A Tragic Bill of Health

It’s Such a Beautiful Day wonderfully tells the story of a man’s life and mental illness like a disjunct series of events

One of the more potent moments of It’s Such a Beautiful Day is when Bill walks around his block several times in a row, noting the same things (such as how beautiful the day is) without remembering all the previous times he took the same walk.

One of the more potent moments of It’s Such a Beautiful Day is when Bill walks around his block several times in a row, noting the same things (such as how beautiful the day is) without remembering all the previous times he took the same walk.

Ella Whalen, Staff Writer

Harken back to the late days of 2012, when I imagine most of the Talon’s readers were in elementary school. I doubt the average child at that age has seen more than children’s movies, with their frequent colors and strong plot arcs, save a few accidental peeks at whatever one’s parents wanted to watch on their own. My brother and I were no exception to this—until, that is, we stumbled across this newly released indie film on Netflix, decided to click it on (without adult supervision, I may add), and I can at least say changed my tastes, and really my life, forever. With my recent rediscovering and reappreciating of this movie, I would like to introduce to a broader audience It’s Such a Beautiful Day.

To start with the basics, the film is a stick figure animation shot in several ‘windows’, separate smaller images with blurry borders, such as those in this article’s image. The story revolves around Bill, a middle-aged man with an unnamed mental illness that causes him to hallucinate, have seizures, and frequently lose his memory. The narrator never says this directly, though, other than through the dialogue of one of Bill’s doctors giving him a diagnosis; instead, it is told through visual and auditory effects, with many moments of disorienting noises, backgrounds of fire (and sometimes pig masks), and mixed-up faces and images. These are often mixed in with, or even made out to be, the mundane, which include many albeit-dark jokes, such as Bill wanting just his head to be shot into space after he dies, as well as calmer moments, like several long shots of Bill just waiting for a bus or watching trash blow in the wind set to classical music. His mother, uncle, and ex-girlfriend all play their parts in supporting him, but for the majority of the movie he only has the company of strangers if anyone at all.

This movie’s method of storytelling is something that likely has a proper term, but I have come to affectionately call ‘spaghetti on the wall’. There are rarely transitions between scenes, but the sharp cuts are also rarely made to contrast them—the one and only moment I recall them played like that was the first time Bill was sent to the hospital after a particularly severe fit at the bus stop, cutting from him laying on the sidewalk to “sometimes the IV fluids put a bad taste in his mouth.” Instead, the scenes are just snapshots of life, and are narrated with little dramatic tone. It is all treated as, like I said before, mundane, and the viewer is left with a sad, yet very human life to pick apart for connections, implications, and symbolisms. Often, in the most emotional moments, there is not even narration, and instead just surreal imagery with classical music.

Perhaps it is because I have only experienced so much, but I have yet to see any piece of media pull off a story so somber and rich, yet so truly human, and it is both the only movie I’ve seen to make me involuntarily cry and one of the few pieces of media I will insist on people experiencing. It wonderfully captures the fragility of memory and of human existence as a whole, it beautifully portrays the onset of mental illness without antagonizing it, and even though the core visuals of the movie are merely stick figures, it can be downright gorgeous sometimes, especially during its ending. Fortunately, the first of its three chapters is available for free on YouTube through the director, Don Hertzfeldt, and the entire movie can be streamed through the Criterion Channel. For fans of more offbeat ways of storytelling, those of tragedies and dramas, and even those with just a bit darker of a sense of humor, I highly recommend giving the 62 minutes of It’s Such a Beautiful Day a look.