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In this animated film, two grieving parents journey through an emotional void as they mourn the loss of a child.

The appeal of the new short film “If Anything Happens I Love You” primarily derives from its simplicity. As an animated movie marketed for adults, it frames heavy subjects in spare, minimalist artwork that gives its message room to sketch between the lines about the impact of grief and the power of memory. 

Directed and written by Michael Govier and Will McCormack and released for streaming on Netflix on Nov. 20, the Pixar-reminiscent animated short scored a handful of local and international film festival awards — nine wins and five nominations — following its initial release in March. Lovely artwork and intentional audio characterize this sensitive handling of a specific tragedy: a child’s death in a school shooting. 

The film opens with two parents who are struggling under the weight of loss but are unable to articulate it to each other. They move through the routines of their day silently while their shadows express the emotions they suffer. Ordinary events prompt the recurrence of memories — treasured ones, but painful too — as the nature of the loss this family is suffering becomes apparent. There’s no audible dialogue nor is there any written text — well, almost. The audio is precise and purposeful, paying attention to small details that reinforce the film’s everyday life atmosphere. 

As for the artwork, “If Anything Happens I Love You”blends simple line drawings with a soft watercolor style that turns out to be an excellent medium for representing grief. The artists’ occasional use of color amid a mostly muted production is telling, too. A child’s shirt shows up in cool blue. The American flag hung above classroom doors glares both blue and red, colors that fade into the glow of warning lights as sirens shrill in the background. Golden sun washes over the parents in the final frames of the film, cloaking the figures in the warmth of each other’s embrace. 

Because “If Anything Happens I Love You”doesn’t state anything, it suggests everything. It can be a story about how students become the undeserving targets of gun violence or how the loss of a child affects a marriage. It may even suggest how sorrow is prompted by the smallest things — an open bedroom door, a haphazard paint job or a wayward soccer ball. But reconciliation happens there, too, and strength can be found sitting on a child’s neglected bed. Or all of these and more in 12 minutes of storytelling under Govier and McCormack’s masterful direction. 

This film may be viewed as political for its portrayal of a school shooting, but it should be remembered for its gentle handling of grief. Other productions have argued against gun ownership and advocated for tighter restrictions before. “If Anything Happens I Love You” takes a different path; it chooses to invite its audience into the aftermath of a shooting, strays away from the tension and terror of the actual event and reminds people on both sides of the political aisle of what losing a child to a senseless tragedy looks like in the average neighborhood. 

To the same point, the film’s minimalism has a timeless quality. A smartphone makes a brief appearance in one scene — with the text message “If anything happens I love you” — but even so, the story could’ve been set at almost any point in the last two decades. It’s made to last, and let’s hope it does. Whether regarding the pain of losing a child or the particular devastation wrought by school shootings, there’s a lot for America to take notes from in this brief lesson in lament.

Contact Maria Copeland at copelamt@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts, and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.