Mary and Max (2009)

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What is the purpose of cinema? I’d say above anything else, it is to entertain us. It does that by stirring up emotions in us – joy, laughter, sadness, anger, terror – and I’d argue the stronger the emotions elicited from a film are, the better the film is. Think about it – films we find mediocre or don’t interest us are that way because they don’t make us feel anything other than complete apathy towards it. Everyone loves to laugh, which is why comedies are the most profitable film industry. However, sometimes films have to make you cry as well. Life can be funny, but life can also be terribly sad. So far, no film has made more of an emotional impact on me than Mary and Max.

Animation is something that has become such a part of our culture – it is probably the most artistic of any film genre, and they are incredibly popular because most of them are beautifully made, light and fun. However, animated films also have the stigma of being “for children” – while it is true that the biggest animated moneymakers have been primarily aimed towards and enjoyed more by children, there is a fair share of adult-oriented animations, and Mary and Max is definitely one of them. It starts off really pleasant and appropriate for the entire family – a sweet little girl in Australia and a adorably grumpy middle-aged man in New York becoming friends through being pen-pals. The stop-motion animation is exquisite, and the entire concept is so warm and endearing. However, as the film goes on, we start to see how bleak these two character’s lives are. Not everyone finds their Prince Charming, and not everyone has a happy ending. I won’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but there is some incredibly shocking imagery that isn’t inappropriate, but proves this is definitely not a kid’s movie.

Mary and Max is a very different film experience – I don’t recall any animated film ever dealing with the issues of suicide, depression, obesity, mental illness or any of the other themes this film covers. It goes from being a sweet, wonderful little film to a bleak, terribly sad story. If I found it so terribly sad, why am I giving it such acclaim? Because it does something else most animated films also fail to do – be realistic. These characters are make with little pieces of clay, yet they tell one of the most realistic stories ever put on screen. Life isn’t a picnic, but it also isn’t a horror story – it has its ups and downs, and even the most spoiled, wealthy people have their demons, and the most underprivileged people have their simple pleasures that make life worth living. This film also shows life isn’t eternal, and it ends – happily for some, terribly for others. However, we all end up the same. Mary and Max proves that no matter our circumstances, we are all capable of the same emotions and feelings. A five-year-old girl in Australia and a 44-year-old man in New York come from very different backgrounds, but yet are able to have a decades-long friendship.

This was definitely a passion project – there was so much detail put into every moment of the film. You could freeze the frame at any random spot and find a wealth of meticulous, intricate detail put into it. It took five years to make, and the amount of work put into this film is incredible. The filmmakers have clearly paid enough attention to making it aesthetically beautiful and emotionally resonant. We cannot help but feel a deep connection to what is essentially some lumps of clay. It just makes Mary and Max even that more of a brilliant piece of art.

Somehow, the artists behind Mary and Max created something special – they managed to portray one of the most candid, realistic human relationships possible without losing a single bit of realism or authenticity – and added to that, consider the fact that it was animated. I must not forget to praise the eternally talented Philip Seymour Hoffman, who pulled off some incredible voice work as the titular Max.

Mary and Max is unlike any other film experience you will ever have, and it is most certainly going to become one of the most brilliant film achievements in history.

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