Thursday, 12 January 2017

Adaptation: World Animation - Australia: Mary & Max

Fig 1 - Film Poster
Mary and Max is an Australian stop motion animation, released in 2009 and directed by Adam Elliot. This was his first animated feature film, having before that only produced short films.

Fig 2 - Mary Daisy Dinkle, and pet rooster Ethel.
The animation, beginning in 1976, follows the story of then eight-year-old Mary Daisy Dinkle, a young, unfortunate Australian girl through her life. We are introduced to her lonely life, with distant and neglectful parents, her only comforts being her pet rooster, sweetened condensed milk and her favourite TV show "The Knoblets". Mary decides one day to find out what Americans are like, so takes a page from an American address book while at the post office and writes a letter about herself to a Mr. Max Jerry Horowitz, hoping to finally have a friend she can communicate with.

Max Horowitz is introduced as a 44 year old obese Jewish athiest who clearly suffers with social and mental problems, Marys first letter initially giving him an anxiety attack (a common occurrence which can only be cured with chocolate). He however does write a letter back to her and the two become friends over their shared love of sweet foods and The Knoblets. The animation follows the story of their shared lives from this point, through Mary's innocent but prying questions about love and life, which Max have such an effect on Max's mental health that he is institutionalised for several months, leading him to be diagnosed with aspergers syndrome, which is a form of autism. In today's society this is well known and spoken about, but when the animation is set metal health was much more of a taboo and unknown topic. 

Fig 3 - Max Jerry Horowitz
Max eventually writes back to Mary, telling her about his diagnosis, and the two continue correspondence through Marys years at university where she finds love with her Greek-Australian hearthrob neighbour, Damien Popodopoulos, after the odd but tragic deaths of her parents. Inspired by Max, Mary studies psychology at university, making it her lifes goal to help those living with aspergers, and sends Max a copy of her published dissertation , however Max takes offence to this as he sees this as Mary taking advantage of him and his aspergers as a part of himself, and not something that needs to be analysed or "cured". In a rage he replies to Mary and ends their communication, leading Mary to end her career and skink into a depression, drinking sherry like her alcoholic mother, which is only worsened by Damien leaving her for his own penfriend in New Zealand.

Some time later, Max realises both he and Mary, like everyone else, are imperfect beings and thats okay, so sends mary the package containing his Knoblet figurine collection as forgiveness. However Mary has since sunk into a deep depression and is close to committing suicide, unknowing she is carrying Damien's baby, however is saved at the last minute by her no longer agoraphobic neighbour alerting her to Max's parcel which has been sitting on her porch for days, and Mary begins her recovery.

Fig 4 - Max realising everyone is imperfect, and that's okay.
The film cuts to a year later with Mary having travelled to New York with her newborn to finally meet Max in person. However she finds him on his couch, having died earlier that morning, but looking up with a smile on his face at all her painstakingly preserved letters she has sent him through the years attached to his ceiling. 

The animation deals with many deep and important themes, often skirted away from being tackled head on in cinema, including childhood neglect, mental health and aspergers syndrome, loneliness, anxiety, depression, addiction and alcoholism, and suicide. However, the animations style being cartoonish and being brought to life through stop motion brings a certain softness to these issues, and the film is unmistakably Australian through certain cultural references and its dark but odd sense of humour. Guardian film reviewer Andrew Pulver writes of the animation it "manages to be sickly-cute, alarmingly grotesque, and right-on at the same time – often in the very same scene". (Pulver, 2010).

Due to these qualities, Mary and Max can be seen as a key resource to help educate around mental health and learning/social disabilities, which is increasingly becoming a discussed topic in todays society. Collider reviewer Jeff Giles writes "Max’s discovery of his diagnosis is arguably the key moment in the film, setting in motion Mary’s pursuit of her life’s calling (which echoes Elliot’s real-life dedication to educating people about the disease). What really sets the movie apart, though, is Elliot’s deft way with “Mary and Max’s” larger themes – namely self-acceptance, the redemptive power of honest human connection, and the idea that life is really more about the journey than the destination" (Giles, 2009). Therefore, while odd and and perhaps a little unnerving at times, this exaggerated but frankly honest honest animation will leave you feeling uncertain whether to laugh or cry, with or at the characters, and likely bring new light to how you perceive mental health issues and self acceptance.

Fig 5 - Film still


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