Who would have thought that the deranged animator who conceived of the dancing puff ball whose "anus is bleeding" would turn out some of the most profound films—yes, films in general—of the 2010s? I am referring to Don Hertzfeldt and his Oscar-nominated short film, "Rejected," in which Hertzfeldt presents fake commercials he was never asked to make for non-existent products. At nine minutes, "Rejected" is endlessly rewatchable, hilarious and sort of terrifying, particularly the existential, Bela Tarr-esque ending. And it is that ending that cues you to prepare for his more recent films, including It's Such a Beautiful Day.
It's Such a Beautiful Day is actually a collection of three short films (made respectively in 2006, 2008 and 2011) that Hertzfeldt edited together in 2012. All three films are tales in the life of Bill, a middle-aged man with an undisclosed mental condition who struggles to lead a semblance of a normal life. In addition to crippling anxiety, he suffers from memory loss and has difficulty communicating with the people around him, even the ones he knows well, like his ex-girflriend or mother.
Narrated by Hertzfeldt himself, It's Such a Beautiful Day is drawn in the same jerky, stick figure-adjacent style as "Rejected" and the rest of Hertzfeldt's work. But like the ending of "Rejected," it plays with the conventions of hand-drawn animation, either by manipulating the actual canvas, including other kinds of media (such as brief shots of live action, overlaid with the animation) or other effects I can't even begin to describe. It is apparently Hertzfeldt's goal to convey what it is like to be in the head of someone with mental illness; it is an experience so raw and frequently unsettling that I can only imagine that Hertzfeldt himself—or at least someone very close to him—must feel this way on a regular basis.
One of the most striking aspects of Beautiful Day is its sound design, a feature of Hertzfeldt's work that sneaks up on you but is perhaps even more bracing than the animation itself. When Bill is at some of his worst moments, the soundtrack crackles and screams with disembodied sound. The narration will drop out to coincide with Bill's own consciousness fading, for one reason or another. It can be very grueling at some times to experience, thrusting the audience into at least a sense of the inner turmoil one must feel in Bill's position. But there is also plenty of beauty to the sound, as there is to the animation. We frequently hear the noise of birds singing, wind blowing or the people around Bill gently speaking to him. Hertzfeldt's world is a complicated one, and the audiovisual experience of this film pulls that through.
Where this film goes, I will not spoil, but suffice it to say that it flows into the realm of transcendentalism by the end. This may or may not be a product of Bill's splintered psyche; Hertzfeldt isn't telling. But it segues beautifully into the cosmic questioning and mystery of Hertzfeldt's subsequent short, "The World of Tomorrow," which was damnably passed over for an Academy Award last year. It's Such a Beautiful Day is on Netflix: you've probably seen it before and bypassed it for being animated. Do yourself a favor and put it on, crank the sound and allow the experience to wash over you. You will be shaken.