If ever I don’t know how to start something, I shall use Max’s way – he states that he doesn’t know what to say, and then lists what he feels in order of intensity.
In response to this film – I am sad. I have not been able to stop the tears and the concentrated choked breathing and my vision goes like a badly focussed camera at night and all I can see are lit up lights on my keyboard.
We cry at what we can relate to.
But oddballs and loneliness in films ought to be encouraging. These lonely people find each other. And they have found an audience.
I liked that Max says he doesn’t see his Aspergers as a disability or something to cure. He calls it an affectionate name and says he likes it.
It again made me think about normality and what dangerous and immoral power those who define normality have. How did they get it? How would they fare if people like Max ran the country? And before anyone says he’s unfit, think of the cuts we are currently suffering in Britain due to our government, cuts that make more people unemployed whilst benefits and funds are also cut. We legally allow British banks to make £2.5 billion a year in profit from exceeded overdrafts – taking from those who have none and then calling them financially irresponsible. I could go on and I am sure most countries could come up with a list of crazy unfair things that ‘normal’ people in leadership endorse and create. Meanwhile, those deemed as crazy are given electric shocks, have parts of their brains cut out, injected with controlling drugs, put in straight jackets… and not all of these are past treatments. For all our political correctness and insistence on equality, we have not yet come near a truly valuing all our citizens and respecting their diversity, as Max’s all too likely life shows.
What is also sad about the film is that were it set a few years later and the internet were their medium of communication, Max could be accused of paedophilia. I am glad that Britain is revisiting its protection of the vulnerable to make it more balanced. Loneliness and special needs do not constitute likely offenders, and that Daily Mail-esque presumption has no place in this film.
What is nice is that despite what official sanctions might say about Mary and Max, we love these quirky oddballs. Film is all about the downcast being raised up – the medium always champions the lonely misfit and makes them our heroes. Film normalises and legitimizes, and makes us empathise. It gives its audience hope, even when the film ends without it – for we know we are meant to feel the injustice and want something better. In a dark room of strangers, it unites, even and especially those as lonely as Mary and Max; and gives hope that everyone can find companionship and acceptance.
The next morning, my response is different. I had watched the film believing – from the producer’s introduction – that the story is true. I had accepted the zany parts under ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. But reading on the internet, I discover that the idea of the cross country, trans generational pen friendship is all that is real. A reviewer called the puppets grotesque, and many of them are. I think of how the bin collectors are prevented from taking Mary’s first letter from Max, how she comes to choose him whilst randomly browsing an international phone directory; the twisted humour at the death of his fish – and Mary’s family; the obsession with the ‘pooh coloured birthmark’. I am feeling annoyed and a little cheated that the 40 year grip of agoraphobia on a war wounded neighbour is broken just in time to save Mary from suicide; that her friend is found dead on the day they should have met, and that all she has in the world by the end is her baby.
Perhaps I also feel cheated that if this is all invented, the above message of comfort is not true as we have been watching not real people but exaggerated imaginary ones.
But here is where the philosophy question becomes pertinent: is it a lesser truth that this film is not all true? Does the perhaps exaggerated and grotesque take from the human truths behind it – or is it our access to it? If we can love and accept Max and Mary on the screen, can we not love them in life – even (and especially) if they are ourselves?