I couldn’t help but think about “Mary and Max” while watching Darren Aronofsky’s fatness-as-trauma-porn drama, “The Whale.” Max’s fatness is treated by those around him as something in need of “fixing,” the same way his mental illness and neurodivergency are pathologized. He is diagnosed with obesity in the same way that he is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, but is given autonomy in a way that Brendan Fraser’s Charlie is never afforded in “The Whale.”
Max shows up to Overeaters Anonymous meetings at the recommendation of his therapist, but quite frankly, doesn’t buy into their bulls**t. His fatness has never been an issue for him, only for those around him who can’t get over their own fatphobic ways of thinking. Max’s health issues have nothing to do with his weight, and everything to do with his declining mental health and the way society has mistreated him for reasons beyond his control. “Mary and Max” doesn’t try to moralize his body or display it in cartoonish ways.
Mary starts off as a chubby child and is ridiculed by her mother for her size, and as an adult, Mary is shown as slimmer. She saves up money to remove her birthmark, clearly believing that physical changes will directly change how she feels about herself in the world … but it doesn’t because there’s no magic wand that can make a physical change miraculously transform your feelings of self-worth. Even with his size, Max is able to fulfill all of his dreams, because he worked on loving himself and finding forgiveness in the world. The film ends similarly to “The Whale,” and despite sharing similarly devastating themes, “Mary and Max” is not a tragedy, it’s a tale of humanity.