The year is 1976, and Mary Daisy Dinkle (voice of Bethany Whitmore) is an unloved eight-year-old girl, who lives in the Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverly. Mary, who wears thick glasses, has eyes the ‘colour of muddy puddles’ and a birthmark ‘the colour of poo’ on her forehead. She is constantly bullied at school, and her only friend is a pet rooster named Ethel. Mary’s mother is an alcoholic, chain-smoking shoplifter, and her father works in a factory attaching strings to teabags. His hobby is taxidermy, and he pays Mary no attention at all.
Mary is a little confused about where babies come from. One day while in a post office, she rips a page from an American phone book, picks a name at random, and writes to that person to ask where babies come from. The name Mary picks is Max Jerry Horowitz (voice of Phillip Seymour Hoffman), an overweight 44-year-old Jewish man, who lives in New York and suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Max lives a very ordered life. He suffers from severe panic attacks when confronted by anything new, doesn’t understand verbal signals, has an imaginary friend named Mr Ravioli, keeps a pet fish, has a fondness for chocolate, and regularly sees his psychologist.
Mary includes a chocolate bar with her letter, and Max writes back. He tells Mary much of his life’s history, although his understanding of where babies come from is just as confused as hers. As the years pass, their letter-writing continues and their friendship grows.
When Mary is a young woman (voice of Toni Collette), her father dies and leaves her some money that she uses to go to university to study diseases of the mind. She marries the Greek boy next door, Damian Popodopolous (Eric Bana). Mary wants to cure the world of mental illness and writes a book about Max. The unintended consequences of this book have a major effect on Mary’s life.
Asperger’s syndrome; bullying; mental illness; suicide
This movie contains some low-level violence, slapstick violence and bullying. For example:
- When caught shoplifting from a post office, Mary’s mother is chased from the shop.
- We hear gunshots and see a street sign being shot at.
- We hear about how Max’s mother shot herself when he was six years old.
- We hear about how a man killed all of Max’s friends.
- Mary’s neighbour Len, who suffers from agoraphobia, lost his legs while he was a prisoner in Vietnam. We see several images of Len in a wheelchair minus both his legs.
- At school, a group of boys forcibly take Mary’s lunch from her and then urinate on the sandwiches. They call Mary ‘poo face’. As a result of being bullied, Mary hides in a box. A group of students laugh at Mary, and we see Mary crying and very upset.
- Max remembers his own experiences of being bullied at school, and we see images of a young Max being beaten up by schoolboy bullies. The memories cause Max to have an anxiety attack.
- Mary hides dog poo in the school sandpit, hoping that the bullies will get covered in it.
- There is a bloody description of how babies are born.
- Max has several anxiety attacks. He stands on a box in the corner of his room, sweating, shaking and looking very distressed.
- Max receives shock treatment in hospital.
- There are fantasy images of Max’s pets eating his skeleton.
- An air conditioner in the side of Max’s apartment falls out of the wall and lands on the head of a man in the street below, killing him.
- We see numerous images of Max’s pets dying and being accidentally killed. The accidental deaths include a fish being flushed down the toilet, being minced in a blender and being cooked in a toaster.
- Mary’s father is killed by a tidal wave.
- Mary’s mother accidentally drinks embalming fluid and dies while she is drunk.
- Mary falls off a couch while drunk.
- While in a state of severe depression, Mary attempts suicide. We see Mary reaching for a bottle of sleeping pills and then standing on a table with a rope tied around her neck (we see a blurred image of a foetus inside Mary). Mary stops when her neighbour knocks on the door.
- Max picks up an old homeless man and starts to strangle him. He stops before he causes the man any real physical harm.
The movie contains several sexual references. For example:
- One of the other children tells a young Mary how babies are made. The explanation involves being in love and doing ‘sexing’ – rubbing each other to make babies. The child says, ‘Ladies get knocked up and babies come out their vagina with lots of blood and tinned spaghetti’.
- Mary says that her mother told her that ‘babies are found in the bottom of a glass of beer’.
- When Max describes to a young Mary how babies are made, he relives what he was told by his mother. She told him stories about how babies come from ‘dirty prostitutes’, atheists and Catholic nuns (we see images of an egg coming out of a nun’s rear end).
- When writing a letter to Mary, Max tells her that he used to work in a condom factory but has never used a condom himself.
- Mary describes her next-door neighbour (who suffers from agoraphobia) as suffering from a disease called homophobia.
- Mary’s husband Damian leaves Mary. He writes her a letter telling her that he has fallen in love with a man named Desmond, who is his pen-pal.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
This movie contains some use of substances. For example:
- Mary’s mother is an alcoholic and a chain smoker. We see her constantly drinking, and she always has a cigarette hanging from the side of her mouth. She is frequently drunk and staggering. She appears to have a muddled mind and is often asleep on the couch in a drunken stupor.
- A man at a bus stop smokes what appears to be cannabis.
- When Max breaks off his friendship with Mary, she becomes very depressed and begins to drink heavily. We see Mary drinking sherry, behaving in an intoxicated way, staggering about her house and lying on the couch.
- When Mary attempts suicide, we see her reaching for a bottle of sedatives in the cupboard, although we do not see her taking the drugs.
Nudity and sexual activity
This movie contains some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- Max is regularly sexually harassed by a woman. Because of his Asperger’s syndrome, he can’t understand what’s really happening. Once when Max is alone in a lift with the woman, we see the doors close. When they open, Max’s face is covered in lipstick. In a bid to stop the sexual harassment, Max rubs onions under his armpits, hoping that the smell will drive off unwanted affections.
- We see a frontal image of Max naked in the moonlight. Later in the movie, there is also a frontal image of Max naked with his testicles hanging down between his legs.
- A man sits in a sports car with a woman sitting next to him. The woman wears a revealing low-cut top.
- Mary marries Damian, the boy next door. We see images and hear narration suggesting that Mary and Damian are sexually active, with Mary becoming bold and seductive.
None of concern
This movie contains no coarse language of concern, although it does contain some verbal put-downs.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Based on a true story, Mary and Max is a dark animated adult comedy about childhood, relationships, and social and mental health issues. The greater part of the story is presented through narration (voice of Barry Humphries). The movie is deeply moving, with the darkness of the comedy at times making it shocking rather than humorous. The serious themes make it a movie for adults and older adolescents.
The main messages from this movie are:
- True friendships are made through the heart, not the eyes.
- We are who we are, there is no magic beauty cream that we can rub on and make the wrinkles go away.
- No one is perfect, our imperfections are part of us and are what makes us who we are. It is just that some people have fewer imperfections than others.
- Although we cannot choose how we are made and what imperfection we have, we can choose our friends.
Values in this movie that you might wish to reinforce with your children include the value and strength of friendship, forgiveness and acceptance. This movie could also give you the opportunity to discuss with older children attitudes and behaviours such as:
- alcohol abuse
- how a lack of parental love and affection affects children