What may very well be the final film of Studio Ghibli reminds us of one of their many biggest claims to fame: Taking animation and making it something beyond what many would consider made for kids. For whether their films deal with such themes as the environment, war, or coming of age, there is a standard that, arguably, even the all mighty Pixar has yet to reach. Speaking specifically on When Marnie Was There, what we get is something still up to par, but certainly different. Now, whether or not it is different in a good way, look below.
Characters & Story
When we are introduced to Anna, she seems to be a loner by choice and doesn’t seem to have any sort of close relationship with anyone. Her mother, who she refers to as her aunt, she seemingly doesn’t have much fondness for and, when sent to live with her “auntie’s” relatives, again she finds herself in a loving environment, but still experiencing a disconnect. Though with the discovery of a girl her age named Marnie, something shifts.
This girl, who is mysterious, kind, and yet all Anna has probably needed for some time, is a force to be reckoned with. To the point that with her seeming like a ghost, it is a tad bit heartbreaking. Yet, it is the reveal of who Marnie really is that perhaps is what will make you shed tears. For while Anna’s story isn’t the most bright and wonderful, Marnie’s story of loneliness, and missed opportunities, will have you bawling.
The brilliance of anything under the Studio Ghibli label is that, most of the time, they don’t really follow trends, or stick to the familiar formulas of stories. What they seek is something rooted in emotional realness, surrounded in fantasy. Something which can be seen very well by watching Anna. For Anna isn’t your usual protagonist. There is no outcry for sympathy, nor some long monologue to get you to understand her. Getting to know Anna is a process and, like getting to know someone in real life, you have to give her time to open up and be willing to feel vulnerable.
But, once that happens, and you are given such a privilege, it is hard to not begin to cry. For as you watch her open up, and her past become revealed, you begin to understand every action, and how she handles things, because it is because her foundation wasn’t as she thought it is. Which isn’t me trying to sound like Iyanla Vanzant, but there is definitely some broken pieces in Anna’s life that, thanks to Marnie, and others, we see come together. Leaving something which may very well be imperfect, but that journey from being a bunch of pieces of shattered glass to an image which can be proud of, despite its imperfections, is amazing.
To be perfectly honest, up until it finally clicked why Marnie and Anna had a connection, I was bored out of my mind. After all, watching any movie at home, when there are so many distractions, as well as the option to pause a movie, makes it so there is a need for constant engagement and stimulus. Something which isn’t really given as Anna mopes around, seems like she has some mild form of autism, and hallucinates about Marnie.
Who, despite becoming the catalyst for tears, doesn’t necessarily come off that interesting at first. If only because her appearance sort of leads you to believe that maybe Anna is traveling through time and dreaming of Marnie. Which, to put an interesting spin on it, you could argue was made to seem like a coping mechanism, but even with the spin it doesn’t take away the lack of excitement in watching Anna and Marnie interact. Making it so, if you have the attention span I do, or perhaps just like your entertainment to be a bit more demanding of your attention, you may struggle a little bit.
Overall: Worth Seeing
In an interview with The Breakfast Club, Jill Scott said she was like a wood burning over, and not a microwave and, to me, the build of this film was that of a wood burning oven. For, like with most media I push back, I found myself unable to focus solely on this movie and just enjoy it. However, once I made a commitment, I found myself lost in trying to understand Marnie’s place in the movie; whether Anna created her as a coping mechanism, a la, an imaginary friend; and then when the truth was revealed, and the gaps filled, I felt myself melt away, my tear ducts open, and felt the type of pay off very few films give me.
Which is why this is labeled Worth Seeing. For while this film definitely doesn’t give instant gratification in the form of laughs, quick answers to questions, or anything of that nature, it does make sure that when all is revealed, it is handled in such a way that it means something.