Inside Movie Review: Absurdity and sensibility co-exist in this cathartic experience
Bo Burnham’s new comedy special is both a galvanising rock concert and a pacifying meditation on isolation
I find it hard to recall watching another piece of art that celebrates the precarious human psyche quite as Inside does, in its explorations of the theme of abandonment. Written, directed, shot, edited, and performed by Bo Burnham in his house during the pandemic, Inside is a portrait of an artist wading through self-isolation, which, in turn, reflects our collective conscience.
Directed by: Bo Burnham
Starring: Bo Burnham
Streaming on: Netflix
Let’s concede that many of us are privileged enough to traverse through the prevailing crisis materialistically unscathed. Psychologically, however, it is not far-fetched to assume that we have all felt the claustrophobia of the quarantine. The aversion to physical confinement and the longing for freedom dot this 87-minute special, precipitating a roller coaster ride of intuitions, ranging from silly happiness to bleak introspection.
During certain stretches, Inside is an outright farce. Take the part in which Burnham spoofs the internet culture by reacting to his own song. The joke doesn’t end there. He then reacts to his reaction to his song. And then, goes on to react to his reaction of the reaction… you get the idea. This ludicrousness, he effortlessly achieves with Inside.
This special compares with yet another Burnham performance, Make Happy—both open with songs about white men and share thematic elements like finding happiness in a grim world. As opposed to the 2016 comedy special though, Burnham’s definition of ‘the dark world’ has now evolved into a more human and visceral form. It withdraws from addressing wide-ranging conflicts like, say, the Palestine-Israel geopolitical tensions or racism. Instead, the menace is now replaced by detachment from the very world that continues to house these perils.
The vivid visuals elucidate Burnham’s ambition to exalt every frame, using the means at his disposition. Images from a projector are put forth for a bewitching upshot. Be it an array of allusive emojis appearing on his face as he bloviates about sexual desires, or projecting a video—in which he is persuading people to dodge the idea of suicide—onto his chest, this special is straight from the heart, and the simplicity is often breathtaking.
Burnham has worked on the special for almost a year—at one point, he admits his reluctance to complete it, citing his fragile mental state and the contingency of adverse consequences should he run out of work. In that sense, the maker’s ulterior motive to perform and put Inside together is to seek healing, at a time when all of us are in need of inward comfort. Inside is a therapeutic experience like few other comedies.