Many films tug at your heartstrings. Violet Evergarden: The Movie rips them out, ties them in knots, surgically reattaches them, and then repeats the process two or three more times just to make sure you're a crying mess for the majority its runtime.
The main way the film does this is by having not one emotional story but rather three overlapping stories that together form Violet's final tale.
The first is the film's framing device, which is set more than half a century after the end of the series. It follows Daisy, the granddaughter of Anne (the young girl with a dying mother from episode 10 of the TV anime). After many decades of life, Anne has finally passed away, leaving Daisy spiteful at her parents who were too busy with work to properly care for her grandmother—or herself for that matter.
However, this situation leads Daisy to discover her grandmother's most treasured item: the 50 years of birthday letters from Anne's mother—letters ghostwritten by Violet Evergarden. To cope with her loss, Daisy sets out to find out everything she can about this mysterious woman who played such an important role in her grandmother's happiness.
While the shortest of the three stories in the film, it shows the lasting power of words throughout time—that long after the writer is forgotten, words alone still have the ability to alter lives. It's also about the pain that comes from losing someone and how easy it is to lash out at those around you in your grief, which is a theme that is visited time and again throughout the rest of the film.
The other two stories are a bit more connected and are set four years after the end of the TV series (one year after the second half of Violet Evergarden: Eternity and the Auto Memory Doll) as Violet's post-war world sits on the edge of a technical revolution. While currently only available to the rich and government institutions, the invention of the telephone means that it will only be a few years until ghostwriters like Violet and her Auto Memory Doll companions become obsolete. Change is in the air and everyone will need to let go of the past if they are to thrive in the bright future ahead.
Of course, for Violet herself, letting go of the past is an impossibility. Her time with Gilbert in the war laid the bedrock for everything that was to come. Take that away and her entire life would crumble around her.
By the time of the film, Violet has no hobbies or frivolous interests. Her life simply revolves around two things: her work and her attempts to grow closer to Gilbert, the latter of which is more than a bit difficult given that he is almost certainly dead (though his body was never found). Yet, nonetheless, Violet tries everything she can to know more about him, torturing herself emotionally in the process.
It's heartbreaking to see the precarious balance she has found—all the more so knowing that it can't last forever. Her friends can likewise see her pain but have no easy way to help her. What she needs is someone who can understand her loss and help fill the void within her. Luckily, such a man exists: Dietfried. The problem is that he has spent the years since the war holding both himself and Violet responsible for his brother's death.
Yet even as Violet tries to deal with her guilt and attachment by attempting to forge a connection with someone already gone, she gains a new client: Yuris, a hospitalized young boy with a terminal disease, wishes to have letters delivered to his family immediately after he dies.
While Anne's mother wanted to be there for her daughter in the years to come, Yuris only wants to properly convey his love to his parents and baby brother. It is something his childish pride and fragile emotional state won't let him do face-to-face, so a letter is the best he can do. In the process, he and Violet form a connection—the soon-to-be dead and the lone survivor exploring together what is truly important in helping loved ones to deal with loss.
Like most Violet Evergarden tales, Yuris' is a testament to the written word. However, it is also a testament to the spoken word—showing that while letters can sway the human heart, they are not the only way to do so. No matter how humanity shall advance, a way to make an emotional connection will still be there—as long as we have the strength to use it.
If the interconnected tales between a young woman dealing with the loss of her grandmother, a young woman trapped in the past, and a young boy with a terminal disease weren't enough, the film still has other ways to destroy you emotionally. The vibrant visuals are astounding, with every landscape and wide shot being a frameable piece of art, and some shots are beautiful enough to bring tears to your eyes. Then add to that the music—perfectly composed to accentuate both the emotional content and breathtaking visuals—and you get a film designed to leave you a sobbing mess.
In the end, Violet Evergarden: The Movie is a fantastic film. But more than that, it is an emotional experience with a deep insight into the human condition. It's a movie that I would recommend to anyone (though I'd try to get them to watch the series first). However, it's also one I have trouble rewatching. You need to have some serious emotional bandwidth available for this movie, and there aren't many days when I think to myself “today is a great day for a good ugly cry.”