Director: Adam Elliot
DVD release: Jan 24, 2011
Rating: 4 stars
Mary and Max is a wonderfully strange little film created by Oscar winning, short film maker: Adam Elliot. The underrated tale has won over cult audiences with its intensely rich character studies and majorly profound plot. It is not the kind of animation you watch to forget your troubles… well I suppose Bambi isn’t either. However, this startlingly inventive piece of clay animation is a dark, heart-warming and poignant must-see.
The film spans 20 years of life, observing an out of the ordinary, pen pal relationship between: Awkward, 8 year old school girl, Mary Dinkle from Melbourne, Australia and Max Horowitz: an obese 44 year old, Asperger’s sufferer, living in New York city. The story is told solely via narrated letters between the peculiar pair. The two may look very different on the outside, but their shared love of children’s TV show; The Noblets, immense amounts of chocolate and ultimately their isolation, renders the relationship one of extreme depth and significance. It is actually this one relationship that manages to sustain them throughout their otherwise bleak lives.
Mary lives with her reclusive father who spends his life in the shed, and her self-medicating mother, both of which seem to forget she exists. The innocence of Mary is striking and beautiful given her home situation, and it comes to life in her drawings and unanswered questions: ‘where do babies come from?’ ‘What is sexing?’ Her relationship with Max begins when she picks a name and address from the yellow pages at random, and sends a letter…
Max Horowitz, whose only former social interactions are: attending fat fighters and his mad, blind neighbour bringing him pie, (filled with miscellaneous ingredients) one day of the week, is so surprised on finding Mary’s letter, that he has a panic attack and eats around 7 chocolate hotdogs.
Mary and Max tackles huge issues, such as: neglect, mental illness, learning difficulties, addiction, grief and loneliness with impeccable humour, respectable sensitivity and an unwavering sense of authenticity. The heart and soul of the film is the detail in which Elliot has mapped out who the characters are, their likes and dislikes, and their relationship with the world around them. The intricate and elaborate world is a masterpiece, everything from Max’s plastic figurine Noblet collection (found in cereal boxes), to Mary’s birthmark that she thinks looks like poo. All of these details help us build a sense of empathy and form a deeper bond with the characters. Despite being made of clay, it is difficult not to fall in love with the exposure of these two profound characters weaknesses, and their innocence to a world that has been so cruel to them. Not your regular love story, Mary and Max illustrates love without an image, love of a soul and finding peace in knowing that there is someone out there, whether they be fat, thin, male, female, 8 or 48, who actually wants to understand.
FYI: A chocolate hotdog is literally a chocolate hotdog.
AND: A Noblet is a little green cartoon character.