Jonesy's Movie of the Month- Mary and Max
(A quick note- Ciao lovelies! This post is from guest author Jonesy, and is a Movie of the Month! Now, I'll let Jonesy do the talking)
Hey guys, gals, and non-binary pals!
April is Autism Awareness Month, so for this round’s “Movie of the Month” I’m choosing a film that accurately depicts autism, specifically asperger's syndrome. This Australian film is rated PG-13, but for American audiences, I would rate it R for strong language, some sexual themes, and suicide. A big trigger warning comes with this one. If you can watch movies that very explicitly discuss suicide, bullying, and sexual themes unbothered and healthy, I strongly recommend you check out Adam Elliot’s stop-motion cult hit, “Mary and Max.”
For this review, we’ll be discussing plot, script, and atmosphere.
Mary, a lonely little Australian girl with a drunk mother and neglectful father, decides she craves intimate friendship. Randomly picking a name out of an address book, she chooses Max Horowitz of New York, New York to be her new best friend. She writes him a crude letter and sends small trinkets and gifts, and anxiously waits for a reply.
Meanwhile, Max Horowitz, an Atheistic Jewish man, has a very scheduled and specific life in his hometown of New York. He receives Mary’s letter and, after panicking briefly, responds.
What follows is a blossoming friendship.
Throughout the film, we are introduced to Mary and Max’s quirks. Mary, for example, likes shrinking chip bags in the oven to make jewelry. Max enjoys feeding his fish, competing in the lottery, and talking to his therapist. The two have an incredibly unlikely friendship that is put to the test time and time again. Without giving away too much, Max is eventually diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. The film, rather than exploring the negativity so often correlated with mental disorders, shows that Max is a proud “Aspie” and wouldn’t change the way he is for all the chocolate hot dogs in the world.
Mary and Max are there for each other throughout various major events in their lives. While the ending of the film is heartbreaking, it is also hopeful and always leaves me with tears in my eyes and the clicking of a typewriter in my heart.
Imagine Lemony Snicket and Bryan Fuller had a beautiful and majestic brainchild. Now, imagine that brainchild is autistic and has a knack for stopmotion. You’re left with Adam Elliot, the writer and director or “Mary and Max.”
The film has very little character dialogue aside from the reading of letters. The bulk of dialogue is by an omniscient narrator. Both the language in the letters and in the narration are enjoyably unique.
He is able to perfectly capture a curious child’s voice (“Have you ever done the sexing?”) and bring the maturity and literal thinking of a man with Aspergers (“I weigh 352 lb and am as tall as a 6-foot tree.”) The narrator's voice is similar to Max’s in that it is very literal and non-contrived, but has a more linear pattern and a more matter-of-fact tone. (“Mary Dinkle's eyes were the colour of muddy puddles. Her birthmark, the colour of poo.”).
The witty dialogue, balanced with what I believe is the perfect musical score, makes for an interesting and emotional trip into the mind of a little girl and an old man.
Thematic elements in film are the most basic building blocks of a film analysis class. “What does a dark frame mean? What does camera position mean?” When it comes to building an atmosphere, animation has a drawback and a benefit. The drawback? The filmmaker has to create absolutely everything in the frame by hand, and not a single detail can be overlooked. The benefit? The filmmaker gets to create everything in the frame by hand, personalizing each shot to be perfect.
“Mary and Max” has a striking feature that’s been used in film time and time again- manipulation of color. It was used in “Sin City” and “Amalie” to incredible effect, “Repo: The Genetic Opera” to at-best-thematic-at-worst-nauseating effect, and in “Moulin Rouge” to dear-god-please-take-out-my-eyes… effect. Elliot took a major coin toss to see if the color alterations played out well, and he got lucky- the color works. The tones are muted and dull, similar to the tonality of the film. The wonderment in our character’s life is not found in their environment, but in their friendship.
Few colors are bright and striking, one being red- not for blood, but for tongue. The power of communication is the key to any friendship, and just so, any red object is bright and instantly draws attention the same way our minds draw us into Mary and Max’s companionship.
The frame above is only seen in promotional material, but it still demonstrate the color palette well. Note what features don’t fit in- the tongue, the mood ring, the stamp, the pom pom, and the hair clip. All of these features are relevant to their relationship.
“Mary and Max,” in the words of Andrew Pulver, “A very odd, very unlikely animated film from Australia that manages to be sickly-cute, alarmingly grotesque, and right-on at the same time – often in the very same scene.” If you can manage some crude humor and some triggering content, “Mary and Max” is an incredible journey into the mind of a visionary.