When Marnie Was There is a psychological drama by Studio Ghibli. The film’s director is Hiromasa Yonebayashi, making this his second feature film. Similar to the many other films by the studio, this film also follows a female protagonist as she goes on a journey of self-discovery. The protagonist of the film is Anna and through her, When Marnie Was There presents several mature themes to its audience.
Trauma forms a big part of When Marnie Was There. As we go along Anna’s journey, we see how she is a seriously traumatized pre-teen. Her trauma has caused her to isolate herself from everyone, and she even gets asthma attacks under stress. She believes she belongs with no one, as she states in the following quote –
In this world there’s an invisible magic circle, there’s an inside and an outside. Those people are inside, and I’m outside, but it doesn’t really matter.Anna
Anna’s trauma stems from the fact that she is an adopted child, as she had lost her parents and grandmother as a child. This is why the memories of her childhood are extremely hazy, as she had suppressed them over the years. Anna’s abandonment trauma is, as we saw in the film, generational. We see that her grandmother, Marnie, also felt abandoned by her parents. This trauma led to her sending her daughter away to boarding school after her husband passed away. Due to this, Anna’s mother, Emily, too had abandonment trauma, and she left her mother when she came of age.
Social Anxiety – When Marnie Was There
Due to her trauma, Anna has a severe case of social anxiety. In the opening scene, we see Anna sketching on a bench alone while everyone else around her is with their friends. When a teacher approaches her to see her drawing, Anna recoils as if forming a defensive shield between the teacher and herself. This small encounter leads to Anna having an asthma attack, showing how much does a small contact with someone else has a large toll on Anna.
It’s when Anna meets Marnie that her social anxiety eases. As we later find out, Marnie is a figment of Anna’s imagination based on her grandmother. By being with Marnie, Anna is basically reliving the lost memories of her grandmother. Through this, Anna is taking a journey into her own psyche. As she explores her suppressed memories, Anna learns to reconnect with others and her own self.
Though When Marnie Was There is a tragic story, it is ultimately a positive film. After her summer visit to her uncle and aunt, Anna begins processing her trauma. She does so by understanding the trauma of her own mother and grandmother. Anna is also able to remember how her grandmother tried to make up for abandoning her daughter by taking care of Anna.
By remembering this, Anna begins her healing process. She is now able to connect with her foster mother, which was previously tough for her due to her own abandonment issues. She even overcomes her social anxiety and is able to become friends with Sayaka. The ultimate message of When Marnie Was There is that, just like Anna, we too can overcome our traumas and break the cycle of generational trauma to lead better lives.