It is not often that wonder is the word to describe what I feel when I start watching a movie. It is usually discomfort, before I adjust my pillows. I think I could have sat on the remote for the whole 90 minutes, that wonder would still be the right word. This happens every two years, with a Wes Anderson movie and the fact I didn’t watch it for 4 years since it came out in 2009 makes me… wonder.
Mary and Max is an animated fairytale for grown-ups.
For more than two minutes, scored with piano and strings, moving shots of meaningless day-to-day objects introduce us to the brown world of Mary. The music is replaced by the voice of what I imagine a father would sound like reading a story before bed. The narration portrays Mary as a lonely kid with an adorable view of life. The thing that get stomped out of you by society, she has in abundance. The thing is beautiful. It goes well with her world. She sees it with a child’s clarity, which is very different from a grown-up’s.
Two dogs are attempting doggy-style coitus. She envies them, because she also wants a piggy back friend. She craves friends to fulfill a void in her world. She has a taxidermia obsessed father that attaches strings to tea bags; a mother who drinks sherry and shoplifts; a rooster, who’ll hopefully – and painfully – lay an egg, one day; a Greek stuttering neighbor who needs slap on the head to spurt out his name and a homophobic/agoraphobic neighbor, who lost his legs to flesh eating goldfish. Not only her mind observes her world in a peculiar way, but her world seems to be drawn from her imagination.
To satisfy her thirst for knowledge and friendship, she rips a page from the phonebook from an alien place, New York City, and she becomes pen-pals with someone who’s apparently her exact opposite, Max. He’s a fat old Jew with Asperger’s syndrome. The fact he is an Aspie (person with Asperger’s) is enough description of his personality. This interaction appeases Mary’s thirst and becomes a new thing that disrupts the symmetry in Max’s life. She introduces friendship in his life and lends it colour, both in figurative terms as graphic. Mary’s world is painted with brown and seems paltry, only until New York is introduced as black and grey. Mary’s colours seep into Max’s world but they never take it over.
Innovative imagery, inventive narration, are the stage for a message that seems to be lacking in cinema. The story of an old man who changes when he meets a younger person is a mainstay in recent works. Clint Eastwood made two (Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino) and my favourite Pixar film (Up) has the same motif. “You’re never too old to change” is a fine message. Mary and Max says that it’s ok to change but not to change is ok, too.
Mary grows to be an academic of the mind as to try to cure her friend’s Asperger syndrome. What she doesn’t realize is he doesn’t need a cure. It’s a pet peeve of mine that you don’t have to change to conform to what society or individual people want from you. If a girlfriend thinks you’re lazy and lack ambition, so you should change, change girlfriend instead. If a friend thinks you should go out more, find friends who like staying in. If society tells you to act differently, remove yourself from society. Anything is better than fighting your nature and embracing your nature should be celebrated.
Mary is the child. She changes, as children do and should. In some ways they shouldn’t and do. Max’ brain functioned in a different way, which kept him isolated from society. He became disturbed, neurotic and alien to most people, but he also kept the childishness that Mary lost. He remains curious, with a vivid imagination; it’s a plus of living inside your head. Mary used to refer to her neighbor’s unwillingness to give more than two steps outside of his house – figuratively, remember his legs were chewed-off – as homophobia. After she goes off to college she refers to it, once more, but now as agoraphobia. In this poignant movie, the correct pronunciation of a phobia remains its saddest moment, because it marked her transition from childhood to adulthood, an indelible loss.
I’m not the messiah, but you can follow me: