In my last blog post, I talked about the striking lyric power present in Don Hertzfeldt’s short film World of Tomorrow—and his remarkable aptitude for narrative compression on the screen. Having watched World of Tomorrow first, I was convinced I’d be hard pressed to find another animated short that could parallel it in terms of emotional impact. Well, I was completely wrong and completely right all at once: it would seem that Don Hertzfeldt’s steepest competition is Don Hertzfeldt himself.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day is Hertzfeldt’s first feature film, a sequence of three animated shorts following the hapless Bill, a stick figure slowly losing grasp of his sanity. We follow Bill through the labyrinth of his consciousness, in stark contrast to the linear mundanity of his day-to-day life. Bill struggles—with illness, family, loneliness, and love. We see him enjoy moments of simple pleasure, and suffer through agonizingly awkward social interactions. It’s miserable, and hilarious, and moving, and surreal—perhaps because we may see Bill as someone who is as much his own person as he is a likeness of ourselves.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day is powered by metaphor. In its collage-like style, with animation superimposed over raw footage, cartoon and the familiar world combine—sometimes in harmony, often in dissonance. And, like any good metaphor, what is suggested is as evocative as what is there explicitly: in life, both artifice and “reality” may exist side by side. But remarkably, Bill is never reduced to mere caricature. He is complex and well rounded, with fears, wants, and needs. I did not know I was capable of feeling such love (and I do mean love) for a few lines sketched together to make a body—an oversimplification, I know, if there ever was one.
A key strength in this film is its resistance to extremes, in favor of complexity and depth. Again, the stories are deeply sad, deeply funny, and deeply human, allowing itself to exist in the mess of life and stare at it head-on. Though it is, often, far more nihilistic than I’d personally subscribe to, there is something to be said for its unflinching gaze at difficult subject matters: the mysteries and terror of the unknown, the reality of loss, and especially the way our minds may betray us in the thick of all of it.
I watched It’s Such a Beautiful Day when trying to climb out of my own small crater of sadness, stuck in a distressing series of weeks weighed down by nothing in particular other than exhaustion and worry. On the surface, volunteering to watch this movie could not have been a poorer life choice. But to my surprise, Hertzfeldt’s dry humor and compassionate eye for his characters brought forth, if not entirely catharsis, something beautiful to witness and ponder. I say beautiful because it is precisely the opposite of what we would expect: beauty, here, is found in simultaneity—grief and laughter, irony and candor. And, as I am always grateful for in good film, it prompted me to pay closer attention to life as I’m coming to know it, life where troughs are just as significant as crests. It is such a beautiful day. If not through what is immediately apparent, then through what good we are able to call forth from it.