Just after reading Malone Dies, I chanced to watch the 2009 animated film, Mary and Max. Everything that charmed me in Beckett’s novel–the wit, surprise, and engaging voice–found an echo in this film. Yet Mary and Max managed to present several characters whose lives are every bit as troubled and pointless as Malone’s without having them wallow in a where the meaning of life is that there’s no meaning of life.
Don’t get me wrong. This movie is no Disney-fied take on the world. The prince does not come riding in at the end to rescue the fair maiden from the dragon, sweeping her off to endless domestic bliss. Instead, there’s no prince and no maiden in this film. Max is an overweight man with Asperger’s in New York. (Presumably he has Asperger’s elsewhere, but he doesn’t ever leave the city.) Mary is an ugly duckling girl in Australia, saddled with a self-centered, alcoholic mother and a work-and-hobby-obsessed father. Somehow the two manage to eke out a peculiar penpal friendship, despite the fact that most letters from Mary lead Max to a paralyzing anxiety attack.
Some of the images in this movie are particularly grim. Max accidentally kills a mime. (Okay, that’s not too grim.) But Max being beaten as a child or abused in a mental hospital are both grim. Mary standing on a chair with a noose around her neck is grim. This is not a feel-good movie, yet it manages to avoid the rose-colored glasses without opting for Beckett’s nihilistic worldview.
The mid-twentieth century gave us a parade of artists who believed that their time period had discovered ennui and existential angst. Perhaps they’d never read Job or Gilgamesh. In fact, these figures seem to have simply seen what others have seen over centuries without recognizing that what they dismissed as pat answers were simply the best human responses available to the travails of human existence.
Check out Mary and Max on DVD or Netflix. It’s a funny, sometimes disturbing film.