Mary and Max Film Review
Mary and Max, produced by Adam Elliot and released in 2009, is a Claymation feature length film from Australia with a style distinct to Elliot. The cutesy style of the clay characters is deceiving as, even though the protagonist Mary starts the story at 8 years, it’s not a children’s animation at all as there are plenty of dark topics like alcoholism, mental health, obesity and trying to deal with loneliness. It starts off with the narrator’s voice who stays for the whole film, leaving little direct speech but adding to the charm as Mary is being introduced as a girl with glasses, a big nose and a mud-coloured mark on her forehead, with a kleptomaniac alcoholic mother who has to sample sherry all the time and a dad who strings tea bags together.
One day in the post office, she finds an address book for New York, America and decides to write a letter to Max, a random name she found in the book. Max receives the letter and after a severe panic attack, he manages to write back and a pen-friendship flowers into being, both Mary and Max sharing an immense love for chocolate, having no friends except for animals and families that don’t function as well as they should. They exchange advice and answer the other’s questions like “where do babies come from? In Australia they come from beer”. Max, being socially reclusive despite being in his mid-forties and living in New York, makes Mary wonder about his diagnosis with Asperger’s, depression and obesity while the audience wonders how someone can identify as a Jew and an atheist at the same time – surely one must come after the other? Growing up, Mary has to deal with her father dying of a tragic accident soon after retirement and a mother who chooses drink over her daughter and accidentally reaches for the bottle of formaldehyde instead of sherry – leaving Mary orphaned and alone from a young age, now sharing that trait with Max. Mary marries her child hood crush and all is well, as he has a pen pal too and is very accepting of their relationship.
Figure 1. Mary (2009)
Mary and Max uses strong stylistic elements and colours throughout the animation, as for example Mary’s world is in varying colours possibly describing her mental state (tinted pastel pink when happy and darker, nearly colourless when sad) while Max’s world is thoroughly in black and white, except for the items he receives from Mary, like the red pompom which he puts on top of his kippah.
The whole story is riddled with tragic accidents but also a certain type of hopefulness, and with the feeling of almost reaching, almost being there, in a happier place but narrowly missing, but nonetheless not giving up hope fully. It is a complex film with complicated themes that might be able to teach children a lot about tolerance, bullying, making friends and mental health but it is not lighthearted and should not be seen as easy entertainment but discussed with the family.
Figure 2. Max (2009)
Mary and Max is immensely uplifting as the film has a very cute way of dealing with bullies – when Mary is told by a classmate that she has poo on her forehead Max advises her that it is chocolate coloured and that – when she arrives in heaven, she will be in charge of all the free chocolate and give it to everyone but her classmate which gives a young girl power over something she only ever thought negatively about. Mary also has eyes the colour of muddy puddles, and as about 90% of the world population have brown eyes I’m sure many people can identify with that phrase and take strength from it, where Mary once only saw weakness.
Mary and Max is Adam Elliot’s only feature length animation as he prefers to do shorts, but after winning an award for his short story “Harvie Krumpet”, he decided to try himself on feature length and admits in an interview that if he would have known how much more it takes to make a full long animation he would have never done it (Pond, 2009). Elliot also admits that the animation is more a documentation of his own life and deals with many topics he had to deal in his childhood and when growing up, as he has a pen pal in New York who is Jewish, overweight and has Asperger’s.
Altogether, Mary and Max is a very powerful film with strong emotions that translate well from the screen into the viewer’s heads. It deals with adult themes but isn’t overshadowed with hopelessness and cynicism, as too many adult films are. The overall message seems to be a positive one, no matter what life throws at you. It is an excellent blend of styles with music and voice overs and truly heartfelt.
Figure 1: Elliot, A. (2009) Mary [still of Mary and Max] available from: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_2n9G8hS3AbI/TUqLLgLee1I/AAAAAAAAB9k/iogADPgSeh4/s1600/Mary+and+Max+HQ+Wallpaper.png (accessed: 5/2/16)
Figure 2: Elliot, A. (2009) Max [still of Mary and Max] available from: http://nickyarborough.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/mary-max.jpg (accessed: 5/2/16)
Pond, Steve. 2009 available from: http://www.thewrap.com/weird-brilliance-mary-and-max-11544/ (accessed: 15/01/16)