Back in 2007, Don Hertzfeldt’s “everything will be ok” totally blew me away. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time: “I saw this during DJ XL5’s Kaleidoscopic Zappin’ Party, in a gorgeous 35mm print. This is one of the most powerful examples of why film is superior to video I’ve ever seen. Hertzfeldt uses to its full potential the dreamlike state created on the viewer by images projected 24 frames per second and, for 17 minutes, he takes you on a journey into the life of one Bill. Using his usual deceivingly simple stick figure drawings, plus some photographs and colourful special effects, all of which in simultaneous multiple frames, the film immerses you completely in an altered state of mind. I’d rather not go into details about the story (which is told through perfectly worded omniscient narration), as part of the genius of the piece is how it keeps confusing and surprising you. It starts out funny and absurd, grows more and more thoughtful, then at some point it becomes practically hallucinogenic. Throughout, it’s also incredibly emotionally affecting. This is a full-on masterpiece, easily the best work of art I’ve experienced all year. Incredibly, this is only the first part of a planned trilogy. I truly wonder how Hertzfeldt could possibly top what he’s accomplished here.”
Somehow I never got the chance to see the second film, “i am so proud of you”. But during Fantasia 2012, again in a shorts program curated by my friend DJ XL5, I saw the final chapter of Hertzfeldt’s trilogy and found it as brilliant, unique and profoundly moving as “everything will be ok”. In only 23 minutes, the filmmaker manages to encompass nearly everything primordial about human life and death, both on an achingly intimate and a staggeringly universal level.
I’ve never seen mental illness depicted as masterfully and powerfully as it is in these films. The use of the aforementioned deceivingly simple stick figure drawings, spliced with live action footage and various other visual elements, combined with the voice-over narration, again achieve to put us right into Bill’s fractured mind, and the alternately (or simultaneously at times) emotional, psychological, lyrical, comical and metaphysical journey we go on with him is absolutely unforgettable. “it’s such a beautiful day” is nothing less than a perfect film, from start to finish, but I still have to single out two sequences: the “Isn’t everything amazing?” bit and the nursing home scene. The latter in particular is one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen on screen.
Now, I’ve finally seen the full trilogy, which has been edited into a feature film with the same title as the third and final short, “it’s such a beautiful day”. Clocking in at 62 minutes, it offers an epic look at various forms of psychosis, as the second chapter, “i am so proud of you”, reveals that Bill comes from a long line of people with mental problems. “Genetics is pretty messed up.” I’m sure the silly ways his relatives behave will appear hilarious to some, but to me, it was all very, very sad. The brain is such a fragile, vulnerable little thing. Most of the time, it works well and it can do extraordinary things… But when it doesn’t work so well, it can get pretty damn messed up.
Throughout, there are also all kinds of fascinating observations that can be naive, profound or often, both at the same time. The use of images and sound is thoroughly brilliant, pure cinema at its best. I could – and I will – watch this film over and over. I’ve honestly almost never seen a work of art so rich and rewarding. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen.