Film screening prompts emotional yet vital conversation

ACCESS sponsored a screening of the film “Mary and Max” on Friday, Oct. 7. The movie explores mental illness, and its claymation form makes the often somber subject more approachable. Courtesy of IMDb
ACCESS sponsored a screening of the film “Mary and Max” on Friday, Oct. 7. The movie explores mental illness, and its claymation form makes the often somber subject more approachable. Courtesy of IMDb
ACCESS sponsored a screening of the film “Mary and Max” on Friday, Oct. 7. The movie explores mental illness, and its claymation form makes the often somber subject more approachable. Courtesy of IMDb

Last Friday, Oct. 7, a film screening of “Mary and Max,” a stop-motion animated come­dy-drama that addresses topics of disability, mental illness, loneliness and childhood neglect, took place in Rocky 300 at 8 p.m. Some specific issues that the movie deals with include autism (Asperger’s syndrome in particular), anxiety, obesity, depression and suicide. The screening was followed by a discussion on how the film represents disability and communicates the ex­perience of it to its viewers.

“Mary and Max” is an eccentric and gut-wrenching film by Adam Elliot that delin­eates the blooming of an unconventional friend­ship between the two titular characters. Mary is an eight-year-old Australian girl with no friends and an alcoholic mother who regularly steals. Max is a lonely 44-year-old obese Jewish man with Asperger’s syndrome who lives in New York City. One day, without really knowing what she was doing, Mary finds a stranger named Max Horowitz in the directory and decides to send him a letter with little tidbits of infor­mation about her life. When Max receives her letter, he undergoes an intense anxiety attack, but eventually writes back to her. From then on, Mary and Max become unlikely pen pals, bond­ing over their mutual need for a friend.

As the plot unravels, it becomes clear how each and every character has to deal with their own demons, highlighting what an imperfect and dissatisfying world it really is. Although tra­ditionally deemed to be a pretext for children’s movies, the film uses animation as a medium to tell its story. Yet this film breaks barriers of con­vention, as it’s dark and emotionally exhausting themes are far from kid-friendly. Alongside its complex modes of storytelling, the film is inter­spersed with comic relief throughout, be it in the form of witty, ironic lines, ridiculous visuals or societal mockery. Apart from that, the film is well-produced, using sound effects to both dramatize comedic moments and heighten the emotional experience of tragic ones. Further­more, the form of animation used, claymation, incorporates “deformable” or “clay-like” imag­es, and fits well with the theme, accentuating both the grotesque and the comical in the film.

Jesse Horowitz ’19, the member of ACCESS who selected “Mary and Max” for the screening, discussed how he personally related to Max’s experience as a character, and how important he felt it was for others to gain the visceral un­derstanding of mental illness that this film pro­vides. “The movie is a journey about making peace with oneself. It’s about realizing that peo­ple with disabilities do not always want to be cured. We like ourselves, flaws and all. Accep­tance of oneself is really important,” implored Horowitz.

He continued, “This screening is really a way for us to educate people about experience of autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and often the feelings of self-hatred and isolation that result from them, and other mental disabilities. It’s to teach us to love ourselves despite all the nega­tivity.”

Likewise, ACCESS member Charles Callejo ’17 also remarked, “It’s one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. I have a lot of movie expe­rience and I can tell you that this is by far one of the most interesting cinematic experiences I’ve had, at least with animation. I especially en­joyed the very selective use of color–the film in­corporates imperfection into the aesthetic. Style and substance really work together.”

During the post-screening discussion about the film, Michael Callejo, a visitor who studies at Bard College, shared his thoughts: “Animation is stereotyped as either a kid’s thing or raunchy comedy. It’s so rare and refreshing to see an ani­mation movie dealing with some really difficult subject matter. It makes one question, is disabil­ity actually a bad thing or is it just part of what makes us human?”

In response, Dylan Horowitz ’19, who attend­ed the screening, observed, “I think what’s real­ly important to take away is that each character has personal issues to deal with and that’s okay. Mary and Max are not the only oddballs; we have the neighbor who’s battling agoraphobia, Mary’s mother who is spiraling deeper and deeper into alcoholism, Mary’s husband who has a stutter, and even the woman in Max’s Overeaters Anon­ymous group who doesn’t know how to give people personal space. It’s not a perfect world, and everyone is coping, and that’s okay.”

The discussion closed with a comment from Secretary of ACCESS Anne Goss ’20: “What we must realize is that they’re differently abled, not disabled. Because whatever imperfections they may have, it doesn’t make them any less human.”

The film’s ironic sadness, tinged with poi­gnant hope and helplessness, was infused in every frame and deeply moving. It’s the kind of movie that makes you laugh through your tears and its lessons of acceptance are worth explor­ing for audience members of all ages.

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