Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Mary and Max

There are sights. And there are sounds. Which when perceived, evokes one overwhelming emotion: “I wish he was here”. On my first tour abroad, this was one emotion I carried everywhere I went.
I never quite realised that “I-wish-he-was-here” could happen to movies as well…until I watched Mary and Max. Having watched the movie alone, I almost felt guilty that JD hadn’t watched it. (Like, I finished a whole Lindt, leaving the wrappers for him).
But then, the movie was disturbingly irresistible. And, ignoring those guilty pangs, I watched the movie thrice. (I promise, my fourth shall be with you, JD!)

Writing about a movie does not necessarily mean a review. In my case, for sure, it doesn’t. Reasons are two:
1.      This movie is very close to me….almost like an emotion. And, emotions cannot be reviewed. They can only be spoken about.
2.      I am a poor story-teller and give away too many details while narration. So I presume, I will make a poor movie-reviewer as well.

Mary and Max (2009) is an Australian clay-animation, written and directed by Adam Elliot (the same man who made a 22 minute 7 seconds long “Harvie Krumpet” and won himself an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2003).

To cut a long story short, I borrowed these lines from an internet movie data base (use of small letters is a futile attempt to hide the source).
“It is a simple tale of pen-friendship between two very different people; Mary Dinkle, living in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia and New Yorker Max Horovitz. Spanning 20 years and 2 continents, Mary and Max's friendship survives much more than the average diet of life's ups and downs”.

Mary Daisy Dinkle. The 8 years, 3 months and 9 days old lived in Mount Waverley in Australia. She had a distracted, indifferent father who worked in a factory where they attached strings to tea bags. Her mother was an alcoholic, kleptomaniac, cricket-fanatic and a “complicated soul”. She had two neighbours and one pet Rooster called Ethel (who didn’t lay eggs!).  She had no brothers or sisters. She also had no friends.

Max Jerry Horowitz was a severely obese, 44 year old man living in New York. He shared his house with a fish called Henry (the eighth, the ninth or the tenth as the case may be), three snails, all named after famous scientists (Einstein, Newton, Hawkins for example), a parakeet called Mr. Biscuit and a cat named Hal (after the disease, Halitosis from which he suffered). He too, had no friends.
Earl Grey was her favourite tea bag from the ones her father made.  She loved saying “Earl Grey” and some day, wanted to marry a man with that name and have kids and pets with him. Mary loved the smell of her wet rooster, the sound of rain on her roof and believed that nothing could beat the taste of sweetened condensed milk straight from the can while watching her favourite cartoon. And “The Noblets” was her favourite cartoon. She adored them because, they had oodles of friends.
“nothing could beat the taste of sweetened condensed milk straight from the can while watching her favourite cartoon..”
Max had troubled sleeping and sleeping troubles. He loved Chocolate hotdog and invented the recipe for it. He also invented an invisible friend called Mr. Ravioli who sat and read on his own. He attended the Overeaters Anonymous classes on Thursdays. He wished there was a Fat Fairy who would be a bit like the Tooth Fairy, and suck out his fat. He had 8 tracksuits of the same colour and size. He loved buying lottery tickets. Again, same numbers every time. He also loved “The Noblets” because they had oodles of friends. 
“He wished there was a Fat Fairy who would be a bit like the Tooth Fairy, and suck out his fat…”
Grandpa had always told Mary that, in Australia, babies came from beer glasses. She wondered if it was true for USA as well. May be not. She flipped through a New York City – address book and randomly chose one Max Jerry Horowitz to ask her most sought-after question, “Where do babies come from, in America?”
And that was the beginning of a long chain of letters between the two strangers, who became each other’s friends, the only friend…the best they ever had. 

The poster shall catch your attention. It caught mine. While “Mary” is a hand-written font, “Max” is a typewriter version. You will figure out why, once you have watched the film. It is a very simple yet minute detailing. And how I love it!
The other striking feature of the film is the absence of colours. Except for Mary’s hairpin, the pompom on Max’s yarmulke, letter boxes, everyone’s tongues and a few things here and there, the film is set in sepia and black and white. The only other colour used is red, on the things I mentioned above.
Mary’s world was sepia. It went well with her, I presume. 
My favourite colour is brown”. 
“To fill in time, she scanned the room and counted how many things were brown.
There was sticky tape, rubber bands and a phone book with a picture of a lady standing in a brown lake with her hand on fire.” 
And she loved the “Noblets” because “everyone was brown and lived in a teapot.”
Max’s world was set in black and white….like his mind was. “Literal and logical”.  (watch out for that scene in a doctor’s chamber where a sign read “please take a seat”)
Barry Humphries’s voice worked wonders for the narration. And so did Bethany Whitmore’s voice as little Mary’s. If voices could be hugged, her’s would be the first I would want to. 
Yes, it is an animation with characters being clay figurines, but I do not think it’s a movie for children. The film deals with complex issues like lonely childhood, friendlessness, alcoholism and most importantly Autism. The film’s treatment of Autism as a subject is one of the best I have seen. 
PS: The film also deals with friendship…one of the best I have seen. 
The correspondence between the two friends went almost unhindered over two decades, as Mary grew taller and Max grew wider. In the meantime, Max had a couple of anxiety attacks, was institutionalised and diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, charged with manslaughter once and acquitted on account of insanity, won New York lottery and a fortune that bought him a lifetime’s supply of chocolates. Mary, on the other hand, went to college, earned a degree on Psychology, wrote a thesis on Asperger syndrome, based on her communication with Max and married one of her next-door neighbours, Damien Popodopoulos.
In the midst of bizarre question-answer sessions, anxiety attacks, Henrys’ deaths, Mr. Ravioli’s final farewell, failed marriage and all the confuzzledness that never left their paths, what emerged as a clear winner was their friendship….Like Max’s doctor had said, their lives were very long sidewalks. Not smooth at all places, but with cracks, banana skins and cigarette butts. Whether their sidewalks meet in the end, is for you to find out.  
PPS: This may be just a figment of my imagination, but in one particular scene I felt their worlds met. Mary had sent Max a chocolate with her letter. The chocolate got crushed, so he blended the bits with milk and icecream and drank it. The chocolate milk shake was a tone of sepia amidst Max’s black and white world. 
Just a figment of my imagination!
My best friend said the other day : “Fantabulousome!”
It instantly reminded me of Mary and Max. 
The film also reminded me of my favourite word as a teenager. “French Manicure”. Of my 5 most favourite-sounding words, this happened to be one. I wondered whether he was a French man who could cure everything. I also wondered if he could be married to.  
I know people who treasure letters like water and oxygen. And preserve them with all their might. I know people who LOVE, barring distances, geographical impediments, age and many other things. One of them happens to be my ‘French Manicure’.   
I know of people who cannot cry. And I know situations where I wished teers could be collected in empty shampoo bottles and sent to them…
PPS: After ages, I copied dialogues from a movie in my secret diary. For, when I grow old, I shall drink the words like a bowl of alphabet soup. 
PPPS: I haven’t thanked the person who recommended the movie to me. Instead, this post is dedicated to her….entirely.
PPPPS: Watch Mary and Max….cause, you haven’t watched anything like this before.


  1. one of my most fav films... lot of ideas changed about friendship after watching this... mone koriye dili... will watch again this week... :)

    1. Niche Abhishek Mukherjee ja ja likhechhen, ami thik tai tai toke bollam :)

  2. Feels nice when someone has watched one of the movies you've loved the most - and a movie you try to get as many others you can to watch.

    Nicer, when you know the person.

    Even nicer, when you know you can relate to the person even more once you realise she feels the same you do about the movie.

  3. inspired by your post i decided to give it a try.....and its one of my favorite movies from now....thank you so much Parama for this post...

    1. Dear Trijeeta,
      I am sending some invisible chocolate hotdogs and some real hugs to you.
      You watched it has made me happy beyond words.
      Much love,

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