It’s never easy to overcome immense tragedy—especially when it involves a child. We feel the obvious absence at the start of Michael Govier and Will McCormack‘s If Anything Happens I Love You through its leads’ inability to look each other in the eyes and the anger their shadowy counterparts (embodiments of their emotions) exude behind them. We receive glimpses of joy met with isolation as every attempt to remember what was fades in the second it takes to realize there’s no going back. A paint splotch on the garage and a barren flowerbed each recalls happier times just as they inevitably reinforce this current sorrow until a serendipitous sign of life forces them to acknowledge they still have each other to lean on and prevail.
The sentiments intrinsic to this truth are powerfully relatable even for those who’ve been lucky enough to avoid the experience of losing a loved one too young. Focusing on the parents in the aftermath supplies us an avenue towards learning that loss doesn’t have to guarantee separation. Treating remnants of the past as ghosts haunting us isn’t an unavoidable fate if we can find the strength to embrace those objects as spirits of love. So while a t-shirt can’t help but conjure melancholy insofar as who isn’t wearing it, what it depicts and where it’s from also possesses the potential to travel backwards and relive the wonder of both its origins and those of its former owner. That’s how we keep the dead alive inside us.
While Govier and McCormick’s film does follow that path to its logical and heartfelt conclusion, however, it also introduces a jarring bit of context that almost seems unnecessary despite its relevance. I get the desire to hold the cause of this child’s death back for greater impact, but it’s one thing to supply it naturally with nuance and another to blindside us in a bid to willfully create controversy. I don’t want to presume intent, but I can’t quite shake the feeling that the latter is exactly what the filmmakers had in mind. And while that is their prerogative, I do hope they understand how alienating that decision can be for the audience. Things go from sympathetic mourning to “sign this petition” energy in an instant.
It’s therefore tough to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that it’s just one detail of many for why this couple is hurting so badly. This child could have died one hundred different ways and the emotions would be the same. So making this choice without also making the film about that same choice is inherently manipulative. It uses it to cause a reaction rather than to enhance the story—and that’s coming from someone who’s just as angry about its devastating truth as the directors are. I just don’t like being lulled in with a memorably soft aesthetic (charcoal-filled line drawings with a sketchy feel) and the potential cloud-lift of depression only to get slammed into a wall of impotent rage out of nowhere.