Mary and Max opening scene analysis
This is in the opening series of images in which the editing allows the camera to move gradually around the street in a slow panning motion using a shallow focus with an eventual close up generating a sense of inaction/inactivity - boring, uninspiring normality. It focuses on items (iconic and easily recognisable symbols) of the era - 1970's. This contrasts with the rather upbeat diegetic piano suggesting hope. The sepia colour scheme creates an authentic, but rather melancholy mood. The upturned rubbish bin suggesting a lack of care and pride, foreshadowing the absence of maternal and paternal affection for Mary.
The camera slowly moves for a close-up of Mary for the narrator to provide key information about her. The narrator is used as as a vehicle of insights, especially because Mary and Max are almost always alone, and so conversation is minimal, reinforcing their solitary lives. The window is a barrier, exemplifying Mary being socially excluded, trapped by her vulnerability, anxious but still eager to join the world outside. Her eyes are the colour of 'muddy puddles' and the birthmark the 'colour of pooh'. This paints a depressing picture as Mary's outward appearance mirrors her inner despondence and poor self-esteem. Notably, the birthmark is an object of ridicule she has removed later as this signals a supposed new lease of life. Additionally, she cries 'muddy' coloured tears at the end after finding Max dead.
The editing is fairly regular to depict Mary's existence. Her ignorance is exposed through crude comedy of the dogs playing 'piggyback' and her only friend seems to be the fearful neighbour Len. As the narrator speaks the images match his words with the mood ring (close up) highlighted, grey in colour and disturbingly in the table 'red' means 'horny/sexy/dizzy', which indirectly applies to Mary later on as she has moments of happiness (posting the letter). The colour red dominates in this bland world with its duality. It is vibrant and creates, both an air of cruelty and hope/expectation and real life (an identity of substance). This is evidenced by Mary's clip and the jaffas (food, primarily chocolate, dominates as a motif of comfort) she devours as the the camera tilts slightly downward to emphasise her age and vulnerability.
The editing creates a montage of close-ups of Knoblets Mary made herself out of things such as gum nuts. pom poms (a red one given to Max in his first parcel) and even a 'chicken bone'. They are a little strange in appearance, like Mary herself, and are her only poor substitutes for friends. except for her quirky and affectionate rooster Ethel. She wanted siblings, but to no avail. Vera, her mother had viciously/callously called Mary an 'accident'.
There is then a shift to Mary's father Noel. The camera moves purposefully downward and after emphasising the repetitive nature of the occupation zooms in to eye level and Noel's forlorn face. In this instance he briefly directs his soulful gaze straight at the viewer. This technique occurs regularly when characters experience a poignant, usually sad moment. Even the narrator's tone becomes a little more monotonous to correlate with the scene.
Interesting the low angle shot highlighting the immense stack of Earl Grey tea is duplicated at the end of the film with Max's letters on the ceiling of his apartment. It is the enormity of Mary's dream at this point and then the enormity of their connection at the end.
This image is Mary's blissful dream of marrying an 'Earl' Grey and having 'nine children, two ducks and a dog called Henry', This is pure wistfulness of an innocent eight-year old girl. The newly wedded couple look contented, but the bulging eyes of the animals make them appear perplexed that this scenario has occurred, indicating its absurdity and comical nature.
This upbeat and positive scene in daylight is juxtaposed to the following establishing shot of Noel's shed at night. The camera slowly moves closer until the audience gets a peek inside. Whilst Mary would rather he spent time with her Noel drowns his misery with Bailey's Irish Cream and a rather somber and macabre hobby of taxidermy: stuffing dead birds found on the side of the road. They are introduced in separate close ups with crosses on their eyes to indicate death and provide a horror element to the scene. The atmosphere, lighting and mood are all gloomy, reflecting Noel's own battle with loneliness as even his hobby seems to bring him little gratification.
One positive, until recently, in Mary's life was her grandfather Ralph who was the fountain of all her knowledge it seems. He explained that babies 'were found by dads at the bottom of their beer'. This becomes a point of conjecture for Mary and a connection to Max, who had also been told bizarre stories by his mother about childbirth. It reflects the lack of guidance of their respective parents. Mary obviously adored him and they are presented in a middle level shot together in harmony. The cloud bubble is another technique to provide a visual stimuli to add meaning. The most common one is the traditional light bulb for a new idea. His death, as explained with the tombstone, is the first of three family passing that eventually leave Mary all alone. Notably, tongues in the film are red also, a representation of speech possibly and the various emotions it can elicit from the receiver as a result of the message.
Next we have the introduction of a very pivotal and powerful secondary character in Mary's mother, the 'wobbly' Vera as an extreme close up zooms out to reveal this dysfunctional woman in all her glory. She is described as 'complicated soul' and the dark comedy as 'her main ingredient in her cooking was always sherry' masking somewhat the reality that she is a slightly functioning alcoholic and also a kleptomaniac who explains to Mary that she 'saves on plastic bags'. Mary 'thought she tested the sherry way too much' and 'couldn't understand the borrowing'. This correlates with Mary's slow and sometimes painful shift from innocence to experience as time passes. Vera's addictions also include nicotine, a butt is even inserted in the cake she makes. These combine to reinforce her hollow attempts at satisfaction/contentment through excess and escape through intoxication.
She is only shown with Noel once in the film to suggest their separate existence. The over-bearing, dominant glasses suggest the physical ailment of eventual blindness and her inability to see others - lack of compassion. Her vulgar red lipstick paints a permanent disheveled and forlorn look on her face when combined with her large, sorrowful eyes, partially obscured by her eyelids. She crudely and cruelly paints a smile on Mary's face because her tormenting teacher accuses her of not smiling enough, leading to even more humiliation.
In important stages the film freezes or lingers (only minor behaviours animated, sometimes humorous), to capture the characters. The editing slows and the camera zooms by degrees, coercing the viewer to take in all they see. This image of Vera is a parallel to Mary later in the film when she is also at her lowest ebb, just before she attempts to commit suicide. Mary has gradually transformed (mirror) to become her mother at this stage and she desperately needs a saviour.
Mary is watching her favourite television show 'The Knoblets', which becomes a key link to Max as they are both attracted to and envious of 'all the friends' these cartoon characters enjoy. Obviously, their shared sorrow is loneliness and their only real passive entertainment, before the letters, is television and in particularly the Knoblets. These strange figures epitomise the absence of material comforts in Mary's life and also ingenuity as she makes her own from bits and bobs. Additionally, owning the collection is one of the three goals in Max's life and his gesture of giving them all to Mary near the end reinforces the healing that has occurred between them.