Last week, in celebration of Autism Acceptance Month, I decided to mix in some reviews of films and other media that deals with the subject of autism, with my usual fare. I kicked things off with a review of Denzel Washington’s “Roman J. Israel, Esq.“, and this time around, I chose an underrated claymation gem of a movie called “Mary and Max”.
Also, one thing to note is that I do tend to gravitate towards media that has Asperger’s Syndrome or that portrays a character with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This is because I believe that I would be able to be a better judge of it in their interpretation of it, as I have Asperger’s myself.
“Mary and Max” was written and directed by Adam Elliot, and the story is based on his own friendship with a penpal who had Asperger’s Syndrome. It premiered during the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and received good reviews from critics. It also won an Annecy Cristal from the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and won Best Animated Feature Film at the 2009 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
Aside from its intriguing nature as a claymation movie, I also decided to feature it due to the fact that many who do blog about autism and Asperger’s have highly recommended it due to its portrayal of Asperger’s.
The film follows the lives of Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore/Toni Collette), a lonely Australian girl, who ends up forming an unlikely friendship with her American older friend named Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who has Asperger’s Syndrome. The rest of the movie follows the ins and outs of their friendship and their, specifically, Mary’s life as she grows up into a woman, and all the realizations that occur during the course of their lives.
Wonderfully scored and painstakingly animated, this film is beautiful and melancholic at the same time. Interestingly, Mary’s world is washed in brown, the color of her own birthmark; and Max’s world is black and white, yet the two worlds have sashes of red here and there.
Even though this is a claymation movie, this movie is definitely for more mature audiences, as it deftly tackles autism, depression, alcoholism, bullying, sexuality, and dysfunctional families all in one go.
Aside from its technical beauty and the beautiful and meaningful story of Mary and Max’s friendship, this movie has one of the best portrayals of Asperger’s Syndrome I have seen in a movie. It wasn’t too cheesy or the Hollywood stereotype, as it really focused on what Max was experiencing and gave accurate portrayals not just of Asperger’s Syndrome, but of anxiety attacks and meltdowns as well.
This film also doesn’t soften any of the punches, and is brave enough to show the unpleasant mixed with the pleasant, just exactly how life is.
Regardless of whether or not you are looking for a movie that features autism well, this movie is a melancholic, beautiful, and off-beat film that talks about life seen through the lives of these two misfits- Mary and Max.
Now, you know the drill, beyond this point, there will be spoilers!
One of the reasons I loved this movie was the pinpoint accurate portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome with Max, without it being the usual stereotype movie about someone with Asperger’s. Instead of someone going through a journey to overcome insurmountable odds and becoming an inspiration to many, we have Max, a human being who just so happens to be a Jewish obese man with Asperger’s living in New York City.
I also loved how they were really able to explain what Asperger’s is, and what an “Aspie” experiences in their daily lives. This is seen in the way he composes his letters, the fact that he gets confused in social situations and has a cheat sheet of faces to understand others, he thinks in a very black and white way, his meltdowns and anxiety attacks, and it was also amazing that they were able to show how one gets triggered because of something an Aspie reads, hears or sees. They were also able to bring up sensory issues as well.
One of the turning points in Max and Mary’s friendship is when Mary writes her thesis about Max without asking his permission first, with the hope of finding a cure for it. However, as Max had already stated in a previous letter, his diagnosis didn’t make him feel disabled at all, it helped him make more sense of things, and that he didn’t need to be cured. I think that this is why he felt hurt and betrayed by Mary doing this, although she had the best intentions in mind.
Through this, Mary had to learn the hard way that not everything can be cured, just like that plastic surgery she had to remove that birthmark on her forehead, as her ex-husband later states to her in a letter. Mary’s entitlement and her experiences that things can be cured by medicine or surgery, although she didn’t know it at that time, had led her to believe that everything can be cured, and that everyone would want a cure for those things that bother them. In the end, she also learned that it also isn’t her job to fix everyone’s problems, and Max’s rejection of that was the one thing that made her lose her purpose, and made her sink into depression.
However, I love that in the end, Max later on forgave her, and I found it beautiful and not tragic, that Mary finally met Max on the afternoon that he died, while looking at her laminated letters on his ceiling.
I think that even if they never really met in real life, that they were true friends because they could be real and honest about themselves, and showed their true selves in the form of their correspondence.
“Mary and Max” is a beautiful film that talks about autism, and the ups and downs of life without pulling the punches, and is a highly realistic film, although it’s medium is claymation. This movie is truly an underrated gem, and is a must watch not only for those who have or want to understand Asperger’s Syndrome, but is a wonderful movie to watch in the long run.
Have you seen “Mary and Max”? What did you think of it and its portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Image Source: Max and Mary Community Facebook Page