I’ve never known a silence like the hush that fell over the audience when the credits rolled on When Marnie Was There.
It was shared between us all, something we were experiencing as a group, but it was also deeply personal to each individual in the room. It seemed we had all gone off in our heads to a different time and a place, the memory of a person, soft and warm, who cared for us and made us feel safe.
It’s hard to say more about the film without giving away parts of the story that are not a spoiler or a great mystery, but that you should nonetheless experience blind. I don’t want to ruin it for you. But it’s something very special.
There are points when this film looks like a living watercolor painting, or when the animation is so lush and vibrant that it’s almost overwhelming; almost too much. The music is sweet and gentle, the perfect accompaniment to the flowing imagery and the carefully paced story.
Each character, even those appearing only briefly, is developed and detailed enough for you to idly wonder what they’re doing when they’re not on screen; to wonder what their lives are like when not interacting with our protagonist.
But that goes without saying. This is, after all, Studio Ghibli.
What really makes this film so very different and so very special and arguably their best work is the story.
Anna is twelve and she’s depressed, or she’s on the edge. She’s become withdrawn at home and at school, and she’s having panic attacks that complicate her asthma.
Over concern for her physical and emotional health, she’s sent to spend an extended summer with some family who reside in a beautiful lakeside village and are happy to have the young girl come and visit. Anna is struck at once by the beauty of the village. More importantly, she’s struck by one particular house: the derelict Marsh Mansion, and by the mysterious girl who lives there: Marnie, a girl who only appears when the tide is high and she can row her boat over the lake to Anna.
The girls strike up a friendship and to say a single word more might honestly ruin it for you.
The film is equal parts fairy tale, a sort of ghost story, and a rumination on friends, family, grief, depression, and recovery, all filtered through the perspective of a child. In true Ghibli style, the themes are as relevant to adults as they are to children, and neither audience is ever pandered or talked down to. Though our hero is a skinny twelve-year-old girl and her experiences are somewhat unique, her emotions are universal and her expression of them and response to them is so deeply human and right and proper.
Everyone should see this film and they should be prepared to cry when they do.
The world feels like it’s harder to get through of late. Everyone is feeling it.
Watch When Marnie Was There, and then, afterwards, go and get ice cream and watch a sunset.
It will be a good day.