It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)
Written & Directed by Don Hertzfeldt
This animated feature focuses on Bill, a very average man is going through the routines of his life when he’s struck with severe memory loss issues. Other health complications follow and pretty soon it’s clear that Bill’s life is forever changed. Interspersed with Bill’s story are flashbacks and vignettes about his childhood and members of his family. As these smaller stories unfold, they add to the larger narrative that Bill is the byproduct of generations of mental illness. Because the film is told from a third person perspective inside Bill’s head, we see the world the way Bill sees it. His hallucinations are woven into the flow of the story almost imperceptibly at points. His memories of his family and stories he was told about them become suspect as fictions.
Director Don Hertzfeldt chooses to tell such a painfully intimate story with such humor and uses animation to operate beyond the limitations of such a low budget project. Layers of art are used cleverly to inform the audience of Bill’s state mind, fragmenting the image, creating explosions of light in the background as Bill suffers from mini-strokes, merging the details of a live-action film against the simplistic design of the characters. These are all employed to significant effect, adding plunges into empathy and philosophical depth about human frailty and majesty.
Hertzfeldt is talented enough to know he can’t begin with the profound and creates verbal patterns of minutiae in his narration. His delivery is never grandiose and maintains a very even, near-monotone tenor for the whole of the film. He describes the day to day movements of Bill impartially and continues that performance even when Bill begins to suffer from maladies. There is a portion in the last act of the movie where Bill keeps forgetting he’s already gone on a walk around the neighborhood. Bill continually ends up at his front step making the same remark about how beautiful the day is and then going through the motions again. Hertzfeldt plays it for enough iterations that it goes from being a little humorous to becoming achingly tragic. Right after that, he shows a series of moments where memory loss harms his ability to buy groceries, drive, and maintain his health by remembering appointments and medications.
It could be very easy for a film on these themes to crumble into empty maudlin sentiment, but Hertzfeldt has an understanding of the nuance of Bill’s condition. People with memory loss experience a wide range of emotions because of their situation. Yes, many of them become frustrated and subsequently depressed. However, they can also find humor in the absurdity of their condition. People who have hallucinations can find themselves bemused and silly from the image their minds conjure up.
Hertzfeldt can take us to heart-rending moments of illumination. There’s a memory Bill has of a time when he was staring out at the sea and contemplating “all the wonderful things he will do with his life.” That moment is led into with grace and empathy and never underlined by the filmmaker. It is the audience who will make the connections with the facts and emotions of the scene: Bill’s memories feeling like he’s living in them only to encounter a moment where he had all possibilities laid out before him. He’s snapped back to the present, his situation very dire and his whole self in a state of deterioration.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day feels like a movie we’re honestly unworthy of. It possesses a level of empathy you don’t encounter in contemporary society very much. The film can find hope in tragedy and humor in pain and does so with a genuinely loving touch. We’re told a profoundly personal story while feeling as though everything presented on screen is universally relatable. Everything here works to showcase how animation, while viewed in American culture as primarily a children’s genre, can be a form capable of expressing transcendence.