Weekend movies: When Marnie Was There

Possibly the last from Studio Ghibli, the movie, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, mirrors the Studio’s own– of coming to terms with one’s past at the same time of moving forward.

We find a young girl, Anna, the story’s central character, having an attack of asthma after she’s bullied in school. We can see why she’s singled out. She’s “different”– quiet, solitary, a sad air about her, and always on her sketchpad. At the clinic, the doctor informs Anna’s foster mother that asthma could be triggered by stressful events. Worried about their daughter’s increasing passivity – she’s not as talkative as before – her foster parents send her to the province to spend the summer with relatives, hoping that the fresh air and change of environment will cure whatever’s ailing her.

There, we behold a familiar landscape– Hayao Miyazaki‘s trademark design of nature: windswept yet harmonious, and poignant in it’s beauty. Just looking at the scenery makes me want to cry, from a place of loss my reference being my own City.

On an errand for her Aunt, Anna came to a deserted manor she immediately felt drawn to. She discovers strange things inside the place. Best of all, she got to be friends with Marnie, the spunky young girl of the manor. Marnie isn’t what she appears to be. But Anna is oblivious to that because for the first time in her life she has made a friend who like her is also desperate for one.

Fantasy and reality seamlessly fuse so that one wonders if Marnie is merely a projection borne of Anna’s desire for connection. Nonetheless, their friendship brings Anna out of her shell. But just as Anna is beginning to enjoy being friends with another, Marnie fails her in a moment of need.

Anna gets sick to the point that she undergoes a catharsis. She remembered how she came to be an orphan and how she eventually ended up with her foster parents. And in a moment of shocking revelation, she remembered who Marnie really was.

But she has not forgotten Marnie’s betrayal. As soon as she was able to, Anna went down to the manor and called Marnie out on it. Marnie finally appears, tells Anna why she left her, and asked for Anna’s forgiveness. Anna tells Marnie, of course she forgives her because she loves her.

This, and having reconciled with circumstances surrounding her real parents’ demise and her connection to the real Marnie, enabled Anna to also forgive and accept her foster parents. At the close of the movie, we see a new Anna, happy, and bonding with her adopted mother. We are assured she’ll be able to make friends when she goes back to school.

I watched the movie with my kids. My eldest daughter and I cried. My youngest looked at each of us– why are the two of you crying?  Because…of Marnie, replied the older.


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