Shiny and Chrome

I’ve made my feelings about Mad Max; Fury Road loud and clear; I love it. I would put it on endless repeat, if I could. We went to see it twice, which is something my husband and I rarely do. But we loved the original Mad Max, and we loved Road Warrior even more (you already know my opinion about Thunderdome). Road Warrior is a movie that has aged spectacularly and Fury Road is a modern-day match for it. I firmly believe it’s the movie Road Warrior would have been, had George Miller had the budget and effects available at the time.

There’s a lot of hype swirling around Fury Road. And while I think a lot of reviews make good points, I also think they’ve overblown the ‘deeper’ messages of the movie. Often, when we look for symbolism and meaning, we – the audience, bring something to the narrative that the author or director never intended. Yet I can’t deny Miller’s genius. Fury Road is a movie I’ve waited years for. It’s a breath of fresh air in a Hollywood scene gone stale.

So what makes Mad Max stand out so much? Here’s my opinion. WARNING: There be spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie and want to, don’t read any further!

Less CG – or OMG that stuff is real!
One of the most iconic images from Mad Max; Fury Road is the giant amp-mobile featuring six drummers and a guitarist in a red onesie playing a flame-throwing guitar. The movie took on a whole new dimension when I realized that rig actually exists. It turns out George Miller doesn’t like props which don’t work. That wasn’t shot on a stage and added in, nor was the car static. All six drummers and the guitarist were playing at 70 miles per hour. Yes, a guitarist is strapped by bungee chord to the front of the amp mobile, and he is actually playing a guitar which shoots flames. While blind.

It gets better. One of the late chases features several pole cats – men on giant swinging sticks who pull people from other moving vehicles. Almost like make-shift cranes. The second time we saw the movie the guy behind us whispered “Oh Jesus!” when they showed up. Lest you think this is some fancy CG work, the pole cats were real. And while I don’t know if their stunts were shot at speed, I know that they were moving; in an interview George Miller said he wept with joy when he discovered the stunt men could do the stunts while moving.

When he set out to make this film, the director stated he wanted to use as many practical effects as possible, and he certainly stayed true to that. Most of the explosions are real. They even flipped the war rig for real (though the archway was added using effects). It seems most CG was used to fill in backgrounds and landscape, or to put two shots together. What few CG effects this movie does use, it uses to great affect. The sandstorm, for example, is fantastic. Obviously, computer effects are a staple for fantasy and sci-fi movies where most of what the director wants to show doesn’t exist. But I do hope to see more movies follow this trend. The outcome is no less than spectacular.

Little details make a big difference.
Speaking of a movie where a little goes a long way… A high-octane thriller, packed wall to wall with excitement and explosions, doesn’t leave a lot of time for character development. At least, not if that development has to be delivered through dialogue. My husband recently watched the original Gundam anime series, and one of the things he liked best was the creator’s ability to convey a great deal of character development in short, simple ways. A strategic glance at a photo, for example, would reveal a character’s family connection and perhaps a sorrow over being parted. Let’s not forget, the way characters move and speak is often as important as what they say and do. This is how we learn who they are.

Obviously, an extended chase doesn’t leave a lot of time for the characters to sit down and chat about their history. Yet this movie doesn’t lack rich characters. There are five runaway wives, for example, each with their own unique personality. Part of George Miller’s brilliance is telling his story visually.

A fantastic example occurs within the first few minutes of the movie. Immorten Joe has just sent his minion, Furiosa, to do his bidding and has turned his mind to other things. We see him testing milk in a room where several women sit with their breasts hooked to pumps. This scene leaves a distinct sense of discomfort in its wake. Because that’s all it takes to make you hate this man (if you don’t already). Not only has he just robbed his citizens of water, which he keeps for himself, he obviously believes women are little more than cattle, to be used for whatever purpose he sees fit. This image is reinforced moments later, when he runs to the vault in which he locks his wives (who are also referred to as ‘breeders’ several times throughout the movie). In a few simple moments, Immorten Joe has become a monster, worthy of hatred and loathing. We don’t need to know who he is or what he’s done in the past. We know that he’s a terrible human being who thinks women are objects.

Much of Max’s history and development is shown in the form of hallucinatory flashes, where dead images from his past ask him why he wasn’t there or tell him to ‘come along.’ When Nux first begins to express his crisis of faith, we learn that he has named both of his tumours, and even drawn (or perhaps tattooed?) smiley faces on each lump. Max’s health information has been scrolled across his back in tattoo form, including his history as a Road Warrior and the fact that he’s a universal donor. Little details like these grant the audience a great deal of insight, sometimes without a word spoken, allowing the director to provide plenty of character development without having to slow the pace (more on that later).

Miller pulls no punches.
Before we forget about the aforementioned milk-pumping scene, let’s talk about how gut-wrenchingly brutal it is. If ever there was a world you didn’t want to live in, it’s this one. Not only are all these women hooked to Joe’s pumps, seemingly under constant surveillance, each appears to be holding either a doll or some kind of deformed child. Neither is a pleasant idea. Is this symbolic of children who have been taken away from them? Is this some form of meagre comfort for these ‘mothers’ without children? Is this where Joe’s discarded ‘wives’ end up when they fail to produce the offspring he so desperately desires?

I think it goes without saying that women being treated as objects, or less than men, is an issue that is real and alive in today’s society. And one of the best ways to clarify that struggle and highlight it is to depict it in fantastical ways, such as a post-apocalyptic world where women are locked in vaults. These are the kinds of struggles women might face if modern society collapsed. They may be treated as precious resources rather than as people. And depending on the circumstances, they may have more difficulty defending themselves. Furiosa was obviously raised in a manner which provided her a great many survival skills. But the rest of Joe’s wives lead sheltered lives until they decided to run away.

This willingness to include scenes that make the audience uncomfortable drives home the reality of this world, and its character’s struggles, with brutal efficiency. It’s a long-running trope that certain members of a cast are ‘safe.’ Usually a pregnant woman would be counted among them – who, after all, is going to kill a pregnant woman in their movie? (George Miller, it turns out.) And not only does one of the pregnant women die; her unborn child is then cut from her womb so that Immorten Joe can confirm it was male. We can only assume that his grief would have evaporated had the child turned out to be female.

Max and Furiosa are mirror images.
Probably the number one reason I love this movie.

When I first heard a new Mad Max was in production, I got a little worried. Max, after all, is not your typical hero. In Hollywood today, there is an expectation that your hero drives the action. He leads the pack and calls the shots. Rather than driving the narrative’s action, Max is swept up in it. And only when it’s clear he can’t escape does he finally put his all into the cause. This is the Max of Road Warrior, the Max I desperately wanted to see. A different kind of hero from an older age.

When I saw the previews for Fury Road, I knew I wanted that Max even more. One look at Furiosa was all it took to fall in love. She is powerful, an unstoppable force. She knows how to survive a rough world. She isn’t afraid to do what needs to be done. And Fury Road is her story. Max is just a witness.

But Fury Road goes one step further than I imagined. In telling Furiosa’s story, George Miller is also telling Max’s story. Because Max and Furiosa are mirror images. Though it may come from different sources, they carry the same pain. And they are both highly skilled in the art of survival. We can see this connection, this sense of kindred spirit represented throughout the movie. Even the first moment their eyes meet, while Max is strapped to the hood of a car and Furiosa is fleeing the lead wave of Immorten Joe’s war boys. In fact, it may be because Max saw the fury and desperation for survival in her eyes that he didn’t bother trying to reason with her when he showed up at the War Rig after the storm.

Which leads to the next important parallel; Max and Furiosa are equals. In their first fight, Furiosa holds her own against Max even without her prosthetic. It’s only because Nux awakens, and starts treating Max like a pal, that the two of them are able to overcome Furiosa. If she’d been wearing her prosthetic, the outcome may have been different. And when Max tries to drive away in Furiosa’s truck, he quickly comes to a halt. Because Furiosa has rigged the machine not to drive unless she’s entered a code. Much like the kill-switch Max once used in his car to prevent others from stealing his gasoline (okay, so I am taking that one from Road Warrior, but it counts).

During my favourite scene, Max hands Furiosa a sniper rifle, realizing she has a better chance of making a difficult shot with their last bullet than he does. He even lets her use his shoulder as a tripod. And neither of them say anything about this exchange. There is no foolish little joke made of Max that he was out-shot by a woman. He simply accepts that she has skills equal and greater than his own, and he relies on them several times throughout the movie. This is the heart of Fury Road, that the quest for survival requires you to rely on others. Their gender doesn’t matter, sometimes their history doesn’t either. If you want to live, you cooperate.

Furiosa, like Max, isn’t looking for hope; she’s looking for redemption. Sometime in her past, she failed someone, just as Max failed his family. She believes by helping her friends find their hope, she will be redeemed of past mistakes. Max, who has stopped believing in both hope and redemption, rediscovers both in the process of assisting Furiosa.

George Miller has announced that the next Mad Max movie (for which Tom Hardy has already been signed) will be called The Wasteland. It has not yet been confirmed by the movie studio, and we have no idea if it will feature Furiosa, but I eagerly await the next chapter in Max’s story and I hope it will be as brilliant as Fury Road.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *