The animated short film If Anything Happens I Love You is a raw and powerful depiction of one family's grief at the loss of their child in a school shooting. Last night, it won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
"We dedicate this film to all those who've lost loved ones to gun violence," said Will McCormack, one of the film's writers and directors, in his acceptance speech. "We deserve better than to live in a country where more than 100 people die by gun violence every single day. We deserve better. We must do better. We will do better."
In just 12 minutes, the Netflix film captures the rolling waves of grief that come with the loss of a loved one. It's so powerful, so heartbreaking, so raw—we would be remiss if we didn't warn you: this film will likely make you cry. More than that, it will stay with you long after its 12-minute run time ends.
When If Anything Happens I Love You begins, a married couple sits quietly in their grief, though angry shadows fight wordlessly above them with all the emotions the couple isn't expressing in real life. Viewers can tell the husband and wife have experienced something traumatic—but they're not sure what.
Their loss is revealed through flashbacks. Viewers watch their young daughter's life unfold, captured in big moments: her birth, family vacations, soccer practice, her first kiss. When their daughter heads off to school one morning, the parents cheerfully wave goodbye. Their shadows, knowing what's to come, try desperately to stop her from entering the building. Of course, they fail and the beloved daughter walks into school, never to walk out.
There's no outright violence shown in the film. Instead, as gunshots ring out behind closed school doors, the daughter's phone is shown texting her parents. Over the sound of sirens, we see her final message: "If anything happens I love you," she writes.
It's an incredibly powerful film about love, loss, grief, and gun violence. In 12 minutes, the film conveys the deep love the parents have for their child and how unmoored they feel when she's taken from them. Though they both lost their daughter, they grieve differently and often, separately.
In a January interview with Deadline, the film's directors explained how they were able to pack so much authenticity and emotion into the short film.
"We met with a lot of parents who've lost kids to gun violence," said McCormack. "And we had [a proverb we found] tacked to the top of our corkboard, which is, 'When your parents die, you bury them in the ground. But when your child dies, you bury them in your heart.' And it was something that was like a North Star," he explained.
"We really wanted to be able to tell this story, to pay tribute to these parents who have lost kids, and [have them] know that their stories matter, and their lives matter."
After their win, co-director Michael Govier echoed that statement.
"Too often, [deaths to gun violence] just become a number. Behind every one of those numbers, there's a soul lost and someone who's no longer here," he said backstage at the Oscars ceremony. "I think that's why we wanted to discuss just one person's story so we could bring people together to have a conversation through understanding that these aren't just numbers. These are people, these are humans."
We hope that your family never knows the unimaginable loss depicted within If Anything Happens I Love You. But if you have, we hope their message resonates with you. Your family's story matters. Your child's life matters.
If you'd like to learn more about organizations dedicated to ending gun violence in America, please visit Moms Demand Action and Everytown. To find information about grief and support services, please visit Our House Grief Center.