When I watched It’s Such a Beautiful Day a year ago, I was immediately taken aback. This was something new and different that I had never experienced in an animated film. I am sure many feel the same way when experiencing the work of indie animator Don Hertzfeldt for the first time. His films are unlike any others, which is what makes them so special. I can’t think of anybody else, for example, who expresses the despair, wonder, and the profundity of the universe with stick figure drawings. I can’t think of anybody else whose mind works in quite the same way as Hertzfeldt’s does in many ways; his thoughts are expressed quickly, indirectly, and often in a tangled mess but it all somehow still makes total emotional sense.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day is Hertzfeldt’s first, and only, feature, as he works predominantly in short films — although, even this isn’t easily classified as a feature. It’s made up of three previously released shorts, placed side by side, all depicting the life of a stick figure named Bill as he spirals into severe mental illness.
Hertzfeldt has a knack for finding insight and humor in the mundane. Disconnected moments in Bill’s life fly by at lightning speed, all monotonously described by a disembodied and unidentified narrator. The narrator does little other than factually observe Bill’s actions, but stating the minutiae of human action and interaction so plainly is inherently absurdist — we’ve never been asked to think about our instinctive behavior in those terms before. By putting it this way, it all seems pretty pointless and ridiculous.
In a sense, Hertzfeldt’s animation style is as simple as it gets. For the majority of the film, he uses stick figures, a monochromatic color scheme, and a spotlight on the main action while the rest of the screen remains black, limiting us to tunnel vision. It’s a way to express Bill’s state of mind: his perspective is limited and self-centered. He’s stuck within his own head. The world seems dull to him.
Hertzfeldt immerses us in Bill’s headspace through intricate techniques that elevate the film beyond its seeming simplicity. He layers sounds you might hear during a walk outside — wind, leaves, people chatting — and raises them to an anxiety-inducing cacophony, mutating the world into an overwhelming place and allowing us to understand Bill’s state of discomfort. Hertzfeldt’s absurdist imagery manages to be both illogical and entertaining in its uniqueness. These odd detours all reveal something about Bill’s unraveling psyche, while their randomness prevents them from feeling heavy-handed.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day is a claustrophobic film, as the audience is asked to share in Bill’s existential crisis. Fortunately, Hertzfeldt also gives us respite from the chaos by playing classical music or observing a small natural detail. These are genuinely beautiful moments that make for a complete and sublime experience. While It’s Such a Beautiful Day is only a 60 minute film, its ambition is huge. With simple tools at his disposal, Hertzfeldt attempts to sum up life on earth as he sees it, and he succeeds in a way that is difficult to describe. It’s so abstract, instinctual, and somehow completely clear.
If you’ve seen It’s Such a Beautiful Day let us know what you think. We’d love to start a discussion in the comments section!
To listen to the animation addicts podcast on It’s Such a Beautiful Day click here.
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden