Sally Jane Black’s review published on Letterboxd:
I wonder how he thought of this in these terms. I do not suffer from any similar mental illness to the one depicted here, but what Hertzfeldt depicts fascinated me because it felt right. I have no frame of reference, but what he described seemed insightful, seemed like it might actually be an accurate representation of something so often mishandled in media. Because of this, the film comes across with empathy. I felt compelled to read about Hertzfeldt on Wikipedia to see if this was rooted in any aspect of his life (the Wikipedia entry did not say). This is a strange idea to get from a film in which hallucination is occasionally treated as a punchline, but the struggle of focus, the repetition caused by memory loss, the awkwardness of the human interaction here all felt sincerely and sympathetically depicted.
Like many, I first fell in love with Hertzfeldt's animation style with "Rejected." I remember my friends and I gathering for its Adult Swim debut only to be disappointed when it never arrived, and our obsessive quoting of its bizarre dialogue at each other. What did not get discussed as much back then (by my friends and I) but what also stood out was how impressive and expressive the animation was for what was a bunch of stick figures. In this film, Hertzfeldt takes his innovative techniques and goes even further. If I was blown away by watching a piece of paper crumple as part of animation, watching a still photo come alive by the merest shaking or the incredible blend of photography and stick figures broke me. Combining reality and animation has a long history, but the contrast between Hertzfeldt's style and the realistic photography makes the fact that his blending seems so natural more impressive to me.
Many moments stand out, but the one I want to talk about first is the old timey photos of Bill's ancestors. It seems such a natural moment to switch to real photographs for some reason, but Hertzfeldt, aware perhaps of the stick figures' strange universality, sticks with the animation for that sequence. He gives a little sepia tone to make it old timey and tells the strange stories of mental illness that plague Bill's family, and what we get is a return over and over again to still photos rendered in stick figure style, so to speak. It's counter-intuitive. Of all the things to animate, a still photo seems a bizarre choice. It works, however, because it suggests a continuity to Bill's family and because it cements the stick figure animation as reality. The bright colors and flesh-and-blood people are the strange distortions.
Like in "Rejected," Hertzfeldt also incorporates simple techniques that almost seem at first to be errors to convey perception. Smudge marks and seemingly accidentally erased facets of the animation turn out to be important signifiers of Bill's mental state--notably, a moment wherein he is in bed, surrounded by people he cannot recognize, features them with their faces obscured by an eraser's work, and at first, it seems an odd choice to include this. When it is revealed Bill doesn't recognize them, it suddenly clicks. This sort of thing happens all the time in the film, it seems.
The most emotionally resonant moment, for me, was when Bill was waking up in the hospital. We are looking from his perspective as very real photography slowly blurs into existence, and a figure lies before our point of view. She--possibly he--has dark hair and a lovely face, and her eyes flip open before us, giving us this confusing moment of human connection that is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. From context, it's hard to say who this is. We seem to be in Bill's POV, but we might not be. My instinct was it was his ex-girlfriend, which made it so powerful. Regardless, the idea of waking up from something horrifying to find someone there waiting for you, even if it's the nearly paralyzed kid from behind the curtain, perhaps, is incredible.
The other facet of the film that stood out was its attention to detail. Because of the film's odd structure and animation style, Hertzfeldt was able to pick and choose his own details, but those he selects all seem to be specifically designed to convey a feeling, or set of feelings, and the sentiment buried deep here is a surprisingly hopeful one. Bill always notices little details in the world around him, often of decay and loss, whether real or not, but some of them he notices are wondrous or beautiful, like the "I LOVE YOU" scrawled in the sand or the sparrows rebuilding (even if he is unsure of how to take it). Both are noted for their ephemeral nature, but as the ending of the film conveys through contrast and the bulk of the film conveys through direct depiction, life is fleeting. That even in the tehomic chaos of his deteriorating perceptions, he still finds beauty. He spends no one knows how much time taking a walk around the block, over and over, as he realizes over and over that it's such a beautiful day. A short walk around the block, noticing the fine and wonderful details of the world, balanced against the bull headed humans and the fish thing that devours Bill's mind in his darkest hallucinations seems little, but the contrast--I really love contrasts like this, as you may have noticed--makes the little things all the brighter.