The best friend you never had

When Marnie Was There

– What’s your name?
– Anna.
– I’m desperate to get to know you.

That’s not the kind of conversation you have with a stranger you just met. But it’s how Marnie decides to approach the subject and it works because Anna is an awkward, lonely 12 year old in need of a friend. Over the next few encounters they learn about each other, share secrets and even say things like “I’m your friend forever” and “I love you”.

I’d like to believe this happens in real life, but believing won’t make it true. And the movie, Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There, doesn’t push the point either. You see, Marnie is a ghost and everything that happens between the two has mystical, twilight kind of quality. But just because it’s not real doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Through Marnie, Anna learns about compassion, intimacy and forgiveness and those things transform her ‘real’ relationships.

One outcome of their friendship is especially interesting. When two protagonists meet, they couldn’t be any more different. One is outgoing, gregarious and warm, the other is furtive, anxious and tongue-tied. And yet, as time goes, we see that they have far, far more in common than appearances might suggest. It’s a trap I have fallen in so very often, seeing a person laughing in carefree manner and assuming they belong to different species from me altogether. In a way, this is a movie about masks people wear and facades they build: you can hide equally well behind both joy and gloom.

I don’t always get to choose my mask, but when I can I’d like it to be the one of joy. Hisako, a much older and wiser version of Anna in the film, summarized it well.

She had a lonely life, but she lived it fully. Always with a smile, determined to be happy.

Marnie, you’re my hero.

P.S. The film comes with one of the most beautiful songs I heard in a long time, Fine on the Outside by Priscialla Ahn. Damn you Academy if you pass it over.

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