One of the great injustices of the world in which we live is that animated films are perceived to be only for children. While there are some great animated films out there, like The Incredibles or Kubo and the Two Strings, that present content that deals with problems and themes less juvenile than your standard animated fare, these movies are still decidedly family-friendly. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, it’s only right and proper that those films should be geared for a family environment. But the stigma that movie-goers have towards animated movies, regarding the entire medium as one that is puerile and unsuitable for those who have grown out of their childhood, is incredibly unjust. Yet unfortunately that is the reality that governs the medium of animation and dictates what films get produced. Why would a studio release an animated film for older audiences? Who would watch it? Sausage Party is the only example that I can remember for a major-studio release animated film for adults. But that isn’t exactly what I’m looking for. I am in search of a competent film that deals with genuine adult themes rather than just relying on the novelty of animated characters doing provocative things in order to shock the audience. And so far, there’s only one film that I’ve seen to achieve this task: Don Hertzfeltdt’s It’s Such A Beautiful Day.
Before we delve into the middle of this, I should make one thing clear. Beautiful Day is not for everyone. If you are the kind of person who is quick to declare something pretentious simply because it strays from the beaten path or deals with themes of the nature of existence or what it means to be alive, then Beautiful Day is not for you. It’s perfectly okay if you fall into that category of person. Most people watch movies for escapism, and if that means just turning your brain off for a period of time and just enjoying something simple and fun, then by all means, enjoy yourself. But if you are the sort of person who from time to time yearns for something more, then I absolutely implore you to watch It’s Such A Beautiful Day. This film follows the story of Bill, an average man who is dealing with the frustrating complications of life. In the beginning, you really just think that Bill is depressed, but as the story progresses we learn that Bill has some sort of unspecified brain disease (my best guess is he has cancer of the brain, but it could be dementia or really anything else) that is going to drastically affect the way he interacts with the world around him. It is not a happy story by any means. It can be darkly funny from time to time, but in general it would be more applicable to call it depressing. And yet it is absolutely beautiful.
The film has very little dialogue but is rather entirely narration-driven. Hertzfeldt’s lackadaisical voice will say something like, “Bill wandered down the street, contemplating why his foot was sore,” and on the screen we watch Bill wander down the street, contemplating why his foot was sore. While in most films narration is a somewhat indolent excuse for storytelling when you don’t know how to actually depict the scene you’ve envisioned, Beautiful Day is one of those rare occasions where it is absolutely necessary. Bill is a very detached person. As far as I can recall, you never hear him speak in the film, and yet, through Hertzfeldt’s introspective narration, we know exactly what Bill is feeling at any given moment. The film is animated in a way unlike any other film ever made. All of the characters are simplistic stick figures, yet their world is interwoven with real-life pictures. In the beginning, Bill is existing in a world almost completely governed by stick figures. But as the film goes on and he opens up more to the world-or perhaps the world is opening up more to him-more and more real life images get interspersed in his life. This technique is one that is incredibly difficult to elucidate, so I have featured the following images to help explain:
The entire movie was made by Don Hertzfeldt. With the exception of a woman to do the female voices, and an editor who cut it all together, Hertzfeldt is the sole mind behind this intransigent film. His is a mind that is operating on a different level. Beautiful Day is a movie that encompasses every emotion all at once. It is at times vibrant and uplifting, and at others positively crushing and lachrymose. It is rebellious and bellicose, never compromising to please the audience. Beautiful Day doesn’t believe in happy endings, nor should it. In fact, at times it is almost unspeakably sad. And yet it still leaves you with a sense of melancholy inspiration. It is an unrealistically realistic portrayal of mental illness while never feeling sermonic or disingenuous. Bill is depressed. Bill is ill. These are facts. But his life is not oversimplified to these inauthentic labels. His plight is immensely vast and is explored in an absolutely revelatory fashion that could not be achieved with actual actors. Hertzfeldt accomplishes the herculean task of making you care for a stick figure. Through the use of cerebral and oftentimes aphoristic dialogue, positively inspired animation and the juxtaposition of music and images, he creates a film that is absolutely transcendent. There is an palpable feeling that you experience while watching It’s Such A Beautiful Day. This is a feeling you cannot describe. It is absolutely indescribable, but there is no mistaking that it is there. And it will stay with you for a long time after you witness this piece of art.
While discussing Pulp Fiction, I described the sense you get when you watch a movie that you know is better than your ability to comprehend it. Beautiful Day stimulates this feeling. There’s no getting around the idea that this is a masterpiece. And yet it is that rare divisive kind of masterpiece that can be either revered or abhorred. It really just comes down to what sort of person you are. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to describe to you exactly what this movie is. It is just that esoteric. But there is one thing I can say. If you have Netflix, please find this film and watch it. If for no reason other than to support Don Hertzfeldt and inspire more experiments like this one. You may hate it, and that’s okay. But you will not leave this movie without the understanding that this movie is a wonder and an absolute magnum opus, regardless of whether you understand it or not.
Images are from It’s Such A Beautiful Day, by Don Hertzfeldt