‘If Anything Happens, I Love You’: An Answer to Compassion Fatigue?

Netflix

Numbers are rarely just numbers. If you’ve been following the news or social media discourse these days, you may be aware that “psychic numbing” and “compassion fatigue” are expressions that are thrown around a lot, sometimes carelessly. Yet the concept behind these words is a lot easier to grasp than their seriousness makes it seem: simply put, and perhaps somewhat illogically, the more people are concerned by something, the less we are wired to care. Not because we’re all doomed to be insensitive assholes, but simply because after a certain point, large numbers don’t really make sense to our tiny brains anymore. The difference between one million and twelve millions is an enormous one —and yet, the emotional reaction most of us will have upon hearing either of these numbers next to a death count won’t differ much.

We can naturally be concerned about the consequences of these limitations: how can we make people care about serious issues again? Are we cursed to remain emotionally detached from tragedies, never fully grasping the horrors of the world in an attempt to shelter ourselves from pain? Having a pessimistic view of the future and of humanity in general can be more than tempting, especially right now; but for many of us, that’s where film and entertainment come in. There’s a reason why people turn to art when things get hard: few of us care about numbers and statistics in the same way we care about stories.

Will McCormack and Michael Govier, the directors of the newest Netflix-produced animated short film If Anything Happens I Love You understand this better than anyone. Along the course of the 12 minutes we spend with its nameless characters, the short film works the basics of storytelling to its full advantage. There’s no need for words or extravagant animated quirks; even before knowing the particulars of the story, the black and white palette illustrating the couple’s home life shows that they are part of a world that can’t be concerned with anything superfluous anymore. The parents that are introduced to us need to be satisfied with simple survival, as everything else has become overwhelming. Soft bird chirping has the potential to be as loud as an entire orchestra. Eating dinner, watching television or cleaning have become essential mindless tasks to fill days after days of longing for a happiness that once was. Anyone who has ever worked themselves to the ground will know it: if it’s not monitored carefully, productivity can become little more than a socially acceptable coping mechanism. Pretending things are normal is sometimes the only way to keep yourself from falling into despair upon realising that they really aren’t, and might never be again.

Netflix

Anyone who has ever felt the person-shaped hole that grief leaves in a heart will fill in the gaps of the story early, way before time starts rolling backwards and we find out through flashbacks where the characters’ lives went from colour-filled to monochrome. The film’s brilliance doesn’t lie in its originality; it just figured out how to tell a story we’ve all heard before in a way that makes it feel just as new and raw as the first time. This is a story we may have heard on the radio on the way to work in the morning, watched a news segment about on television or scrolled past on our social media feed, until it faded into the background and became nothing more than yet another number, another statement, another name in a crowd of similar anonymous victims. 

Entirely hand-drawn and expertly paced by various pieces of melancholic music, from King Princess’ “1950” to original instrumental music by Lindsay Thomas, If Anything Happens I Love You highlights the deep humanity of issues we rarely think of in personal terms anymore. The film was carefully crafted alongside non-profit organisations and grieving parents, and the result is without a doubt a tribute to every story, every piece of information, every bit of themselves that these people were willing to share with the filmmakers. There’s nothing like turning the story of many into a story of one to make people care again about issues they had brushed aside as not relevant to their lives —and the film is unmistakable proof of that.

Never has the notion of the personal being political (and vice versa) been so important. It’s easy to detach yourself from politics when you’ve never been personally touched by the rights and policies that are fiercely debated again and again, either within your immediate friend and family circle or by politicians and activists on a much larger scale. It’s tempting to forget about feelings, to attach yourself to amendments and statistics to attempt to make sense of a world that is so often mercilessly senseless. In the face of tragedy, it is more necessary than ever to remember that art is there to keep us going when human compassion reaches its natural limits. Once in a while, we all need something or someone to show us that what we put on a ballot isn’t just about who will live in a big house for the next couple of years; something to remind us that caring about an issue doesn’t make us sensitive or weak, but rather that people who are willing to take a stand for something are the ones strong enough to fight for those who were robbed of their chance to do so. 

That is most likely the mission that McCormack, Govier and their animator team had attempted to carry out in their directorial debut, and it is hard to imagine anyone being indifferent to it. That much needed sensitivity awakening in unsuspecting audiences might be exactly the point of such a viewing experience. If Anything Happens I Love You grabs its viewers tight and doesn’t allow them to let go. Simple, nearly suffocating, and incredibly hard to shake off afterwards, the short story hits all the right marks and proves itself to not only be one of Netflix’s best short films, but an unlikely contestant for the most impactful piece of filmmaking of the year. Even if you don’t go in blind, you will come out of it seeing a lot more than you used to.

If Anything Happens I Love You is available to stream on Netflix now

by Callie Hardy

Callie (she/her) is a Belgian New Media student currently living in Dublin. She enjoys female-fronted horror, nostalgic adaptations of childhood classics and every outfit Blake Lively wears in A Simple Favor. She’s usually pretty honest, but if you catch her saying that her favourite film is anything other than Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, you should know that she’s lying. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Letterboxd.

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