The Meaning of Life (2005) dir. Don Hertzfeldt
Keep in mind, this is what the human race sounded like to Don Hertzfeldt before social media.
The planets developing in parallel evolutions is appropriate for this, the fourth(ish) and at the time longest film by Don Hertzfeldt. As computers rapidly changed the face of mainstream animation, his lo-fi, wrist-cramping style became more and more of a distinguishing feature, even as his style absorbed its own new methods and textures.
“The Meaning of Life” is the transition between two stages of Hertzfeldt’s career. The film was completed five years after his breakout short “Rejected,” a series of increasingly surreal and macabre advertisements for made-up products, each one having been supposedly rejected by the client. The short showcased Hertzfeldt’s wicked comic timing and characters that were as appealing as they were simple. The anti-corporate bent and bloody humor made it a post-Fight Club semi-underground hit and earned Hertzfeldt his first Oscar nomination (true to hangdog form, he describes himself as “two-time Oscar loser” on his twitter and vimeo accounts).
“Life” starts from this discomfort with commercialization (“Give me your money” is the first of the mindless mantras repeated) and literally fast-forwards past the deaths of civilizations and through the dawn of other worlds – worlds that produce their own creatures repeating bits of inanity. Finally, the din quiets around a pair of otherworldly creatures (possibly a father and son) whose language is completely incomprehensible other than the words “meaning of life.” The presence of those words is all we need to interpret the conversation. A watercolor sky dims. The stars come out.
Once he put his head above the clouds, Hertzfeldt wouldn’t return. His wit remains acerbic and his style distinctive, even as it now incorporates digital elements. But his curiosity and fears would reach out in new directions. His next project would eventually stitch a trilogy of shorts into a feature about a dying man losing his memory. After that, Hertzfeldt would receive his second Oscar loss for “World of Tomorrow,” a contemplation of the future connecting to the past.
Unless we find ourselves stuck repeating the same thought over and over, we’re all evolving. It’s nice to have an artist like Hertzfeldt who does the same.
Note: I try to play fair with links, especially with artists like Hertzfeldt who make their living off direct sales online. The link above comes from his website, where you can rent or buy his other films, including the new sequel to “World of Tomorrow.”