“All this detail he’s never noticed. Detail he’s never noticed. He’s alive, he’s alive. He’s alive, he’s alive. Never noticed. He’s alive.
He wants to stop people in the street and say, ‘Isn’t this amazing? Isn’t everything amazing?’”
It’s Such a Beautiful Day is a film by artist Don Hertzfeldt that follows Bill; a man with a degenerative neurological disorder that suffers through hallucinations, seizures, and confabulated memories. The film explores this with unmatched nuance and tact, avoiding clichés and stereotypes often perpetuated by media of similar subjects. It’s Such a Beautiful Day is told entirely from Bill’s perspective, narrated by Hertzfeldt. The narration is an integral and enigmatic presence throughout the film, describing events, Bill’s thoughts, and at times seemingly voicing its own concerns. It is a densely philosophical and artistic film that delivers immense meaning in an unconventional package with an unmatched level of sensitivity and intentionality.
The film has three chapters that were released individually before their compilation into the 2012 release, It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Everything Will Be OK (2006), I’m So Proud of You (2008), and It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2011) form a non-linear narrative that encompasses Bill’s past, present, and future and his relationship with the passage of time, family, and death.
These heavy subjects are explored through insightful storytelling that uses a compelling combination of animation, audio, and dialogue to create one of the most important films anyone could ever experience.
Being an animated film, the visuals of It’s Such a Beautiful Day are unsurprisingly one of the work’s strongest elements. Hertzfeldt’s style is a perfect embodiment of the concept of “less is more.” His characters are little more than simple stick figures with minute distinction from one another, an embracement of impressionable minimalism. The backgrounds are often only represented in the character’s immediate vicinity, with the rest of the space being voided out as if the audience is peering through a hole punched through a piece of paper. Yet, Hertzfeldt’s artistry still shines even within this rudimentary shell. Bill and the characters around him are surprisingly expressive and human, not only through their facial expressions but their movement and gestures as well.
Occasionally, there are distinct moments of movement that suddenly separates the characters from their surroundings, making them seem uncannily present and alive. One of the most compelling moments of this is when Bill receives a disheartening diagnosis. He slowly takes off his hat and rubs his head. Now what I just described to you may sound extremely dull, but Bill’s familiar far-away look combined with the removal of his distinctive hat combined with the jarring third dimension to his motion combined with his isolation on the voided background makes for a devastatingly despondent scene. It feels as though you are sitting in the doctor’s room with him, drowning in the weighty silence.
The art that forms It’s Such a Beautiful Day is refined by intentionality and stylistic perseverance– nothing seems out of place and the level of detail of backgrounds and settings rarely clashes with the simplicity of the characters. Until of course, it’s supposed to.
This minimalist art style is powerfully juxtaposed by stimulating effects that carry an extreme level of power in facilitating what the audience is to experience throughout the film’s runtime. Often interspersed alongside the animation are photographs or looping videos of serene nature, imposing cities, or dizzying cascades of color. There is something off about the movement depicted in these photographs, it is choppy and stiff as if the mind that perceives it is stuttering and clamoring to retain its grip on what it sees. It is chilling to think that these are very literal shreds of reality that are perceived only in glimpses by Bill. As the movie progresses, Bill is overwhelmed by details as the drawn world begins to merge with highly saturated photography and videos. It is difficult to discern if this is indicative of clarity or further delusion.
Don Hertzfeldt’s work has the acute ability to overwhelm, to suffocate the viewer with stimuli, with barrages of motion and vibrance. Don Hertzfeldt’s work has the acute ability of being hard to watch. The pleasant figures and focused lenses quickly deteriorate into a viscerally simulatory experience, an exploration of the harsh reality of Bill’s shattered psyche, his fading memories, and all the wonderful things he will do with his life.
Astoundingly, It’s Such a Beautiful Day is entirely drawn by hand! As a whole, the work took six years to produce. Hertzfelt’s authentic appeal is no doubt a byproduct of the technology he uses: a rostrum camera built in the 1940s, with many effects being achieved by practical means. This laborious process is alleviated by the minimalistic style, yet it feels as though nothing is lost or hindered, and Hertzfeldt’s work stands as a testament to the efficacy of the animation medium.
The sound design of It’s Such a Beautiful Day is the perfect complement to its visuals. Starting with the music selection– a mix of classical and opera with the inclusion of pieces written by Hertzfeldt. Bill’s rare lucidity is represented by flowing classical music that seems to spill over itself as he is overwhelmed with clarity amidst his tumultuous reality. The pensive strings and bright harmony of Au Fond Du Temple Saint make the mundane act of waiting at a bus stop into something meaningful and worth savoring.
More compellingly, sound is used with frightening success to compound sequences of hysteria. Shrill whines, reversed audio, familiar yet distorted music, and frantic whispers combine to form a cacophony of meaningless noise that makes certain scenes borderline unbearable to sit through. The progressive layering of audio is at the heart of It’s Such a Beautiful Day’s horrific escalation– the process is just as excruciating as the product.
However, the most deafening sound the viewer hears throughout the film is silence. When not being clouded by music or a harsh din, ambient noise contrasts heavily with the secluded visuals. The purposeful usage of sound throughout turns passive silence into a waiting explosion, the suspenseful stand-still between composure and chaos. The combination of ambient sound and the split-screen visuals create a frightening sense of a larger, more complex world around It’s Such a Beautiful Day, an inaccessible reality that is present beyond the forced perspective of the viewer, beyond the forced perspective of Bill.
There are many instances throughout the film that feel more like poetry than prose. The level of nuance to Bill’s journey is accomplished by an exploration of warped mundanity, an average life skewed by insanity. Experienced viewers may criticize the explicit narration style, as it presents the movie’s most poignant observations in a way that seems shallow, devaluing the insight it has to offer by framing it so plainly. It seems like a waste of the film medium’s ability to show things rather than simply telling them, yet, it accomplishes the opposite! By presenting itself this way, there is a greater emphasis placed on the visuals and more broadly, the experience of the film as a whole rather than what it has to say. At its core, It’s Such a Beautiful Day is about the experience rather than the analysis. It’s Such a Beautiful Day is so meaningful because it is centered around meaninglessness. At first, it is easy to misconstrue the uncomfortable depiction of Bill’s illness as a tool to produce surreal nonsense and to collocate punchy moments of black humor. It is also easy to go into this movie with an expectation of deep meaning and life-changing sentiments, as I did. Most likely, the inexperienced arthouse viewer such as myself will be met by something that feels wholly meaningless and it took me a while to process that this was by design. It’s Such a Beautiful Day is a contrasting foil to the life of the average viewer. The absurdist exploration of Bill’s life operates on the opposite ends of a spectrum of life and death– on one end is a life crippled by the fear of its end, the other the disquieting void of immortality. The viewer occupies the beautiful day in between, where their decisions, their relationships, their routines, and their lives have meaning.
While the purpose of the movie is not centered around interpreting its happenings, it still leaves room to make connections between events and symbols and narrative movements and anything else in the artistic plethora. The non-linear structure of the narrative has enticed me to visit this movie time and time again since beginning the process of writing this article. There are many elements to analyze and appreciate, from the role of the narrator to Bill’s existential musings, and I encourage you to do it yourself. From the imagery of the sun, moon, and ocean to the power of notes from a mother, each viewing of It’s Such a Beautiful Day is more intricate and beautiful than the last.
The ability to know your pain is real is a beautiful thing. To exist amidst it is yet another. It’s Such a Beautiful Day strikes a chord between simplistic yet significant meaning and absurd artistic contrivance. It is a film that while it may not change your life, at the minimum it will take you away from it for just 62 minutes. This distance from yourself is harrowingly important. It made me sit and think about all the wonderful things I will do with my life. I am of the utmost confidence that it will do the same for you.
You can watch the first chapter, Everything Will Be OK, for free on Don Hertzfeldt’s official channel on YouTube! The entirety of It’s Such a Beautiful Day is available on demand on Vimeo or DVD.