search

Mary and Max

Part of Animation Appreciation Week!

Mary and Max

The stop-motion animation of the Australian writer/director/designer Adam Elliot is nothing if not distinctive. The 42-year-old claymation artist's unique homemade-looking style is present in virtually any shot of any of his creations from any of his films.

Sculpted with bulging eyes, wobbly lines and clumpy figures, Elliot's characters look haunted but cute, as if Ralph Steadman got his hands on the cast of Gumby. An analogue artist plying his trade in a digital era, Elliot's painstaking art – hands-on in a literal sense – is a rare treat for audiences accustomed to computer effects and CGI fakery.

Like all Elliot's work, Mary and Max is vaguely autobiographical, inspired by a real-life pen pal relationship he started more than 25 years ago. Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a child and Toni Collette as an adult) begins the film as a lonely eight-year-old girl living in Mount Waverley who writes a letter to a socially reclusive New York man, Max (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman) after randomly finding his postal address in an American phone book.

Teased at school, Mary sports a birthmark "the colour of poo", lives a lower-middle class existence in a quiet neighbourhood and has a kleptomaniac alcoholic for a mother.

Like much of the film, this information is relayed by the narrator, Barry Humphries, in the straight-up manner Elliot's characters often use: "To Mary, Vera always seemed wobbly. Vera liked listening to the cricket while baking. Her main ingredient was always sherry. She told Mary it was a type of tea for grown-ups that needed constant testing. Mary thought her mother tested the sherry way too much."

The disarming way Elliot goes about depicting alcoholism, mental illness and other psychological maladies is a testament to the skilful way the film balances happiness and sadness, playfulness and profundity.

Mary's sweet letters to Max – which pose questions as childlike as "Where do babies come from?" – lead him to a mental breakdown. For Max, as Humphries' silky voiceover intones, the notion of love is as foreign "as a salad sandwich". Elliot matches a heart-tugging shot of him being lowered out of his building by a crane with sounds of people on the street taunting and jeering. Max is taken to a mental hospital, diagnosed with severe depression and obesity, marinated in a cocktail of drugs and given electric shock therapy – "the usual therapeutic procedures".

It's at about this point, 40 minutes in, the cute factor of Mary and Max is overtaken by an energy far more serious and confronting. Much of the film is build-up for a story about contrasts between child and adult Mary: the sweet wide-eyed kid versus the tortured, introverted adult.

Her emotional journey culminates in a scene that is so loaded, so transfixing, so masterfully made, it is impossible to look away. After necking a handful of pills Mary stands on a chair with a noose around her neck. Que Sara Sara plays on the soundtrack. Framed photographs around her dance and hover in the air. She conducts them, as if organising and rearranging her memories.

It's a standout moment in a standout movie. Mary and Max is sad but uplifting, beautiful but haunting, and capable of shifting from whimsy to tragedy in a heartbeat.

— Luke Buckmaster, The Guardian

Mary and Max

Sat October 7, 2023, 7:30 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

Australia; 2009; in English, Yiddish; 92 min • official site

Director: Adam Elliot, Writer: Adam Elliot, Cast: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana, Barry Humphries, Bethany Whitmore

recommend

Tickets

10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.

Parking

Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.

RTD Bus

Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).


Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

Z-briefs
: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Sun Mar 10, 2024

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Mon Apr 1, 2024

Hot Shots! Part Deux

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...