“Mary Dinkle’s eyes were the colour of muddy puddles. Her birthmark, the colour of poop.” And so begins an incredibly endearing movie about unconventional friendships, what it is to be normal, and how our connections with other people touch and shape our lives.
Jordan over at Epileptic Moondancer is doing a blogathon on his site in tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman for Hoffman’s impending birthday on July 23rd. Philip Seymour Hoffman was an incredible artist and it is truly tragic that he died when he was so young. As such, I was more than happy to contribute a post to Jordan’s blogathon. Also, Jordan is a proud Australian who loves his local films so this Australian movie is sure to please. There are a lot of important films that Hoffman was involved in so it was difficult choosing one to write about. I decided to go with a film that is a little less well known and happens to be one of my favourite films. I originally watched this movie with my best friend and we immediately fell in love with it; I think you will too.
Mary and Max is one of the most endearing films you will ever watch. It centres around an eight year old girl named Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore and Toni Collette) from Melbourne, Australia and a forty-seven year old man named Max (voiced by the one and only Philip Seymour Hoffman) with Asperger’s Syndrome in New York who become pen pals. Neither of them has any friends and all they want is someone who will understand them and their unique way of looking at life.
Directed by Adam Elliot, this claymation film is beautifully crafted film that takes an unwavering look at mental illness. Simultaneously hilarious and heart wrenching, Mary and Max explores the ways that people with Asperger’s Syndrome look at the world and the other people in it. It breaks down wall and addresses the stigma associated with people who have mental illnesses. As Max says,
Dr. Bernard Hazelhof says my brain is defective but one day there will be a cure for my disability. I do not like it when he says this. I do not feel disabled, defective or I need to be cured. I like being an Aspie.
This movie is mainly narrated (Barry Humphries), but when Mary or Max are writing their letters, they are read by their voice actors. Philip Seymour Hoffman is almost unrecognizable as the voice of Max, which is a true testament to his incredible acting skills. He perfectly depicts Max’s anxiety, his confusion with other people and seemingly simple daily interactions; the intonation in his voice carries the simultaneous uncertainty with the world and clarity of himself and his own intentions. Only an actor of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s calibre, and perhaps only Philip Seymour Hoffman himself, could have brought such a vividly complex character to life with only the use of his voice. The only negative thing I will say about this movie is that there weren’t more moments of Max speaking.
This movie tackles some really dark moments and examines the ways in which different people deal with different forms of trauma. Although it starts out relatively lighthearted, it soon explores depression, suicide, and sever anxiety disorders, but it always comes out on the other side. It’s an interesting progression for the audience as well as we start the movie with Mary’s naive eight year old self, not imagining that anything is strange or different about Max and end with her being an adult and changing her perspective, even though she never waivers in her friendship.
Overall, this is simultaneously heart warming and heart wrenching. It will make you laugh and make you cry. It’s a touching story and a beautifully crafted work of art. There is so much here to love and new things to discover if you watch it for a second or third time. You owe it to yourself to watch this movie.