Mary and Max review – A movie that’ll play you by the heartstrings

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Mary and Max tell the story of, well… Mary and Max, and how they formed an unlikely friendship through chance, understanding, a love of chocolate and the same television show. Set in the year of 1972, we are treated to a pen-friendship that spans over a lifetime.

Mary Daisy Dinkle is a troubled lonely 8-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne. She has eyes the color of muddy puddles, and a birthmark on her forehead the color of poo. Being an only child to an alcoholic mother and a depressed father, she doesn’t have a lot of self-esteem, and doesn’t have a lot of friends. She enjoys eating condensed milk out of the can, and watching a television show called the Noblets, and admired them because they had oodles of friends.

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Max Jerry Horowitz, on the other hand, is a 44-year old overweight ex-Jewish atheist who lives in the metropolis of New York. He is clumsy, has immense trouble understanding facial expressions of other people, an overly literal mind, and he finds the behavior of all humans confusing. He overeats constantly, has severe anxiety attacks, and tries his best not to interact with the outside world. He enjoys chocolate hot dogs, a recipe he made up on his own by inserting a stick of chocolate into a hot dog bun; and watching the Noblets, admiring them too because they had oodles of friends.

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The movie revolves around the letters Mary and Max write to each other. It began when Mary decided to leaf through a telephone book (remember when those existed?), and randomly picked a number to write to because she was curious about how babies were made in the U.S. (her father told her that people found them in the bottom of their beer mugs).

Thus, a friendship blossomed that would span across one’s lifetime. We follow Mary and Max’s correspondence through multiple letters they send each other – from questions born from Mary’s childish innocence to Max talking about the unique way he perceives the world. As Mary grows older and begins trying to gain her confidence back and Max learns that he suffers from Asperger Syndrome and realizes his brain functions differently from everyone else’s, we grow and learn with them. By the time we get to the later parts of the movie, we get so attached to the two central characters and their friendship that our hearts would crack if it were to fall apart.

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The animation style is almost monochrome – black and white for Max’s scenes, and a sepia tone for Mary’s scenes. However, one can spot certain splodges of color in Max’s life, and it’s usually from the gifts that Mary sends him. These little splashes signify the color that she brings into his life, making it even more obvious how much the characters influence each other. The music arrangement is also incredibly beautiful – a mix of piano and orchestral music that drives home the feeling of innocence of Mary, intense music that accompany her parents, and even incorporating the orchestral typewriter song when Max wrote his first letter.

The movie touches on very heavy subjects, including childhood neglect, mental illness, addiction, depression, alcoholism, anxiety, obesity and even suicide. However, it isn’t dealt with in a dismissive or insulting manner. Despite the many ways Max struggles with socializing and his weight, he doesn’t believe that there is anything wrong with him, and does not feel disabled or does he feel a need to be cured. In fact, the movie emphasizes on how everyone has their own flaws, and how everyone mess up every once in a while.

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The movie takes its time to allow us to get extremely familiar with the two central characters, and by the end of the film, it feels like we’ve grown along with them all those years, despite the movie only lasting 1 1/2 hours. It shines a light into the psyche of people, shows us how friendships can spring from the unlikeliest of places, how environments affect us, and how we in turn affect those environments. Incredibly heartfelt and touching, Mary and Max is definitely one to put on your list.

Christopher Yee

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Christopher Yee

Chris is a frequent traveller of worlds beyond the screen, and has been to places like Skyrim and Ferelden more times than he can count. When not indulging in escapism, he enjoys annoying the neighbours with his guitar and pondering the answers to life's great questions; like the meaning of life, and what to have for lunch.

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