By Jacob Wampfler
*SPOILERS FOR MAD MAX: FURY ROAD FOLLOW
Right away, I need to be honest. I absolutely loved Mad Max: Fury Road. Having seen none of the previous films in Max’s narrative, I imagined Fury Road as an opportunity to dive into the universe and lore of George Miller’s post-apocalypse world…and I don’t think I have ever been more stunned, awestruck, or astonished as I was upon my first viewing of this film. I loved it so much, in fact, that I went back a second time the very next day.
Somewhere between my first and second viewing, though, something began to take shape in my mind. This was no ordinary summer action flick that I had just witnessed. This was a story of rescue, redemption, and new life at the hands of strong and courageous female characters, led by the unflinching Imperator Furiosa (brilliantly acted by Charlize Theron). Was this film packed from beginning to end with heart-pounding action sequences?: absolutely. But Mad Max: Fury Road has heart and depth because it explores themes and ideas other action films of its kind have never even touched. Without Imperator Furiosa and the other rich female characters of this film, Fury Road could simply be tossed aside as yet another loud, summer explosion fiesta. Instead, what we now have is a defining genre film of this era, one that will stand the test of time for years to come.
For starters, most of the male characters in this film are absolutely deplorable. In fact, most of them are visibly and aesthetically grotesque (by design, I would imagine). Led by Immortan Joe, the War Boys and all Joe’s minions want nothing more than to die for their leader with the misguided hope that they will “live again” in Valhalla. This, of course, sets up Joe as a deity of sorts…and with his god-like power he enslaves women for his own pleasure and use, among other tyrannical deeds. In fact, the central conflict of the film revolves around the escape of Joe’s five female slaves, including his favorite and most precious: Splendid. She is carrying “his” child, and Joe goes absolutely berserk when he discovers that she and the other four are gone, with Furiosa as their liberator.
This central plot device creates levels of intricate depth and symbolism within the film. First off, when Joe storms into the prison in which he keeps his female slaves, we see that his former captives have left him a few messages. On the wall and floor, we read the words, “WE ARE NOT THINGS” and “WHO KILLED THE WORLD?” The viewer is reminded of both of these phrases throughout the duration of the film. So, who did kill the world? In Fury Road, the answer is simple: MEN. Men like Immortan Joe killed the world through their lust for power, gasoline, and bullets, and they continue to poison the world with their unquenchable thirst for more. This aspect of Miller’s narrative foreshadows a shift in power that will arrive at the hands of benevolent and gracious leaders, different from Joe in almost every way imaginable.
Also worth noting is the impeccable relationship between Max and Furiosa (yes, this is the first time I have even mentioned Max’s character in this post!). Furiosa is no damsel in distress and Max is no hero. Max realizes throughout the course of the film that in order to survive, he must work with Furiosa and her female companions. What unfolds between Max and Furiosa is not the stereotypical girl-falls-for-guy-then-guy-saves-girl-from-baddies trope. Rather, they become equals; comrades in arms willing to lay down their life for the other (this was reminiscent, for me, of the relationship between Mal and Zoe in Joss Whedon’s Firefly). The result is a gripping and emotionally complex relationship that I have rarely witnessed on screen in the past.
Added to all the above, we are left with the fantastic ending of this film. With a beautiful, lingering shot on Furiosa and her companions there is a glimmer of hope for a new world, a “green place,” held by those who had been unspeakably tortured and abused by the vile, evil Immortan Joe. They had been treated as objects, as “things,” and they will treat the world and its people far differently.
While not an exhaustive take on themes within Mad Max: Fury Road, the above is meant to commend George Miller and his team for creating an action film that also develops its female characters beyond laughable and egregiously misogynistic caricatures. As a result, Fury Road is a summer action blockbuster with surprising depth and utterly righteous female characters. And, for me at least, the point is well taken: it might be best not to mess with Furiosa and company.