I like weird things. I always have. Admittedly usually what’s weird and enjoyable to me tends to make others uncomfortable or bored. It just happens that way and I end up watching things alone most of the time. I was alone and barely keeping my head above depression waters when I discovered Don Hertzfield’s “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” on Netflix. I remember it was that grey area between Christmas and New Years and I was house sitting. I’d said yes to housesitting because it was far away from the rest of my family, I agreed to it so I could wallow in my misery in peace.
So here I am, 2am, in the middle of a depressive episode and carelessly scrolling through Netflix. I still don’t know why I picked this movie, part of me wants to believe that it was the stick figures that pulled me in. All I know is that finding “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” changed my life.
To give a quick summary, “It’s Such A Beautiful a Day” is an animated film by the genius Don Hertzfield that follows a stick figure named Bill and his descent into madness. The character is simple by design and though the backgrounds range from live action to photos to literal nothing, the focus is always on Bill and the journey he’s allowing us to experience with him. I’ve honestly never seen anything remotely like “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” and it’s been two years since I discovered the movie. From the deepest darkest corners of my heart, I love this film.
Bill, is a stick figure man that’s living and struggling from day to day. He’s been diagnosed with some kind of brain disorder and it’s starting to take its toll on him, both mentally and physically. He spends his days at the mental health clinic near his house, taking tests and trying to remember everyday things. He goes grocery shopping, goes to work, and rides the bus. All normal things that seem easy. It’s in this routine that Bill’s mind slips away and crumbles. He starts to forget things, he calls his ex-girlfriend and hallucinations are becoming more and more frequent. While this may seem like a terrible thing, it’s actually quite liberating for Bill. He learns about self-identity and the meaning of life.
I like to think that even if I didn’t learn the meaning of life like Bill, he and his journey still taught me a lot about self-identity. I relate to Bill and the strange thoughts he has, like insisting on only buying the fruit from the back of the pile because the fruit at the front is exactly at crotch level. Bill asks himself if his daily routines and rituals are a waste of his life or if they are his life, something that I ask myself often. I hate routines but I find calmness in them. The idea of doing something different, something new every day excites the hell out of me. But at the same time, it makes my anxiety flare up. I find comfort in doing the same thing each day but I get bored so easily.
Bill spends a lot of time inside the chaos of his mind, he spends a lot of time with his own thoughts. Everything he does on the outside, physically, is almost not important compared to what goes on in his head. While he’s eating crackers, Bill feels weird not having the tv on so he decides to watch boxing. One of the fighters head is split open and as the tv plays it over and over, the man’s screaming including, Bill decides to call his ex-girlfriend. It’s almost as if in this chaos of having eaten a whole box of crackers and the head split screaming man in tv, Bill finds a sort of comfort. He finds normality in the constant buzz that’s surrounding him. It’s a spiral of loudness that I find myself possibly relating most to Bill. There is always something on my mind, always. Whether it’s a song that’s playing over and over or a scenario that I can’t let go of. Sometimes I’ll even get stuck on the way a word sounds and somewhere in my mind, that word repeats itself thousands of times. But I can always keep doing regular things while my mind fills up and buzzes. My family calls it mental multitasking. I usually call it annoying.
Throughout the movie, it becomes unclear if what we’re experiencing with Bill is real or all in his head. From his outlandish family history to his sudden need to drive and drive and just keep driving, Bill’s brain disorder has in a sense taken him to a new world where everything and nothing make sense. In these wild stories of family members strangling rocks in fits of rage and being hit by trains, Bill finds clarity and confusion. He recounts these tales to us and to himself, at first as if to explain why Bill is the way he is but as the stories fade away into other ideas and other trains of thoughts; I couldn’t help but wonder if we were told these stories to show that nothing changes.
One of the stories we hear from Bill is about an interaction he has with a co-worker. The man tells Bill about one of the many theories of time. The basic idea is that the passing of time isn’t real, the past isn’t over and the future has already happened. They’re happening simultaneously because we as humans are only able to travel through time in one direction. It’s actually one of my personal favorite time travel theories. So I say that perhaps Bill telling us of his family history is to prove that nothing changes because if everything has already happened then Bill was always destined to end up deranged. He was already deep in his mental illness before we even meet him, maybe before he was even born. It was set that way by time. I think about this a lot.
Just when we start to think that Bill is getting better, he has a breakdown that lands him back in the hospital. This breakdown isn’t like the ones before as Bill can suddenly only remember a handful of obscure things. According to him, it’s like the years are slipping out of his head. Although there is no physical change to him, Bill is different now. More passive than he was before, he seems to only be going through the motions because there’s nothing else for him to do. He’s lost his memory and by doing so, learns that there’s a very high chance the family history and stories he’s been retelling to us might not have been real at all. Turns out that Bill’s brain may have been protecting him from the disorder that’s spreading through his mind and in that protection, created fabricated tales. It’s like an extreme version of when we lay awake at night imagining scenarios that will never happen to make ourselves feel better.
Bill comes to peace with what’s happening to him. He allows the disorder, the weirdness to overtake him and uplift him. And in doing so learns more than any of us could ever hope to. I’m sure that if Bill were a real person, his brain disorder wouldn’t be made out to be so poetic and beautiful. However, I’m ready and willing to suspend my disbelief for this movie, for this experience. While I don’t have a debilitating disorder like Bill, I see myself in him more and more. Every time I watch the film I notice something that I didn’t catch before, or I find a new way of looking at what the film is trying to convey. I relate to Bill and his experience so much I even have him tattooed on my body. A tribute to stick figure that pulled me out of the waves of sadness and helped me see that sadness in a new light.
I’m really grateful to have found this film. I’m forever in debt to the fresh ways of thinking it’s brought me. It’s Such A Beautiful Day is exactly that, it’s beautiful. Most probably find it weird and a little off-putting, my family won’t watch it based on reading the synopsis alone, but in it, I found a space that I can be myself in. I found reassurance in minds that can work differently but still do amazing things. It’s a small film, compared to the ones I normally watch, but it’s easily my all-time favorite.