Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Original Concept by: #DeniseHarrison
Written by: #DeniseHarrison
The aesthetically striking animated short This is Depression is a beautifully simplistic, hard-hitting and raw exploration of mental illness and loneliness. Both written and narrated by Denise Harrison, we follow her matter-of-fact recounting of past demons, and how she nearly succumbed to her struggles with substance abuse and dark bouts of depression. Originally penned by Harrison while she was in recovery and rehabilitation, the film presents a bleak, heart-wrenching, but not completely hopeless view of living through trauma.
The animation by Miguel Letang and illustrations from Juli Dosad make up a stylistically concise and artistically unique form for this short, managing to reflect the morose and intoxicated tone conveyed by Harrison—as if the animation styles were drunk bar napkin sketches, dancing to life after one too many pints. While Harrison’s body and the settings around her stand out in sharp, fidgeting clarity, every other character she meets is simply a smoky shadow in the foreground, lacking voice or shape, and greatly emphasizing the loneliness described in Harrison’s narration.
It is through this narration that Harrison’s story truly takes shape. The rhythmic, meter-focused writing feels almost slam poetry-like in its delivery, and when expertly backed-up by a repeating and catchy piano riff, this piece begins to feel like a hip-hop spoken-word piece put to screen. Had this style been over-emphasized or played out, it could have very easily lost impact and specificity for the audience; however, Harrison’s writing and delivery never linger too long in one tone or rhythm, keeping the audience constantly on their toes, watching for every lyrical left turn that the narrator might take.
Despite all of these filmmaking highs, This is Depression, as its title might suggest, lacks any emotional ups to match its constant downs. While it is undeniably accurate to Harrison’s story as she recounts it in rehab, the lack of any light in all of this darkness poses a threat to the possible success of this short. Had the film given us any insight into possible glimpses of happiness for Harrison before (or even after) the events of the piece, it would have leant far more weight to the helplessness and pain being felt throughout the four-and-a-half-minute runtime.
Nevertheless, This is Depression is an undeniably effective demonstration of a life plagued by mental illness and alcoholism. This, paired with its creative narration and unique style of animation, make it a deserving winner of the 2019 Discover Film Award for Best Adaptation, and a short film well worth several viewings.