Comfortable and Furious

If Anything Happens I Love You (2020)

(Content Warnings: Gun violence, mass shootings, child death, parental grief)

Via Netflix, I first watched this heart-pulverizing work of short-film animation a handful of years ago. It leveled me… as such message-bearing works of A/V art should… yet it wasn’t until this very week that it occurred to me to talk about it here on Ruthless terrain. Regardless of how my review is received, I need to say this, as far as my lungs and diaphragm will carry: this important piece of creative work needs to be seen, far and wide, especially in the Western world, where subject matter of this kind occurs with the terrifying frequency of an eyelash washing up, itching and unremarkable, in each native viewers’ eyes. America is being torn apart, often by the escape velocity of shells evacuating barrels, and it’s neither funny nor a clinically impotent Constitutional argument for eunuchs terrified of fighting without sidearms.

Okay. That’s off my shoulders. Still with me, kiddo? Let’s go.

We open on the Gilbert Films and Oh Good production company logos, before softly fading into a Netflix introduction, and then the names of co-creators Will McCormack and Michael Govier appear. Credit to all involved, before the piece begins in earnest.

An ambient sound-bed of suburban wildlife, chirping, chittering, humming, opens over a minimal musical piece –composed by the very talented Lindsay Marcus– with chiming piano, ambient elements, and humming strings. A couple, we assume to be a married man and woman, sit across a very long table from one another, eating with stiff postures. Clearly, there is pain here.

The woman leaves for the yard, caressing some new garden growth, and the man watches some competitive sport on a TV screen. The piano chimes, resonating, foregrounding these two characters, who become increasingly foregrounded as the survivors of a ravening trauma.

As the sound on the man’s television slightly fades up, the machines where the woman is attempting to load some laundry die, and she collapses, weeping. A shade, an ancient form of ghost from untold past traditions, reaches forward to embrace and hold her. The lovely, now painful, music plinks onward.

This embrace, the mother and the shadow-form, manages to kick a soccer ball toward a turntable, which starts the playing of a record, and this “awakens” the daughter character. The music saunters and serenades, finally fading upward and, via an excellent sound mix, fills the audio space, giving the viewer and the surviving parents a sense of life missing from their previously shattered environs. A departed daughter lives again, if only through strutting vocals and forthright grooves.

The daughter’s shade cavorts with the shadow of the family cat, and her parents reconnect, tentatively, watching this tenuous reunion.

It becomes achingly clear that the couple were violently ripped apart by the loss of their child.

The daughter’s shade then floats in the air, but merely for moments, before joining the shadows of her father and mother, touching all of them together. A camera then downward-pans to show the trio commiserating inside of a family car, on their way to a tourism stop, before a dissolve to the parental couple cuddling and kissing as their baby daughter splashes into her celebratory cake, a chiming rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer” playing us out of this moment…

…and into a very exuberant following moment, where daughter and father are very much engaged in soccer exercises, while mother launches into her gardening, very much attentive over her shoulder, all the while. An errant bicycle-kick sends the ball into an exterior wall, which crumbles, and the daughter dutifully repairs this error before snapping a family selfie. The recurring motif of heads in silhouette recurs, and this trio glides down the frame, allowing shadows to morph into celebratory balloons: it is daughter’s birthday celebration, and we see her blow out a big wax TEN of candles before kissing a boy in the distant background, while Mom & Dad watch and run so as not to be caught excitedly seeing their daughter experience a lovely moment of discovery. The musical background is playful, exuberant, melancholic, feeling to this author like George Winston on his most unselfconscious afternoon.

Daughter waves to Mom & Dad, her gap-toothed grin shining, and the animation has the shades of both parents rushing toward her, panicked, as she turns to walk toward a schoolhouse. There is a foreboding here that had your author speechless, though still writing, through what was forecast for any audience not entirely ignorant of these cues.

A pantomime of sorts follows, in this sequence, the parents becoming a literal wall, then a coiled rope surrounding, then finally a pair of warding-off figures, as their daughter understandably trudges toward her schoolyard, for the day ahead. The music, never less than lovely, carries a high-strung tinge hinting at possible menace, and we viewers cannot shake that something untoward lies ahead.

The interior of a hallway appears. Footsteps echo. Then, gunshots. Loud. Repeated. Screams. The visuals dim. Fade up to blue and red emergency flashers.

Typed/tapped across the screen of a cell phone are the words, “If anything happens I love you”.

A cacophony of noise –shrieks, sirens, a slamming score sting– surrounds this visual. A hazy wash of cruiser blue-and-reds flicker, and then we are crushed to… not black, but white.

Then black.

A slow fade-up to the final text message: Whatever happens I love you. Clawing, chiming notes reach, hold, grind into bass tones. A shower of both timbres, rain sounds and keystrokes, anxious-making digital tones follow, turning the moment to confusion.

The camera pans down, mercilessly vertical, to a pair of agonized silhouettes, both bent over, weeping, facing away from each other. The object of their agony, the daughter now perished, in the sharp foreground, also a silhouette.

She reaches out a hand, to catch the rain, depicted as vertical slashes, our soundscape is all heavy bass tones and the slice of these “drops” as they fly earthward.

The perished daughter’s shade reaches, impossibly, grasping her father’s and mother’s arms, and both parents march away, stretching the arms of their ghostly daughter outward to surrealistic lengths. She holds on until she snaps back, then coalesces, grows to a massive orb, swells and surrounds them as they march away in grief. The daughter they have lost is not the globe desperate to give them shelter, marching across what is depicted as a glacier, enfolded by the daughter’s hugging force. 

Seemingly alone, on a floating iceberg, with a sun eerily mimicking their departed daughter’s smile, the parents embrace. They collapse gently inward, holding one another, seemingly releasing the Gordian knot of emotions they have wrestled with since losing their only child. A plaintive piano figure plays with purpose as they hug, surrendering.

I have nothing to add to this gorgeous work about the nature of life stolen far too soon, and the nature of this terrible time in which any, or all, of us may have had an irreplaceable person ripped away.

Divorced of any cynicism or pessimism, I encourage you to watch this agonizingly poignant short film on Netflix, before making a phone call, writing a letter, saying a prayer, blasting a favorite song, all in the service of reaching, honoring, and remembering someone that meant the world to you. Peace to all of those that suffer.






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