Last weekend I finally got around to seeing Mad Max: Fury Road – about six months later than everyone else. I realise this means this is hardly a contemporary review, but I want to add my reflections on the film regardless.
The first thing I am going to talk about is one of the most striking things about the film: its diversity. I remember seeing headlines such as ‘Fury Road finest feminist film for decades’ when it came out, and assumed it was an Onion or Daily Mash headline. For those of you who’ve had the privilege of watching the original Mad Max films, you will know that, while they are not sexist, they are hardly a meditation on gender; they consist of Mel Gibson beasting it around Australia on a motorbike doing in men dressed in S&M gear. Therefore, I expected the latest instalment to be basically more of the same, but with better CGI. Well, how wrong could I be?
Fury Road is possibly the best film I have seen for representing women as actual, interesting, rounded human beings. The writing team resisted the temptation of making Furiosa a cliché ‘strong woman’ badass character, which nearly always ends up with the woman just taking on the quasi-comic, overblown masculine traits of every action movie hero. Likewise, they resisted turning Max into some useless bumbling sidekick overshadowed by his female superior – another trope that often appears when people try to write a ‘strong female’ focused drama. No, Furiosa was indeed super badass and cool, more than able to fight, survive etc, but she also exhibited genuine tenderness, rage and longing just like any human in her situation was. Possibly the most moving and relatable, not to mention excellently acted, scenes in the film was when she returns to what she thinks is home only to discover that ‘home’ has become a barren, inhospitable quagmire that her party had already driven through. Similarly, Max is not a cliché, all-action hero, but a man haunted by his past who is also seeking redemption. Also, perhaps most importantly, neither Max nor Furiosa would have survived without each other. All-in-all, gender representation and equality is done excellently in this film, avoiding tropes and cliché in favour of actual believable and well-balanced characters.
The other thing that stood out for me was how excellently shot the film was. The Director, George Miller, has stated that we wanted the film to be ‘as colourful as possible’ and the art direction to be ‘as beautiful as possible’ and his vision was certainly realised. His reasoning was that he felt that all post-apocalyptic films went for a drab, colourless vision of the world to convey the horror of the post-apocalypse. Miller’s vision, in contrast, presents with a world that looks almost biblical. Indeed, I am sure that the feeling of mythical pre-history is no accident. The dusty masses clamouring for the ‘water of life’ at the start of the film, the huge dust storm and Furiosa being stolen from the ‘green place’ to roam the wasteland all have a distinctly Christian myth feel to them. This also ties in perfectly with the theme of redemption that runs through the film. (By the way, did anyone else notice that guy with distinctly neanderthal features at the end?)
The last subject I would like to talk about is what was, in my view, the central theme of the film: power. Fury Road is set years after civilisation as we know it, and as such humanity has returned to a ‘state of nature’, if you will. Far from Locke’s or Rousseau’s conception of this time, life in Fury Road is very much a Hobbesian affair – nasty, brutish and short. It is quite easy to see the film as being a meditation on patriarchy, or simply anarchy, but this misses the point that actually ‘evil’ in this film is always simply a manifestation of absolute power. Immortan Joe was clearly a respected, charismatic and powerful warlord in his day, and used this to build up an army of slaves and warriors. With these, he managed to subjugate neighbouring communities and created a monopoly over our most vital resource: water. After securing his domination, he was able to take any women he wanted as his property and cement himself as a god-king amongst his citizens – the similarities between Joe addressing the dusty crowds below and the Pope the crowds in St. Peter’s Square seemed to me quite intentional. This story of absolute power securing privilege and leading to despotism is almost entirely reflective of human history before the great social advances of the 18th-19th centuries, and is an unsettling reminder of the fragility of human society.
So there we have it. Fury Road is an excellent film which is beautifully shot, gripping and actually surprisingly thoughtful. The actors put in a great performance all-round, but Charlize Theron steals the show as Imperator Furiosa. (Also, I was more than thrown when I realised that Nux the ‘warboy’ is played by Nicholas Hoult, a star of my favourite film.) There is plenty of excess in the costumes and the quasi-comic grotesque nature of Fury Road (I confess, the guitarist playing thrash metal on a huge truck almost ruined for me), but it still manages to be a thoroughly watchable film, and, arguably, a film with quite a left-wing bent.