Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Mary and Max (2009) - Film Review

Fig 1. Mary and Max film Poster
Mary and Max (2009) is a stop - motion, animated film. The film was created in Australia by writer, director and designer Adam Elliot. "The 42-year-old claymation artist's unique homemade-looking style is present in virtually any shot of any of his creations from any of his films." (Buckmaster, 2014) Mary and Max was released at Sundance Film Festival in 2009 and is the only feature film that Elliot has ever made. 

Elliot's narrative is truly authentic, even down to the way in which the film was made. Using clay, Elliot made his characters look very cute, similar to the characters found in  the Wallace and Gromit series.  Ordinarily, these films are  associated with children. 

However Elliot wanted a more adult story line and therefore characters that depicted this.  Whilst the film could initially be mistaken for a child's programme by its title and its look,the film speaks about the truth and hardships of "real life".  As the viewer gets to know the characters of Mary and Max they appreciate that their grubby, dreary and imperfectness are more typical of adult life. 

Taking a more traditional approach such as claymation takes time, patience and a lot of hard work. "It was a logistical nightmare," he said in 2009. " They worked out if I had animated it, it would have taken 225 years." (Buckmaster, 2014) His crew even made "133 sets, 212 puppets and 475 props. Elliot employed six animators who each completed roughly five seconds a day." (Buckmaster, 2014)

The film is narrated through Max's voice and references is own thinking and life. Max is a character who suffers from severe depression, obesity and mental illness. He is later diagnosed in the film with Aspergers, which due to the difficulty he has in communicating and understanding non verbal indicators, makes life much harder for him. He opens up to his pen pal Mary about it: "Recently, whilst I was in a mental institution. They diagnosed that I have a new thing called Aspergers syndrome. Which is a Neurobiological, Pervasive, Developmental, Disability. I prefer Aspie for short." He says this wearing an "Aspies for freedom shirt" created a light hearted approach to his disability. Back then, learning difficulties were only just being recognised. They were even trying to cure people of Aspbergers: "Here I will list some of the traits of an Aspie. Number 1, I find the world very confusing and chaotic, because my mind is very literal and logical.......Dr.Bernard Hasslehoff says my brain is defective but one day their will be a cure for my disability."

Fig 2. Film Still
Max also narrates 8 year old Mary's life from her own child like perspective. During the film, we see Mary's relationship with her mother.  Max narrates  Mary's feelings towards her mother in the following way: “To Mary, Vera always seemed wobbly. Vera liked listening to the cricket while baking. Her main ingredient was always sherry. She told Mary it was a type of tea for grown-ups that needed constant testing. Mary thought her mother tested the sherry way too much." 

The film shows a very dysfunctional family that consists of an  alcoholic mother and a dad who likes to keep his distance by staying in the shed stuffing dead birds. Mary is a very sweet and kind child but feels extremely lonely, so she confides in her adult pen pal Max. 

Fig. 3 Film Still
Many people seem to unexpectedly enjoy this film. It is what you expect from an animation, its playful, humerous and fun. However it also depicts many adult themes that can be hard and uncomfortable to watch. These include: suicide, substance mis-use, mental illness and the mild suggestion of  inappropriate relationships.  I have alluded to the fact that the claymation immediately suggests 'for children'. Yet the themes, the plot and sub-plot  are only understood by adults. 

"It’s half-term, but that’s not quite why the singular claymation cartoon Mary & Max is getting an airing. One of the title characters has Asperger’s, and the other tries to kill herself — fun for all the family!" (Robey, 2010) 

It is difficult to place this film into a particular genre because it doesn't fit neatly.  Its  unique and unpredictable story and message places it in many categories. 

Illustration List
Figure 1. Mary and Max film poster
(Accessed 20.01.18)

Figure 2. Film still
(Accessed 20.01.18)

Figure 3. Film still
(Accessed 20.01.18)

Buckmaster L (2014) 
(Accessed 20.01.18)

Robey T (2010) Mary and Max Review
(Accessed 20.01.18)

Mary and Max (2009) Film