Last time, in order to kickstart my little series on autism in film for Autism Acceptance Month, I reviewed Denzel Washington’s interesting character study “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”. This time around, I settled on the underrated claymation gem that is “Mary and Max”, as I have heard a lot of positive reviews about it’s portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome from other bloggers.
Before we move on to the film, I decided to only focus on the medium of film, and I narrowed down my list to only five films for now. I might do reviews of other media that deals with autism in the future mixed in with the usual fare, but for now, I am only sticking to five films.
“Mary and Max” was written and directed by Adam Elliot, and was based on a real life experience of his. It premiered in 2009, got good reviews from critics, and won several accolades as well during that year.
This claymation film chronicles the years of friendship between two unlikely friends and penpals- an Australian named Mary Daisy Dinkle (Bethany Whitmore/Toni Collette); and the older Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who lives half way across the world in New York City. Spanning from the late ’70s to the ’80s, this story follows the ups and downs of their friendship as the years go by, and how it affects them as individuals.
This is a film that was painstakingly done, technically speaking; and it does have a wonderful portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome. Not only does it accurately show the fact that Max has difficulty understanding facial expressions and social cues, it also accurately shows meltdowns and what happens when someone gets triggered to the point of an anxiety attack.
It also gives a great explanation of what Asperger’s Syndrome is, and it explains it in a way that is easy to understand.
This film, although it is done in claymation, is definitely not for children. It doesn’t pull the punches when it comes to showing the harsh realities that do happen in life. Aside from that, it does tackle a lot of heavy issues such as child neglect, alcoholism, depression, and suicide.
In the end, “Mary and Max” is a gem of a movie not only due to its technical prowess, but because it does give us a very accurate portrayal of autism, and specifically, of Asperger’s Syndrome.
As I mentioned earlier, this film goes out of its way to accurately portray and explain Asperger’s Syndrome in the right way.
Before Max learns of his diagnosis, we can already see that he is an aspie based on the way he thinks and what he says in his letters to Mary, and the way he describes his own sensory issues. He also likes having a routine, and sticks to the things he is familiar with, such as his choice of food for the different days of the week.
It is also not uncommon for aspies to strike up friendships with people who are not in their own age group, and is something that I can relate to as well.
We also see Max getting triggered emotionally because of some of Mary’s letters, and I like that the way they filmed it also allowed us to get into Max’s headspace as Mary’s voice during those moments became louder and her words became more fast paced. After he does get triggered, he stays in his little corner and rocks back and forth to calm himself down.
Later on, he also discovers several things that help him cope with things and that do calm him down, like laminating Mary’s letters, which mean a whole lot to him.
This is why he considered Mary’s using his case and trying to find a “cure” for him a gross betrayal of the worst kind, especially as he already mentioned that he doesn’t feel the need for him to have a “cure”. This, however, is a growing point for Mary, who later on learns that she cannot solve everything using cures or medicine.
I love what Max said when he wrote to Mary after receiving his formal diagnosis- that he doesn’t feel a need to be cured, because it’s really just the way he is, and the way to move forward was to accept and learn how to cope with it. It seemed as if everything suddenly made sense to him.
I think that most of us on the spectrum can relate to this. That after discovering your diagnosis, everything just clicked into place, and once you’ve accepted it, there’s that shift of perspective that just makes everything so much clearer. And once you’ve accepted and understood it, then you make more conscious decisions when it comes to making smarter choices on how to live your life and cope with the various challenges you experience everyday.
All in all, “Mary and Max” wasn’t just a great and emotional film, but it is a film that had an accurate portrayal of autism, and is one that I definitely recommend to watch for more mature viewers.
Have you seen “Mary and Max”? What did you think of the portrayal of Asperger’s in the film? Did you like or not like it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Image Source: Max and Mary Community Facebook Page