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World Cinema, Film Review: Mary and Max (2009), G'Day Mate! 22/01/2016

Figure 1: Max and Mary (2009) Poster
This film review will focus on the film Mary and Max (2009), the story follows two characters known as Mary Daisy Dinkle and Max Jerry Horovitz who happen to meet via pen pals. They both exchange letters telling each other about one another lives and begin to forge a unique bond. Each of them begins to learn more and more about life as each letter is sent, helping them develop as people. As each one goes through trauma and pain they both suffer because of neglect and stupidity, its always one or the other.

The film was released in 2009, was directed and written by Adam Elliot, was produced by Melanie Coombs. The music was composed by Dale Cornelius and the cinematography was done by Gerald Thompson.

The film is without a doubt Australian through and through, through visual means and literary means. There is a lot going on this film which needs to be acknowledged, this will be elaborated upon later, this is going to be a very different film review though as it will be going back to the original roots of this blogs normal expected film reviews, however unlike those reviews this one will be taking into consideration key elements of 'What makes the film, What it is?', so delving into the minds, creative decisions and influences the film would have had will be the main topic.

It must be said though that this film is a good watch but its understandable why it didn't get as much praise as it should of, "But 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. You have to admire the ambition, even if Elliot doesn't always seem certain if he's laughing with or at his creations." (A Pulver. 2010)

Figure 2: Mary
So the film as a whole, does it work? Well, this film has a few problems that need to be addressed first, the main one being a bit of a hypocritical statement as the whole film is based off of this idea. The film doesn't take itself seriously, and whilst in most of the film this does work there are points in which the jump between silly and serious are so instant it does leave viewers feeling puzzled.

There is however the Australian concept shining through, and once you see it, you can't unseen it, if you've already seen the film go watch again, but this time keep the idea of 'No matter how bad everything is, just ignore it and find the humor.' "The film is pitted with weighty themes such as loneliness, child neglect, cruelty, sexual naivete, clinical anxiety, betrayal, guilt and the mortality rate of apartment-bound goldfish. Yet to tag Mary and Max as a mordant comedy is to miss the point of the film entirely."(Schembri, J.) This is one of the traits of Australian culture and it a very strong story telling element, and when it was put into the film you can tell whilst sometimes narrative is doesn't work it was put there with purpose if looked into with context. That is what gives the film its main authentic Australian feel.

Another aspect of the film to be considered is the choice of animation, clay stop frame animation. Now whilst a lot of people say that the art style and design of the film is very cute there are points where is can be extremely creepy. The design of Mary is very well done, using simple shapes in order to convey the characters cute aspects, combined by the animation techniques used make the character instantly cute at the younger age and much stronger towards the end.

Max, on the other hand, is much creepier that Mary and there is a reason for that, keep in mind Mary only ever sees Max once in person in the film, that's when he dies. But up until that point, the whole film has been about how one younger person living in their own culture is trying to learn about another older, more alien culture. So having a strange-looking man from a far land would only make sense. The message of pedophilia can be seen slightly in the designs but it is never reinforced in the film, Max is kept as an odd and silly man.

Figure 3: Berwick, Victoria, Australia

The film is very original in terms of design as well as narratively, taking influence from popular stereotypes depending on the setting. The best example of this is the first time we see New York, the first things you see are the twin towers, the empire state building and the statue of liberty in a sign which immediately gets shot with a gun, this is the clearest depiction of stereotyping in the film and it can be seen almost instantly.

The Australian environment, however, is very specific, Adam Elliot not only directed and wrote the story, but was also an animator. Now the actual design of the environment, combine with the real story which it was based off, ended up looking like where Adam used to live. Adam's childhood influences, design choices, and stereotype have lead into this film, having his views on topic depicted not just aesthetically and privately, but also symbolically.

The last thing to be touched upon in the design of the film is its choice on colors, in Australia, some colors that would be associated with it would comprise of oranges, yellows, reds and browns. Now in New York there may be a lot of bright lights but the colors you would associate with it would be light blues and gray, because of the sheer number of buildings and skyscrapers in the city.

Now with both cultures established you can see very specific colors were chosen for both worlds, in Mary's world (And even herself) is themed around the colors browns, oranges and reds. Max's world is usually themed around monochromatic colors, but ever so slight blues in some scenes. The film shares the same art style but two different worlds are represented by different colors which are clever once picked up upon.

Figure 4: Max

The audio in the film is by a long way the highlight of the film, because of how it was done, the choice in how it was presented and the general theme it tried to reinforce. Throughout the film the audio is our guide, having a narrator tell us the story rather than it being spoken by the characters in real time gives the impression that we are 'following' a story rather than watching one unfold, the story has already been told and we are now only watching the reel play back.

The real gem of audio is the letter reading, though, giving the film its much more hard hitting human qualities. The way the letters are written and described is something that every can appreciated, even going so far as to have Max having to explain his perceptions of life to Mary in a childish way is really intelligent and relatable.

Lastly is the way the film touches upon more delicate subject such as Depression, Neglect, Suicide and Asperger's Syndrome. It needs to be said that a majority of the time the film can pull the strings on these subjects and usually get away with it, the best example of this is Max's many goldfish, the concept of losing something loved. But the most controversial scene would be Marys attempted suicide scene. As state earlier the film is mainly centered around the Australian idea of 'No matter how bad everything is, just ignore it and find the humor.'.  Unfortunately, the way this scene is depicted is in a number of ways very controversial, and whilst different forms and circumstances of suicide do occur, the only reason Mary lives is by sheer luck. The depression/suicide logic combine with the Australian idea doesn't work at all, and is the only real major fault in the film.

This film is a classic in its own right, though, using clever character design, lovable sound, and a relatable theme to boot, this film tackles tough topics in a new and old way which resonates well on a logical level and a humanitarian level. "But Barry Humphries’ acerbic narration and Bethany Whitmore and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s voice-work complement the grimly witty details in the offbeat text and expertly created brown-grey visuals. Tackling such un-animation topics as loneliness, body image, alcoholism, suicide and Asperger’s syndrome, it’s quirky, compassionate and slightly seedily sweet." (D Parkinson. 2010)


Parkinson, D. (2010) Mary and max. 
(Accessed on 22 January 2017)

Pulver, A. (2010) ‘Mary and max – review’ In: The Guardian 
[online] At:
(Accessed on 22 January 2017)

Schembri, J. (2009) Mary and max - film reviews - film - entertainment.