Is Road Warrior Mad Max The Hero With A Thousand Faces
Mad Max in Dystopia
It seems Mad Max is a reluctant hero, at best: He is Everyman, trapped in a dystopian world of scarcity and violence. Just so happens, he survives well, keeping body and soul intact.
Which I think is central to what the Mad Max character is all about: That his humanity (soul) remains intact. This is well-revealed in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome when he is on the verge of destroying the behemoth-man, Blaster, but stops short of finishing him off when it is revealed that the man-giant is developmentally-disabled.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
Mad Max, surviving in the Wasteland of the post-apocalyptic world in which he lives, is attacked by the mischievous thief, Jedidiah, and stripped of his vehicle and belongings. Venturing on, Max comes across Barter Town, a complex trading post fueled by methane gotten from pig waste, and ruled by the powerful, Aunty Entity, played by iconic singer Tina Turner. While in Barter Town, Max is taken to Auntie Entity and passes the "audition", meaning he fights her top warriors, and is given the choice of killing off half of the team that runs the pig waste methane refinery; a team known as Master Blaster, composed of a tiny man carried around on the shoulders of a hulking strong man; the small man is the intellect known as Master carried by his muscled henchman known as Blaster. They rule the energy source of Barter Town, so exert control over Aunty Entity. Therefore, Entity wants the muscle killed. She enlists Max to start a fight with Blaster to be settled in Thunderdome, a huge cage of sorts in which disputes are settled, man to man, rather than the old and obviously failed method of war which had gotten this dystopian world into trouble in the first place. Blaster's face is covered by a helmet, so that his face is not seen, but his power is felt by those who challenge the authority of the physically diminutive Master.
Eventually, Max works his way into facing Blaster in Thunderdome. However, hammering Blaster's helmet off, it is revealed to Max that the man-giant is developmentally disabled, with child qualities, stopping Max in his tracks and sparing the life of Blaster. However, Aunty Entity is not happy about this outcome, and orders Max to finish Blaster off; when Max refuses, one of Entity's henchmen murders Blaster with an arrow from his cross-bow.
Because Max didn't follow the rules, he becomes subject to the Wheel; a wheel of fortune which will determine his fate. The spin lands on Gulag, which condemns Max to being left out in the desert to perish.
He is found by a youthful girl, Savanah Nix, who drags Max back to her camp of youth--who turn out to be a band of descendants of survivors of a plane crash of the apocalyptic era--and nurses him back to health.
When Max awakens, he soon discovers that the band of children believe him to be a Messiah come to lead them to civilization or Tomorrow-morrow Land. Over generations, a tale was weaved by descendants of the plane crash in which the pilot Captain Walker is believed to someday return to bring the people home.
Of course, Max denies that he is their savior and kicks up his feet to stay awhile. A group of determined children, led by Savannah, set out to find the Promised Land on their own; Max, clearly worried about their safety because he knows about the real dangers awaiting them beyond their camp, goes to extreme measures to keep the young woman and her cohorts from venturing off into dangerous territory, the worst of which would be Barter Town.
However, the group eventually escapes. One of the remaining children wakes Max and urges him to track down the others who have left, to bring them home. Max, though weary, sees the danger of the children being out there in Wasteland; with the help of a small group from the band, Max ventures off to save the other children.
He finds them and saves all but one from being swallowed by quicksand. The group takes rest in the spot they're at, and wake in the morning to find that they have camped next to Barter Town.
Essentially, the group starts an insurrection in the refinery, and take off with Master and a prisoner of Barter Town nick-named Pig Killer who had been doing time in forced labor because he had killed a pig for his family to eat.
The team successfully leave Barter Town a shambles, and Entity and her gang chase after Max and his crew to retrieve Master, the manager of the all-important methane refinery.
To avoid a spoiler, I will leave it at that.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces
Back in the 40s, famed author Joseph Campbell wrote about the commonality of hero myths across the globe. The common thread that runs through this archetypal theme has been that the hero is drawn out of his ordinary world into a very different and dangerous world, to be presented with a problem to overcome with the aid of some determined helpers. He comes out of the battle with the elixir which he passes on.
That is the simplified summary of The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
While Mad Max is a bit different than this hero, the similarities are there. He is perpetually in that other world, that world of madness after world destruction; he was, nevertheless, thrust into it, and thrust into varied harrowing circumstances. He grudgingly accepts being pulled into the role of hero; though denying it is his bestowed place, he, nevertheless, becomes a savior of sorts. He is aided by the unusual tribe of children who are reminiscent of the unlikely heroes, the Ewoks, from the Star Wars story. Just as the little Ewoks helped take down the Empire, Max's tribe of kids go with him to take down the mighty Barter Town.
In the end, the tribe still takes Max as their Messiah, return home, and retain the story of how their Savior brought them to the Promised Land. Max leaves them the elixir, in a way.
This story has parallels with Luke Skywalker from the Star Wars myth and Neo from The Matrix. All are pulled out of their normal lives, thrust into more-than-challenging circumstances, meet their helpers, and come out with the gold (whatever that might be).
Beyond the Myth
The world of Mad Max is brutal, dangerous, broken up and divided, full of treacherous people and the innocent too.
Well, it's our world.
The story is not a myth in that sense.
The Thunderdome is a pit of violence, in which two men enter and one man leaves. It's the hopelessly inadequate solution to the problem of war; when disputes arise, men are thrust into the cage to settle it permanently. Aunty Entity is a government of sorts, with half-baked solutions and an iron hand.
The tribe of children in the story are innocent and hopeful, unaware of the dangers outside of their small circle; they want a hero to show them the way home, and the hero urges them that they are already home.
Seems to me this is true to life. There is always hope, hope in a leader, hope in the distant home of tomorrow: Tomorrow-morrow Land. Meantime, actual home is in ruins.
Like all good fictional stories, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is not telling us of a future that we better beware of or a place we don't know about: It's talking about us.