24 January 2018

Film Review: Adam Elliot's 'Mary and Max' (2009)

Fig. 1 Poster
Adam Elliot's 'Mary and Max' (2009) follows the story of two lonely people sending letters to each other. Mary lives in Melbourne, Australia and begins the story as an 8 year old girl who is teased for her appearance and who also feels isolated from her alcoholic mother. Max is middle aged and lives in New York, he is also struggling and isolated, due to Asperger's Syndrome. Mary randomly finds his address and, desperate for some connection, sends him a letter. Max responds and they become regular pen pals. The story begins in the 70s and runs through the 80s, exploring their relationship and their growth and maturation. Writing for The Guardian, Andrew Pulver notes that the film 'manages to be sickly-cute, alarmingly grotesque, and right-on at the same time – often in the very same scene.' (Pulver, 2010). The film has both humorous and sad themes throughout, the two moods highlight and support each other, making the emotional impact of the film that much stronger.

Elliot made the film with a small team and a budget of $7.3 million over the course of five years. He had previously won an Oscar for his 2003 short film 'Harvey Krumpet'. Elliot labels his films as 'clayographies' referring to his use of claymation and his tendency to make stories out of real people and real events. The story of 'Mary and Max' draws from Elliot's experience of having his own long term pen pal. Speaking to Bill Desowitz for Animation World Network, Elliot said 'All my films are deeply personal and based on the people around me. I try to make films with depth, substance; films that deeply engage, move and make the audience think.' (Elliot, 2009).

Fig. 2 Max
The use of claymation is powerful and important in this film. Claymation allows Elliot to make the characters seem particularly unique and vivid. Luke Buckmaster, writing for The Guardian, describes the characters as 'haunted but cute.' (Buckmaster, 2014), which fits well with the way the film moves between sadness and silliness. Fig. 2 shows Max, who appears rounded and in some ways soft in shape but has exaggerated features and lines on his face, making him seem different and distorted. Also, claymation is associated with children's cartoons, which links with Noblets, the fictional cartoon that Mary and Max both enjoy. The cartoon is used to show elements of Mary and Max's friendship and also the way that they mature through the years. At one point Max is deeply hurt by Mary and doesn't write to her. Fig. 3 shows Max's shelf of Noblets figures, figures that he eventually sends to Mary to show that he forgives her and realises that people aren't perfect.

Fig. 3 Noblets
The film won many awards, including the Annecy Cristal and it opened the 2009 Sundance Festival. While the film remained only in the festival circuit it did well and received very positive reviews from critics and the public.


Buckmaster, L (2014). 'Mary and Max: rewatching classic Australian films'. At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/australia-culture-blog/2014/may/30/mary-and-max-rewatching-classic-australian-films (accessed on 24.01.18)

Desowitz, B (2009). ''Mary and Max': Elliot and Clayography'. At: https://www.awn.com/animationworld/mary-and-max-elliot-and-clayography (accessed on 24.01.18)

Pulver, A (2010). 'Mary and Max - Review'. At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/21/mary-and-max-review (accessed on 24.01.18)

Illustration List

Fig. 1 Poster
Elliot, A (2009). 'Mary and Max'. [Poster] At: https://vulpeslibris.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/mary-and-max.jpg

(accessed on 24.01.18)

Fig. 2 Max

Fig. 3 Noblets
Elliot, A (2009). 'Mary and Max'. [Film Still] At: http://pierdariomarzi.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/mary-and-max.html (accessed on 24.01.18)

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