Tuesday, 24 January 2017

World Cinema: Australia - "Mary and Max" (2009) Film Review

Fig 1

Adam Elliots film “Mary and Max” (2009) is an Australian stop motion story that depicts many problems the character’s face, but in a light and comedic style. 

Producer and director Adam Elliot has created a few successful short films before the feature length of “Mary and Max”. Notable works include “Uncle” (1996), “Cousin” (1998), “Brother” (1999), “Harvie Krumpet” (2003) and “Ernie Biscuit” (2015). The reoccurring theme with these films are that they use either Elliot’s own experiences, human emotions, phycological struggles, life struggles and things which are not often shown in cute animations. However, the problems are shown in an educational and light-hearted way. All his films are meticulously made with stop motion and the distinctive character style. Paul Byrnes states: “Elliot based the film partly on his own life. For 20 years, he has corresponded with a New York man who has Asperger's syndrome. “(Byrnes, 2009). At the beginning of the film, it states it’s ‘based on a true story’, which implies like Byrnes said, that it is indeed based on Elliot’s own experience, which makes the film more personal and feel more real. The imagery that conveys on screen is therefore successful because Elliot knows exactly how to show the feelings. 

Fig 2

The set-up of the film slowly introduces each character and a part of their background, and their personalities are quickly established with their posture, faces, voice and attitude, much like a real person; and Mary’s innocent childish nature is reflected in the animation in the form of her warm toned surroundings, people and pets around her, whilst Max is the complete opposite: sad, isolated, living alone in a tall apartment block in a fairly dangerous America. The contrast of the countries are well shown. Andrew Pulver describes the film as: A very odd, very unlikely animated film from Australia that manages to be sickly-cute, alarmingly grotesque, and right-on at the same time – often in the very same scene.” (Pulver, 2010). Agreeing with this, the film, although in a cute style, is also very relatable as it approaches very real problems.

Fig 3

The Australian traits are very subtle, but are still shown, such as during one scene in the film, when Max writes to Mary that a Frisbee is like a boomerang, but it doesn’t come back. Mary also tells him about how babies come about: “in Australia, they are found in beer glasses”. She also sends him a selection of Australian sweets and Lamington cake which is a famous Australian dessert.   
The warmth of Mary’s environment shows the hot country of Australia, while Max’s environment is all in black and white, as if set in a typical film-noir New York scene. Pulver comments on the animation: “All of this is rendered in almost completely monochromatic claymation – only occasional colours stand out, such as the red pompom Mary sends to Max at one point” (Pulver, 2010). Mary indeed adds colour to Max’s black and white and hopeless life. 

Fig 4

Mary and Max” also shows an array of human emotions and situations, and Dan Parkinson picks up on this: “Tackling such un-animation topics as loneliness, body image, alcoholism, suicide and Asperger’s syndrome, it’s quirky, compassionate and slightly seedily sweet.” (Parkinson, 2010). It also picks up on anxiety, panic, worry, anger, obesity, death, bullying and isolation, but these are shown in such a clever and quirky way that the viewer subconsciously relates. The film itself could have very well been a live action film with real people, but the unique animation definitely adds to the impact. 

The goals of the film are indeed achieved: showing real human struggles, but made into a cute animation. It does very well tackling the problems, and the viewer finds themselves attached to the characters, and the climax when Mary and Max finally meet is bittersweet – as Max died smiling up at the many letters she sent, and she sits next to him, smiling. Sandie Chen comments: “The letters sent back and forth are so beautifully simple and honest that it's no wonder why Max feels compelled to lovingly iron, laminate, and save each one.” (Chen, S.D)


Chen, S. (S.D) commonsensemedia.org (Accessed on 24/01/2017) https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/mary-and-max
Parkinson, D. (2010) empireonline.com (Accessed on 24/01/2017) http://www.empireonline.com/movies/mary-max/review/
Pulver, A. (2010) theguardian.com (Accessed on 24/01/2017) https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/21/mary-and-max-review

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