Friday, 20 January 2017

World Cinema - "Mary and Max" (2009) - A Review

Image result for mary and max
Fig 1. Poster
"Mary and Max" (2009) dir. Adam Elliot is an Australian stop-motion animated film centering on the developing relationship between hapless pen pals, Mary - a somewhat ostracized and lonely youth - and Max - an affected older man that suffers with Asperger's syndrome - Together, via somewhat secretive communique they find a form of solace as the two regale each other with tidbits of their day to day activities as well as 'tell all' accounts of their unique and particular neurosis and how it plays out in their lives. It is over the course of the film that their relationship is explored over the years, blossoming or otherwise, in what feels a completely natural account. In fact, this whole film has a naturalistic element to it, reminiscent of Aardman Animation's work on "Creature Comforts" (1989) - wherein recordings from people off the street were transposed into animation - leading to a very strong feeling that - despite the animated element - we're witnessing something that actually happened, an account.

Objectively this is a somewhat sad tale yet it is marked by a bittersweet ending, all-the-while managing to form an engaging and funny narrative over the course of the 1h34m run-time. There's an incongruity in tone here that other reviewers seem to have found issue with, Andrew Pulver, writing for The Guardian muses "the switches in tone are jolting, to say the least: at one moment, Mary is enthusing about her favourite TV show; the next, we are being treated to a lecture on the symptoms of Asperger's" (Pulver, 2010) but this is actually one of the strengths here. That patchiness in tone goes a long way in conveying the reality of the situation and further cementing and solidifying the films foundation in reality. Despite the cutesy aesthetic, there is no saccharine ending, and there is also no real doom filled ending, it's muddled, like life. Often conveying multiple emotions at the same time, and this is the main strength of "Mary and Max".

Fig 2.

Luke Buckmaster, also writing for The Guardian mentions Elliot's style as being "Sculpted with bulging eyes, wobbly lines and clumpy figures, Elliot's characters look haunted but cute, as if Ralph Steadman got his hands on the cast of Gumby. An analogue artist plying his trade in a digital era, Elliot's painstaking art – hands-on in a literal sense – is a rare treat for audiences accustomed to computer effects and CGI fakery." (Buckmaster, 2014) and indeed it is this 'hand-made' sheen that pervades the film that lends itself well to the nature of the story. "Like all Elliot’s work, it deftly mixes humour and pathos and imbues simple-looking surfaces with complex emotions." (Buckmaster, 2014) Typically the medium is one associated with children, but with the themes explored here, this is something that couldn't be further from the truth. "Mary and Max" explores complex themes and revels in it's use of animation techniques. It is by doing this that the film achieves something that couldn't be recreated in another medium, truly utilizing the medium to its advantages.

In terms of story, this is a tale that culminates as a bittersweet celebration of human connection, even between those that - on the surface - can't connect with people in their immediate surroundings. There are a great many themes at play here, and if the film had not been an animation it would have certainly been a hard task to generate as much comedy as Elliot has managed here by sticking with Stop-motion animation. It may have been an entirely dour affair had it not been for the somewhat 'cutesy' aesthetics on display, and in fact, the film would have suffered without it. There is a delicacy in the way these darker themes are handled, which some could consider perhaps a bit blasé if they wanted to take it as a negative. There's a "disarming way Elliot goes about depicting alcoholism, mental illness and other psychological maladies is a testament to the skillful way the film balances happiness and sadness, playfulness and profundity." (Buckmaster, 2014).  And it is precisely in doing this that Elliot manages to circumvent our defenses and subtly portray the tragedy, and the humor to these oft depicted as heavy concepts.

Fig 3. A Scared Max
Technical aspects are perhaps most impressive considering the apparent chaos the film was made in. Elliot himself comments that "We only had eight million Australian dollars, which is tiny, pathetic, almost tragic to spend compared to some of the other animated films out there. I feel like I wasn’t the director of the film, I was the ringmaster of the circus. There were days of anarchy and controlled chaos, and we didn’t even have the resources and the wonderful facilities that these other studios like Aardman and Laika." (Pond, 2009) Taking this into consideration, it is necessary to applaud what was achieved amidst that. The Cinematography is absolutely on point, creating an immersive and visually stimulating piece that belays the inherent lack of color in the world. Of course, everything being either a mundane grey or beige to reinforce characters worldviews totally makes sense, but it takes the compelling framing expressed here to really make the material sing.

In it's essence and execution, "Mary and Max" is a heartfelt and brave portrayal of loneliness, depression and in a much grander sense, the human condition. Adam Elliot has achieved a poignant and distinct tale that feels very real and heartfelt, despite it's aesthetics, which perhaps paradoxically, strengthen the emotional connection and subsequent impact that this story packs.


Buckmaster, L. (2014) ‘Mary and max: Rewatching classic Australian films’ In: The Guardian [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/australia-culture-blog/2014/may/30/mary-and-max-rewatching-classic-australian-films (Accessed on 20 January 2017)
Pond, S. (2009) The weird brilliance of ‘Mary and max’. At: http://www.thewrap.com/weird-brilliance-mary-and-max-11544/ (Accessed on 20 January 2017)
Pulver, A. (2010) ‘Mary and max – review’ In: The Guardian [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/21/mary-and-max-review (Accessed on 20 January 2017)


Fig 1. Poster [image] At: https://digitalnews.ua.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/mary-and-max-26769-hd-wallpapers.jpg [Accessed on 20/01/2017]

Fig 2. Mary and Max [image] At: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=blaze&oq=blaze&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1191j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#q=dictionary+blase [Accessed on 20/01/2017]

Fig 3. A Scared Max [image] At: https://blog.animationstudies.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Figure-1.png [Accessed on 20/01/2017]

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