Mary & Max (2009): Of Mental Illness and Friendship.

I’ve been keeping this film in my head for review for months now. It had to be pushed back due to my hectic schedule at work and also me suffering from writer’s block. In lieu of our dearly beloved, the late Chester Bennington’s death, I suppose there’s no better time than now to write a review of one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever watched and that has ever been made. A film that exposes and highlights the relation of mental illness and an utterly amazing friendship between two innocent souls.

Mary and Max is an Australian one stop animated comedy-drama film, inspired by the Director’s (Adam Elliot) 20-year old friendship with his pen-friend from New York. The film lasts for around 1.35 hours, was told in third-person narration, depicting the life of an 8-year old Australian girl named Mary Daisy Dinkle as well as the life of a 44-year old New Yorker who is also a Jewish-turned-Atheist man named Max Jerry Horowitz.

Let’s look a wee bit further into the disturbing yet interesting life of both Mary and Max.

Mary is a spectacled child, born with a ‘poodle-coloured’ birthmark on her forehead and were often called names and bullied by her friends for it. Her small family consists of herself and her parents (Vera Dinkle & Norman Dinkle). Vera Dinkle is an alcoholic while Norman Dinkle is obsessed with dead birds. Basically, Mary is a lonely child with complicated parents who just don’t give a damn about her. Her only apparent companions were her agoraphobic neighbour, Len Hislop and a pet rooster she named Ethel.

Max was born a Jewish, but decided to turn himself into an Atheist after researching about God from countless of books. He is diabetic, loves eating chocolate hotdogs, lives alone in his apartment, have a pet cat he named Hal due to the fact that it suffered from Halitosis, some pet snails he named after famous scientists and a pet fish he named Henry IV (started from Henry I until the latest one, whoever lasts longest). He also has a blind neighbour called Ivy who cooks soup for him. Max attends his weekly ‘Overeaters Anonymous’ meetings and also regularly sees his psychiatrist, Dr Bernard Hazelhof.

The only interests that they both share are their love for The Noblets (a TV show) and chocolates. And both of them have no friends but each other.

The Significance of Mary & Max.

  1. Mental Illness.

The film highlights 3 sorts of mental illnesses, suffered by 3 of the characters.

-Max: As the film progresses, Max is exposed to suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome (or an illness he prefers to call Aspies). According to, affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest. Actually, from the start of the film itself, the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome can be clearly observed from Max’s behaviour and actions towards particular situations.

For instance, Max’s inability to understand the intent behind another person’s actions, words and behaviors. Max’s expresses his puzzlement on why people cut trees when they need oxygen etc. Max also does not instinctually respond to such “universal” nonverbal cues such as a smile, frown or “come here” motion, which can be seen from his inconvenience on Marjorie Butterworth’s flirtings towards himself. He was also exposed to have had the exact same problem ever since he was a kid. Asperger Syndrome are very often accompanied by unique gifts. Usually, those who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome have a remarkable ability of intense focus. Max’s ability to read two pages of a book at once (an eye for a page) is an example.

Max was however, is only diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he had a major breakdown and had to be submitted to a mental instituition, where he has to stay for 8 months, which halted his letters to Mary.

-Len Hislop: Mary’s neighbour is apparently an ex-army who services during the World War II, a crippled who got both his legs chewed off by piranhas when he was captured by the Japanese. Len suffers from agoraphobia, which means he has unnatural fear of places. Agoraphobics may fear that accidents might happen when they’re at particular places, and they tend to stay away from these places. Hence, in Len case, he’s afraid of leaving his own home due to the illness, and pays Mary to fetch his mail for him. Agoraphobia may be due to genetics or environmental factors. Len might got it due to the trauma of his capture during his service as the US army.

-Mary: As the story starts, Mary is introduced as a girl with low self-esteem, mainly due to her birthmark. She wishes that she can ‘just peel off the birthmark like a band-aid’. She has no friends in school as everyone laughs at her birthmark and the fact that she does not smile, although she fancies her neighbour, a stuttering guy called Damien Popodopoulos. However, her lack of confidence prevented her from befriending him. Fast forward as the story progresses, Mary after saving a sufficient amount of money, undergoes cosmetic surgery to ‘dispose’ off her birthmark. However, even after her physical enhancement, she was still unhappy as she realized that she was wrong about not accepting herself as she is. Her depression becomes serious as she tries to commit suicide by hanging herself in her own home.

  1. Friendship.

“God gave us our relatives: thank God we can choose our friends.”- Ethel Watts Mumford

The beautiful friendship between Mary and Max, started from being total strangers who lives thousands of miles away from each other. However, their friendship lasts for a very long time and it changes their lives and saves them from their own selves. They learn the good, bad and ugly about each other and accept each other for whoever they are. When nobody else wanted to be their companions, they were there for each other, in mutual understanding.

Quoting Max in his final letter,

When I received your book, the emotions inside my brain felt like they were in a trumble dryer, smashing into each other. The hurt felt like when i accidentally stapled my lips together, the reason I forgive you is because you are not perfect. You are imperfect, and so am I. All humans are imperfect, even the man outside my apartment who litters. When I was young, I wanted to be anybody but myself. Dr Bernard Hazelhof said I was on a desert island then I would have to get used to my own company, just me and the coconuts. He said I would have to accept myself, my warts and all, and that we don’t get to choose our warts. They are a part of us and we have to live with them, we can, however, choose our friends and I am glad I have chosen you. Dr Bernard also said, that everyone’s lives are like a very long sidewalk. Some are well paved, others, like mine, have cracks, banana skins and cigarette butts. Your sidewalk is like mine but probably not as many cracks. Hopefully, one day our sidewalks will meet and we can share a can of condensed milk. You are my best friend. You are my only friend.’

The Relationship between Mental Illness & Friendship

Having a strong support frame is crucial for those who suffers from mental illness. If it’s not your family, its your friends. If its not your friends, its your shrink.

Since Mary & Max focuses on the beauty of true friendship, it is safe to say that both Mary & Max has each other and they’re each other’s strength. The companionship and problems that they both share help them uplift their burdens. Max try to view Mary’s problems and solves them like he solves equations, and Mary just be herself, a friend.

When dealing with friends who suffers from mental illness, it is imperative to make them feel connected. Ignoring and belittling those who are in a depressed state might cause more harm than good. Be sure to make them feel happy and keep them in their most optimistic state to prevent them from inflicting further damage towards themselves. Encourage them to live and eat healthily, as Dr Bernard Hazelhof says, ‘A healthy body equals to a healthy mind.’ As mental illness is a disease of the mind, offers your friends to accompany them, to seek for professional help.

All in All

With the increasing number of suicide cases around the world, people should spread the awareness of mental illness. Everybody should know that depression does not necessarily means being sad, and being depressed is not equivalent to being weak.

Hence, it is crucial to treat everyone kindly as each and everyone of us is battling a demon within ourselves, a demon that we hide from the world. Listen to every possible cry for help, and help those who are in need to be saved. Don’t wait until it is too late. Countless of lives can be saved if only we choose to look and listen with our hearts. Society can make a difference.

We can make a difference.

This Is For You

If you’re reading this, and you have depression, I got you.

You are way stronger than you think you are. I believe in you and I love you. I’d have it written in the skies if I could.

Hold on. There are greater things in the world that you need to celebrate. Things get better, life gets better. Make sure you’re there to see it.

I hope this post reaches you in good health, or like Max would say it ‘gey gezunterheyt’.

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