the target domains of each metaphor.” (ibid. 267) For a specific emotion in particular, the correspondence between source and target is built upon folk theories of the emotion (ibid.). Taking the case of anger: the visual, animated metaphor of anger in the movie derives from common theories like “she is blowing of steam”, or “you make my blood boil” (ibid.). Through metaphorical mapping, the features of these conceptual metaphors then take shape in the texture and properties of the animated characters (cf. Fahlenbrach 152). Hence, the characters' skin colours also derive from the conventional understanding of the different emotions. This is particularly well illustrated through Sadness and Joy.


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How Film Metaphor is Used. Using the Example of Pixar's "Inside Out"
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film, metaphor, example, pixar, inside, linguistic, Anglistik, Anglistic, Englisch, Filmwissenschaft, Filmwissenschaften, Animation, Gefühle, Feelings, Metapher, Filmstudies, inside out, Linguistik, günstig, Filme, Movie, Johnson, Jena
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Lou Maier (Author), 2018, How Film Metaphor is Used. Using the Example of Pixar's "Inside Out", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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