Don Hertzfeldt‘s short films are characterized by animation that is literally as basic as you can get: stick figures wobbling across a plain white background. But no joke, they convey big, emotional and achingly beautiful ideas. This guys’ body of work is huge, but if you haven’t seen any of it, don’t fret. It’s Such a Beautiful Day is what you need to pay attention to; it’s the feature version of his short film trilogy that included: Everything will be OK, I Am So Proud of You, and It’s Such a Beautiful Day. The film follows a series of troubling events in the life of the absurdly neurotic, anxiety-riddled Bill, who suffers from an unspecified brain disorder and dreams of a monster’s fish head feeding on his skull.
The film is narrated by Hertzfeldt himself, whose earnest, warm way of describing Bill’s fumbling actions — such as mixing up the phrases ‘whats up?’ with ‘how’s it going’ when he greets people; only selecting produce that’s not crotch-level with store customers — only brings us closer to this loner-ish character. Not that we could really be alienated by Bill: This guy can’t eat in front of the TV when it isn’t on, because he feels “weird” about it, making him perfectly harmless and possibly almost-relatable.
What I appreciate about the film is its honesty, even when things get morbid. We all have fears about death, right? Specifically our own. I don’t know about you, but there are countless times where I’ve imagined something bizarre happening to my body after I’ve gone. When Bill admits to his ex-girlfriend that he wants his head severed and shot into space, I sort of sympathized with him. I mean, why not have your last imprint on the world be something drastic, right? Perhaps that’s too much information about my innermost thoughts, but I was there with Bill on his journey, joining him in childlike wonderment, wondering about the things we’re not supposed to, and then wondering about why we’re wondering them.
The moment when Bill starts to appreciate life — and the feeling of being alive — sees the narrator’s thought processes overlap as live-action footage is intercut left and right with the animation. We’re drawn all the way into Bill’s acid trip-like epiphany that maybe things aren’t so bad after all. Though if you think that part is something to write home about, wait until what comes after. I had tears in my eyes during those final scenes at the nursing home where we meet a surprising new character, and consistent with the rest of the film, those melancholic scenes don’t toy with us or manipulate our emotions. Instead, they’re bittersweet, rolling toward an ending that will make you question not only Bill’s existence, but your own as well.
This film is only 62 minutes, and though you may have previously thought you couldn’t watch stick figures for very long (I definitely did), you’ll wish it was longer because of Bill. He’s something else. There aren’t many films where the characters and philosophical ideas stay with you for months afterward, but this is one of them. It reminds me a little bit of Up, actually. Watch It’s Such a Beautiful Day on Netflix, and let me know what you think on Twitter, or in the comments below.