It’s Such a Beautiful Day
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a harder time articulating exactly what I love about something than I have Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Fortunately, it’s one of the first that I’ve been able to actually show you some real piece of in this series. Take a look at the video below. It’s the first section entitled “EVERYTHING WILL BE OK” and it’s well worth your time.
Don Hertzfeldt has an absolute mastery of the animation form. The kind of mastery so complete that he has no need to be bound by it. It’s Such a Beautiful Day breaks down the barriers of animation and even of film to create something absolutely singular.
Being singular is one of those things feels unachievable in art. No matter what, somebody will tread the same groove, whether through inspiration or through craven copy. But with It’s Such a Beautiful Day, I don’t think anyone either before or after has hit anything but the broadest strokes.
There are other pitch-black comedies. But nothing is this shade of darkness. Hertzfeldt has a unique sense of humor, we knew that since Rejected. But it’s that in this film every one of those dark jokes comes from such an uncomfortable place. It’s not just absurdity, it’s a dare.
There’s other experimental animation. But nothing feels quite so much like the experimentation is so fundamental to the core of the story, or so much like there was no other way to tell a story but this way. The way that the thoughts that plague Bill jumble around, pull focus, cloud our vision. It’s such an effortless simulation of what Bill is experiencing that for an hour, you feel consumed. It’s putting you in that place.
In fact, it’s difficult to think of another work of art that so puts you in the mental space of mental illness.
Let me stop here. I think I’m so used to getting into the technical and historical elements of these films in this top 10 list so far that it’s been really hard to get into the first one that I don’t think is important for some historical reason or some purely intellectual love. Or that’s associated with some happy memory.
I mean, I do think is a remarkable narrative and technical animation achievement. And I do think that Don Hertzfeldt is probably the most important singular animator working today. But that’s not what makes It’s Such a Beautiful Day so amazing to me.
Let’s pull back for a second. Yep, I promised you something deeper, but I’m gonna throw up a layer of intellectualizing bullshit to guard before I get there.
Art, at its best, is often said to be about the human condition and how we struggle with it. But I think that tends to be misinterpreted. Art, and I certainly am still guilty of this in my own writing, is often turned towards being prescriptive in its thoughts on the human condition. That being, that by seeing what’s wrong, we seek to fix it. To say the right or the wrong and then to prescribe the cure through art.
Certainly, there is a place for that. But sometimes the most powerful of art is one that understands to simply reflect the human condition. Understanding that moving into the issue and giving the cure becomes generalizing. A reflection that is specific can become universal. Something that shows an absolutely deep and one-of-a-kind understanding, a sharing of experience because it’s all you can do, can speak more than any experience which tries to speak the world.
See, there I go, prescribing again. It’s why I’m writing on a blog of my own design.
Why do I bring that up in relation to It’s Such a Beautiful Day? Simple enough. I love this film to death because it speaks to me like few other films ever have. It spoke to me in moments that nothing else was getting through.
I don’t think of made any secret of struggling with depression from time to time. I mean, I don’t have anything major, nor do I have anything sexy and French. Just a simple set of invasive thoughts that induce a low-grade feeling that the world isn’t terribly worth playing a part in, nor am I worth enough to get out bed that morning. I function, but not well.
It’s not my fault, honestly. I come by it genetically, a secret timebomb locked somewhere in my brain and my DNA. It’s just a part of everything.
It’s during one of those episodes that I first saw It’s Such a Beautiful Day. I think no film ever spoke so plainly and beautifully to what mental illness was and how it is lived with. The constant fear, the little oddities, the day in the day out of how it fluctuates. Bill’s is obviously much more extreme, but it’s relatable to anyone who’s been through it, especially the fear of it all.
Hertzfeldt treats the subject with such care and love underneath the strangeness and the experimental distance. It really feels like he cares for Bill, that difficult little lunatic. And in that care, he finds something beautiful. A world that is scary and dark, yes, but one that has its moments of sheer melancholic beauty. A world that speaks to all those who have the same invasive patterns as Bill, that it won’t be good, but maybe it does get better at least for a little while, once you come to terms with it.
Okay, look, it’s not a positive message. Bill is ultimately coming to terms with his own demise, and the ending is a final delusion as he’s passing off. But for me, Hertzfeldt is broadcasting to the world that someone gets it.
I’ve broken a rule. Criticism is about the film, not me. But It’s Such a Beautiful Day is impossible to separate, at least in my own film. It’s a film I love because for the first time, I was actually pretty sure someone understood me. That’s art at its most pure, a reflection of the world that we can reach out and touch.