"Sometimes perfect strangers make the best friends..."
A 2009 Australian clay-animated film written and directed by Adam Elliot. The emotionally powerful Mary and Max
appears to have been overshadowed by such recent, better-known stop motions as Coraline
and Fantastic Mr. Fox
, as well as the fact that it falls smack bang into the middle of the Animation Age Ghetto
Set in the 1970-90's, and supposedly Very Loosely Based on a True Story
, Mary and Max
tells the story of a friendship between two unlikely pen pals: Mary Daisy Dinkle, a lonely 8-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, and Max Jerry Horowitz, an obese 44-year old man with Asperger Syndrome
living in New York City. The movie follows the story of their life and friendship over the course of Mary's childhood and adulthood. What appears to start out as a solely blackly humourous story soon turns into something quite dark and often very depressing
, dealing with everything from parental neglect, to insecurity, to bullying, to suicide.
This film provides examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer: Marjorie Butterworth to Max, though largely because he seems to be asexual.
- Abusive Parents: Mary's are mostly neglectful and preoccupied, though her mother also calls her fat and ugly.
- The Alcoholic: Mary's mother, who is in denial about it.
- Anachronism Stew
- Artistic License – History: Max is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 1980 (based on the fact that he writes Mary four years after the film's beginning in 1976 and informs her of his recent diagnosis). While AS was known about back then, but it didn't become a distinct diagnosis until 1992, so it's highly unlikely that Max would have been diagnosed.
- Asexual: Max, which makes it doubly funny that Mary asks him where babies come from in America.
- Babies Ever After
- Berserk Button: Max feels very strongly about littering, confuzzled by the fact that people break the law so unthinkingly.
- Be Yourself: Probably the biggest moral in the movie.
- Bi the Way: Probably the best way to describe Damien as he does show some genuine interest in Mary at times.
- Big Applesauce
- Big Eater: Max, although it only contributes to his obesity.
- Billing Displacement: Toni Collette gets top billing for playing adult Mary despite only showing up during the final half-hour of the film. The narrator, Hoffman (Max) and Whitmore (Young Mary) have more lines than she does.
- Birth/Death Juxtaposition: Mary and her baby arrive to visit Max just after he's died.
- Bittersweet Ending: Max forgives Mary and she comes to visit him for the first time with her newborn baby... only to find that he passed away, albeit peacefully, on the very morning that she arrives. And then Mary looks up to see that Max has laminated all of her letters and attached them to the ceiling in his home.
- Black Comedy
- Perhaps the most extreme one was in an (spoofed) Deleted Scene on the DVD, where the ending has Mary finding Max's body on the couch as in the real ending - except this time, his pets are tearing it apart, as per her thoughts during Max's breakdown. The other gag was after Len had saved the day - instead of crossing the street and narrowly avoiding the car, it instead hits and flings him offscreen.
- Blind Without 'Em: Ivy, Max's neighbor.
- Brainy Brunette: Mary fits the trope well, although her hair is closer to black.
- Book Ends: Max stargazes near the start and end of the film, both times after having sent a letter off to Mary.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Max unintentionally does this in his letters.
Max: Do you have a pet kangaroo? When I was born, my father left my mother and me on a kibbutz. She shot herself with my uncle's gun when I was 6. Do you like chocolate hot dogs?
- Brutal Honesty: Max, occasionally, as a symptom of his Asperger's.
Max: I cannot understand how being honest can be considered improper. Maybe this is why I don't have any friends.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Max.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Mary's disabled neighbour, who overcomes his agoraphobia just in time to save her from killing herself.
- Crapsack World: Arguably. The world in which the characters live is far more grounded in reality than most PG-rated claymation works.
- Crazy Enough to Work: Max's suggestion that Mary tell a bully that her birthmark is made of chocolate, which means she'd be in charge of chocolate when she got to heaven. This made the bully cry.
- Deliberately Monochrome or Splash of Color: Scenes that follow Max in New York City are black and white with the occasional splash of color. Scenes that follow Mary in Australia are sepia-tone with the occasional splash of color. Interestingly, once Mary comes to visit Max, she's still sepia-toned when everything around her is black and white, and their exchanged gifts retain their origin's coloration.
- Despair Event Horizon: Max hates Mary for publishing a book about Asperger's syndrome with him as the subject, primarily because she'd expressed a desire to cure it when he'd explicitly stated in one of his letters that he saw nothing that needed "fixing". Mary becomes incredibly depressed and then Damien leaves her for his pen-pal friend. Later, we see Mary trying to hang herself.
- Disappeared Dad: Max's father, who left his wife and son on a kibbutz, and is otherwise never mentioned again.
- Doctor Jerk: Played with for Doctor Bernard Hazelhof: Max's psychologist. He seems to insult Max a few times, over his low intelligence, and calls his dreams of owning the Nobblets and chocolate stupid. However, he does help Max through his problems and encourages his friendship with Mary, saying that it is beneficial to him. And after Max feels betrayed, he helps to convince him that no one is perfect, and friends can sometimes say bad things or stuff out of ignorance, but you should forgive them if you really are their friend. He also tries to promote a healthier lifestyle to Max.
- Driven to Suicide: Mary. Almost.
- Max's mother would be a straighter example.
- Everyone Hates Mimes: Except for someone with a mental disorder, apparently.
- Eyes Always Shut: Ivy, on account of her blindness. Except for when Max gave her the rest of his lottery winnings, which elicited an Eye Pop.
- Finger in the Mail: Parodied. It's a key from Max's typewriter.
- Foreshadowing: The narrator explains that Max would iron, laminate, then store all of Mary's letters in a special place, which is revealed at the end of the movie - Max's gaze upward while ironing hints toward where he put her letters, along with the placement of his Life Goals list earlier in the movie.
- The subject of Damian's sexuality is heavily foreshadowed as well - he wanted to be in theater, he made Mary's wedding dress, they honeymooned at Mykonos, and the aforementioned ambiguous attitude towards his and Mary's consummating their marriage.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Ivy dies, a tombstone nearby has the director's name on it.
- Friendship Trinket: One of Mary's first gifts to Max was a little red pom-pom she'd made, which he puts on top of his yarmulke for the rest of the film except for when he and Mary have their falling out when she graduates from college.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The in-universe cartoon "The Noblets" are a clear example of this; they're anthropomorphized penises.
- Grave Humor: On the headstone for Mary's grandfather; "Born in a barn in the hills of Baronia/ lived a full life, then died of pneumonia." Later, similarly appropriate quips are written on those of her parents.
- Go Out with a Smile: Despite having earlier displayed The Unsmile, Mary finds Max's corpse looking at the ceiling with a genuine smile on his face.
- Happier Times Montage: One plays in the background as Mary prepares to commit suicide.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Mary's mother Vera. Well, aside from the "party" part.
- Heroic BSOD: Max and Mary each have one.
- Hollywood Atheist: Averted. Max doesn't believe in God because he's "read many books that prove God is a figment of [his] imagination". Despite this, he doesn't really make much of a big deal about it.
- I Just Want to Have Friends: Both of the main characters.
- Idea Bulb: Both characters get this when they come up with an idea to help the other out.
- Imaginary Friend: Max has one, "Mr. Ravioli", who quietly sits in the corner reading books since Max's psychologist said it wasn't healthy. His eventual departure from Max's apartment is what kickstarts his first reconciliation with Mary.
- Imagine Spot: Max wound up in some trouble for one during his job as a trash collector, because he liked pretending he was "an intergalactical robot". A bystander called the police on him.
- Informed Judaism: Averted. Although Max doesn't act particularly Jewish as an adult (except for wearing a yarmulke) it's clear he was a member of a fairly strict Orthodox sect as a kid.
- Inherently Funny Words: Max asks Mary what she thinks of the word "Kumquat" before detailing his other favorites.
Max: My top-five are "ointment," "bumblebee," "Vladivostok," "banana," and "testicle."
- Innocent Inaccurate: Mostly averted, as Mary's mother "borrows" things from the store, but Mary realizes that something about it is off.
- Insistent Terminology: Max tends to lapse into this when addressing people (e.g. Mary Daisy Dinkle, Doctor Bernard Hazelhof), though only refers to himself by his full name once. Truth in Television: People with Asperger's Syndrome tend to state things using the most precise terms possible, out of fear that they won't communicate their point properly otherwise.
- The Insomniac: Max becomes this whenever his life is thrown into disarray.
- Intergenerational Friendship
- Interrupted Suicide: Mary's.
- It's All Junk: After her Despair Event Horizon, Mary has her book pulped, even though it made her a famous psychologist.
- Literal-Minded: Max. He even lampshades this trait of his.
- Malaproper: Mary, to humorous effect - though only when she's a child. She knows her neighbor is afraid of the outdoors, but thinks it's called "homophobia".
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: Averted. Max is implied to have been one his entire life, but is also asexual and the film does not shame him for his virginity despite his overwhelming loneliness.
- Mood Whiplash: It bounces back and forth between sad, upbeat, funny and disturbing throughout the entire movie.
- Mood Dissonance: "Que sera, sera".
- Mundane Made Awesome: The definitive using-a-typewriter scene, people.
- National Geographic Nudity: Max likes to read National Geographic, but the nude pictorials in it don't faze him in the slightest, since he's asexual.
- Neologism: Max indulges in this heavily, detailing three examples in a letter to Mary. "Confuzzled" meaning confused/puzzled, "Snirt" for a snow/dirt mix, and "Smushables" - groceries that were smushed at the bottom of the bag.
- Nerd: Max and, arguably, Mary too.
- Nerd Glasses: Mary has them.
- Nervous Wreck: Max becomes one anytime his life is "disrupted". This meant that Mary's first letter resulted in him rocking in a corner before staring out the window in thought for 18 hours, and her letter asking him about sex sent him to a mental ward for almost a year.
- "No. Just... No" Reaction: Vera's response to seeing a letter from a 44-year-old man addressed to her daughter.
- No Kill Like Overkill: Mary tries to commit suicide by swallowing pills and hanging herself at the same time.
- No Social Skills: Both of them, but Max especially.
- Oblivious to Love: Max.
- Odd Friendship: The plot of the whole movie.
- One-Woman Wail: When Vera finds Max's first letter.
- Parental Abandonment: Max's folks.
- Plumber's Crack: Max sports one when sitting down at the typewriter.
- Punny Name: Many of the minor characters, eg. Max's dentist.
- Rage Breaking Point: Max explodes when he sees a homeless person littering after picking up cigarette butts throughout the film (his personal Berserk Button).
- Ready for Lovemaking: Mary does this at after marrying Damien. His ambivalent reaction is the first clue that he's not exactly straight.
- Real Is Brown
- Red Scare: Max lost his job in the Army because he had been a Communist at one point.
- Replacement Goldfish: Literally. Several, in fact. Moments after we are introduced to Henry the Eighth, we are informed that there have been seven Henrys before him. We see the demise of future Henrys throughout the film.
- Rhythm Typewriter: Max on his typewriter.
- Ripped from the Phone Book: How Mary got Max's address; she just picked a random name from the listings at the post office.
- Running Gag: Every so often, one of the Henrys gets flushed (or blended, or flops out the window, or into a toaster).
- And whenever Len makes an attempt to conquer his agoraphobia, something happens that makes it entirely justified.
- Same Clothes, Different Year: Max's wardrobe is a justified case, as he has 8 identical vinyl tracksuits.
- One to A Charlie Brown Christmas (the doctor is "in").
- Another to Oliver Sacks; Mary is seen reading his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
- Another to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
- At one point, Max wears a shirt saying "Aspies For Freedom", which is the name of a real Asperger's rights organization.
- A boy on the bus-stop bench is wearing a "Save Ferris" t-shirt.
- The fast, musical typewriting scene echoes Jerry Lewis in Who's Minding the Store?.
- Skewed Priorities: Played for Laughs during Max's letter post-breakdown.
Max: P.P.S. - Not much has happened since I last wrote, except for my manslaughter charges, lotto win, and Ivy's death.
- Someone to Remember Him By
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Que Sera Sera. You will never hear the song in the same way.
- Spinning Paper
- Stealth Pun: As young Mary watches the Noblets (see Getting Crap Past the Radar above), she curls up with Ethel, a rooster. Or cock.
- Strong Family Resemblance: Mary's baby has Damian's ears and Mary's birthmark.
- Strongly Worded Letter: Writing them is a pastime of Max's.
- Super Fly Reflexes: Max has them, surprisingly, which he then puts into a glass bottle labelled "Henry's Flies".
- Tearjerker: So, so many.
- Theme Naming: Max has 3 snails named after famous scientists - Einstein, Edison, and one with a cracked shell named Hawking.
- Timeshifted Actor: Bethany Whitmore plays Mary as a child. Toni Collette plays her as an adult.
- Time Skip: Takes place after Max and Mary first rekindle their friendship.
- Too Dumb to Live: Lots of unwise decisions get made, but none worse than that of the mime. If he had time to dig out an umbrella and open it tremblingly, he could've used that time to get out of the way.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Chocolate, for both of them. Then (after Mary suggests it) Sweetened Condensed Milk straight from the can is added to Max's favorites. Chocolate hotdogs (a candy-bar in a hot-dog bun) is definitively Max's, though.
- The Unsmile: Max's attempt to display "happiness" freaks out the hobo in front of his building though partially because Max had recently attacked him for littering.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Apart from the director's 20-year friendship with the source for the Max character, (who was still alive at the time of the film's release and might still be today), mostly fiction.
- Warts and All: Coupled with Be Yourself as the main message of the movie, and name-dropped a couple of times by Max (and by extension, Dr. Bernard Hazlehof).
- Yiddish as a Second Language: "Go with good health" is Max's send-off to his letters.
- You Have to Have Jews: Max had a Jewish upbringing, but only wears his cap to keep his head warm.