Mary and Max

A key facet of the human condition is the need for companionship. Some may prefer their solitude, but this preference is rarely all encompassing. There is always someone or something in which we confide and take solace. Mary Daisy Dinkle and Max Jerry Horovitz find a source of comfort in their unlikely friendship. Mary is an eight-year-old Australian stuck in the most unfortunate of situations. Her mother is an alcoholic and her father is a negligent factory worker/taxidermist. Through a series of letters, she befriends a forty-four-year-old New Yorker named Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome.


Through their letters we are given an intricate look into the life of a person with Asperger’s. We are shown how their condition influences their view of the world and the people around them. The fact that Max is the one presenting the information gives the Asperger’s Syndrome point of view. Max explains what bothers him, how he sees the world, why he finds interpersonal relationships so “confuzzling” and how he deals with the pressure and tension that arises from these miscommunications. He views life in a purely literal way and complains about the endlessly illogical ways in which “normal” people live; he cannot find the reasons for bus timetables when they are always late. When simplified, his lifestyle is, in fact, extremely logical. He lives without sociological barriers that prevent others from being honest, such as the common desire to avoid impoliteness. Other movies have shown the plight of disabled persons, but Mary and Max stands alone by giving the disabled view from the source and presenting it to a child, a human still learning interpersonal relationships.

Mary reacts to Max’s letters like any lonely child would: with an innocent awe that is reserved for heroes and the most respected idols. Her life is a long road of never-ending sadness and disappointment.  The only escape is through her pen pal. She finds inspiration and motivation in Max’s logical advice, and finds ways to cope with her inability to find happiness in Australia.  She is the perfect example of a child from a broken home who is bullied at school and must find a way to have an adequate self-esteem. Mary shows an amazing level of observation in noticing her parents’ character flaws and demonstrates the cognitive understanding that becomes her specialty in adulthood.

At its core, Mary and Max is about the absolute power that true friendship holds.  Still, the film finds ways to include social commentary that pertains to all components of life. Director Adam Elliot uses Max’s disability to critique the social norms that when inspected closely are completely nonsensical. We, as a society, call for the preservation of our environment, yet litter and destroy rainforests. Max begs the question whether or not he is actually the “normal” one because he possesses the ability to think logically. Mary and Max calls these norms into question and sparks a debate that could affect how people with Asperger’s Syndrome are viewed.

The Claymation is excellent throughout the film. The opening sequence showcases the minute details that went into making Mary’s Australia and Max’s New York realistic, yet cartoonish at the same time. The opening and closing soundtrack is lighthearted and hopeful; ensuring you start and end on a positive note despite the overall depressing nature of the film. You may feel weird watching a Claymation film, especially one with such serious themes, but the story is fascinating on multiple levels. You will finish with a new appreciation for your friendships and the desire to start new ones.

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