Mary and Max

Posted by on Nov 3, 2009 in ASIFA Events | No Comments


Article written by Josh Weisbrod.

Being an animator, and finding myself in the company of other animators more often than not, I tend to see a wide range of social quirks and eccentricities.  Living in New York in and of itself is basically akin to plunging oneself into a social experiment– there are so many people in such close proximity to each other, everyone a little off-kilter– some who obsess, some who overeat, some who can’t see any beauty in themselves, and many who are lonely.

The other night I was fortunate enough to attend the ASIFA screening of Adam Elliot’s feature-length stop-motion film Mary and Max— a character study of two very different people separated by thousands of miles who find a common ground as “pen-friends.”  Mary is a young girl in Australia, socially outcast, chubby, and with no less curiosity about the world around her than any other child her age.  Max is a much older man living in New York– also socially outcast, morbidly obese, and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism characterized by social difficulty and a narrow range of interests).  On a technical level, it’s a beautiful movie and an astounding achievement– every character, object, and special effect is real and tangible!  As far as the story goes, Mary and Max is not only as intricate and detailed an exploration into social disorders as any I’ve seen– it’s also very funny, oftentimes depressing, and at certain points it becomes very intense and even a little bit frightening.

By the time the film ended, I was emotionally exhausted, in a way.  Perhaps it’s a testament to how well-made the movie was, but I had become very involved with both of the main characters– at any point in the film, they were either me or somebody I know– and, as I’m sure was Mr. Elliot’s intention, it was very difficult at times to watch people I know go through anxiety attacks, body image issues, and bouts of loneliness.  Of course, this was offset by the very hopeful theme that a friendship– and a very deep and lasting one, at that– can exist across infinite distances, age gaps and circumstances– that common ground exists even between the two completely disparate people.

The angle the film took on Asperger’s Syndrome was what I found the most interesting.  Max and Mary discuss it at length during a portion of the movie, and it even becomes a driving force in Mary’s life for a while, as she tries to make strides to understand and cure Max’s disorder.  Max, however, does not want to be cured– and it’s not that he enjoys having Asperger’s as much as it is that he can’t picture a world without it: “[It] would be like changing the color of my eyes.”  Asperger’s Syndrome is far from the only social disorder explored in the film– both characters are rife with them– and in fact, as an exploration of social disorders, it is as detailed as any movie, animated or otherwise.

Mary and Max was an entertaining, informative, and emotionally-involving film, with characters I felt like I knew personally.  Anyone who’s ever had an anxiety attack, been teased, or wanted a friend would be doing themselves a favor by seeing it.  Of course, everyone else would probably have a good time, too.