Mad Max - Who Killed the World?
Recently there has been a microcosm of controversy surrounding George Miller's return to the Universe that launched him to fame, Mad Max: Fury Road. Rather than simply pick sides on this silly non-controversy I want to talk a bit more broadly about the themes in the film, the controversy itself and whether or not people on the internet who get offended too easily should just shut up.
For those unfamiliar, anti-feminists have been railing about the fact that Mad Max Fury Road features multiple strong female characters and that Max, the title character, isn't the sole protagonist or driving force of the story.
Fury Road is pretty good
Before this hub get's into spoilers I want to do a spoiler-free very brief review. The movie is insanely action-packed and visually stunning so much so that I would be surprised if it didn't get an Oscar Nomination for its amazing special effects (both practical and digital) and its absolutely gorgeous cinematography. But is the story deep or nuanced or layered? Well yes to an extent, there are themes to discuss (or this hub wouldn't be here) but for the most part it's a straight up 2 hour balls-to-the-wall chase scene through the desert. If you're interested in seeing a 2 hour movie that is 95% bone-crunching action and exists in a completely ludicrous post-apocalypse then by all means go see this movie.
Spoilers beyond this point!
What's in a Title?
One assumption those who are upset seem to be suffering from (other than many of them being misogynists) is that somehow because the film is titled Mad Max that he must be the main character. This is a completely non-sequitur assumption that does not in any way shape or form hold true for all movies.
Hell, this trope doesn't even hold true for ACTION movies, if you think it does ask yourself who the main character of PREDATOR is or the main character of Terminator 2 (the T800 is not the protagonist). When we expand out to other movies we see that this trend holds true for a lot of different genres. The shark is not the main character of JAWS, Jason Vorhees is not the main character in Jason X (Jason in Space) and Godzilla isn't even the main character in Godzilla (2014).
Movies do not need to make the title character the main character and simply because the title character has other strong characters to help him (who happen to be women) somehow that means Hollywood are all a bunch of raging feminists right? Well let's look at some other parts of the movie.
Fury Road is a vivid celebration of post-apocalyptic Dieselpunk and over-the-top machismo that serves as a colorful bridge between old 80s and 90s action movies and the modern world of action films. The movie could not be more targeted to men if it tried to be, case in point the slave brides of the villain Immortan Joe. Joe is an evil warlord leading a cult of crazed gearheads called the War Boys who spray shiny chrome on their mouths and hope to one day see the gates of Valhalla. Joe, a mutated product of this post-Nuclear War world, has chosen a group of women from the groveling masses he has enslaved who are free of blemish in hopes of producing a child who isn't deformed.
These brides are the MacGuffin that drives the film and each and every one of them is amazing beautiful and scantily clad. I don't understand how anyone can sit there and watch these barely dressed women pout their lips and rattle off action-movie lines and think that this movie has a FEMINIST agenda. These women are meant to be being saved from a life of servitude by Max and Furiosa, the two main characters of the film, but the only real reason they are dressed the way they are and look the way they are is to be eye-candy for a predominantly male audience.
Now one might argue that this is done deliberately to make the men in the audience feel guilty for their immediate desire to sexualize and objectify these women in a way that makes them no better than Immortan Joe. However the movie does a good job of allowing us to sympathize with the struggle of the characters, even if the brides don't do that much character development through the course of the film. If this intentional guilt-trip does exist at least it punches the horny male audience back into the action by saying, “These are people, not things, you are rooting FOR them.”
How anyone can argue that an anti-sex slavery message is somehow a bad thing or is somehow the movie's attempt to preach to us is beyond me. Most people in the Western world understand that slavery and sexual abuse are wrong. The movie also does something else that I liked, there's no romantic subplot.
The movie spends most of its time blowing stuff up, cars fly every which way, there's a massive sandstorm with lightning and multiple tornadoes inside that is a true celebration of how beautiful CG can actually be when it's used correctly. The movie even features a blind mutant soldier who plays a guitar to amp the soundtrack up to eleven and has a group of drumming companions keeping the morale of the war party up as they chase Max and Furiosa across the desert. The movie is targeted toward the straight male audience by a mile, the fact that some of the characters both have vaginas and are capable of having character depth is not a weakness, its a strength.
Who Killed the World?
With all that being said one of the themes of the movie is, in some sense, anti-man but I feel the movie actually rejects this message in the end for several reasons. When Immortan Joe first discovers his brides are missing we see a message written in white letters on the inside of the vault in which he keeps his slaves – Who Killed the World? It is revealed that they are on their way to the Green Place, a legend of sorts that sadly had me thinking of Waterworld with Kevin Kostner talking about Dry Land (Green Place is a shitty shitty name for it, all I'm saying). The Green Place is where a group of women have holed up and where the land is still fertile, a last vestige of civilization.
The implication is obvious, men killed the world. I guess to misogynists and rabid anti-feminists this sort of thing sounds controversial, like women blaming men for all the world's problems. But who else would kill the world? After all the privileges that men had in the past and still continue to have statistically show that men are more likely to be in positions of power. Presidents and Prime Ministers are most likely to be men, as are Generals in the world's militarizes. Even in supposedly enlightened parts of the world women are still grossly underrepresented in bodies of government and military organizations. So who would flip the switch to launch nukes, are we going to realistically pretend a woman fired the first missile?
There is a general theme here of women as Mothers and protectors of life as one of the old women they meet up with holds onto a bag of seeds, the last remnants they have of the world that was.
Now why don't I think the movie is actually feeding us a Feminist message here? I mean it seems like a clear indictment of all the penis havers that one of the Brides in the movie actually asks if it wasn't men then “Who killed the world” reemphasizing what was scrawled on the wall in the vault.
Is it Feminism or Class Warfare in Fury Road?
In the movie Max and the women set their differences aside and fight together, complimenting each others strengths and weaknesses. Even Max and Nux, a War Boy who has failed one too many times to impress Immortan Joe and lost his place in Valhalla, set aside their differences and end up on the same side. Mad Max is a loner who claims he just wants to make his way in the Wasteland - running from the demons that haunt his past and the ones that haunt the hellscape of Australia – and the movie suggests that he needs these other people, its in his best interest to work together.
In fact in the movie the women who had lived in the Green Place completely failed in their mission to keep it green, it became a poisonous bog in the middle of the desert. The fact that they needed help proves that this movie does not think that women are some goddesses that us pathetic men must bow before but are merely other people. The fact that they have a different gender is not even an issue and why should it be?
Rather than a divisive message about how men are evil oppressors or aren't good for anything the movie delivers a message about uniting to accomplish a goal. And what does their unity bring them? They take over, they overturn the old world order that had got them into this mess and kept them down for so long and take back the fertile green pastures and seemingly infinite resources that had been stolen from them. In a sense they reclaim the birthright of all human beings from the overlords at the top.
Yep, that means the movie, if anything, might be about CLASS WARFARE. Supplanting the people at the top who have leeched an exorbitant amount of wealth and all but enslaved some of the lower class. It's a stretch but no more of a stretch than the idea of the movie as a radical Feminist manifesto.
The War Cult
While not overtly anti-religion the films antagonists have formed a gearhead style religion where they worship cars and all things shiny and chrome. The War Boys all have a reverence for Immortan Joe who they seem to view as some sort of Messiah-like figure.
The afterlife of Valhalla feels a bit overused here although I suppose it makes sense as Viking warriors who died in battle were taken there. I suppose it just seems a bit odd to hear such a European concept coming out Australia, and yes I understand that many Australians are directly descended from people from England.
The Chrome Cult was a very cool addition and there seems to have been so much attention to paid to little details that help build the batshit crazy world George Miller had in his head. Even Nux, who switches side calls out for his friends to "witness" him into Valhalla as he gives his life.
At the end of the day Mad Max Fury Road is really about an unhealthy amount of mayhem and crashing metal that proceeds at a wild and break-neck pace that barely gives the audience time to breathe. While I didn't love the movie I definitely liked it enough to defend it here from the undue criticism it received. I understand that, to some extent, anti-feminists and radical feminists alike both act like trolls drawing the other side and those of us in the middle into the crossfire.
This has led some to conclude that the controversy is entirely contrived, perhaps even created by studio marketing execs, all they had to do was find an MRA blogger or two who were willing to write a piece on how the movie was Feminist anti-penis propaganda and BOOM instant box office.
The movie has characters that kick-ass, bonkers stunts, explosion after explosion and the most machismo and badassery I've seen since the movie 300. It's probably not a masterpiece, it might not even be art, but it's pretty good. And if some of the characters having reproductive organs different from yours bothers you, if seeing women who aren't helpless in a movie bothers you (including some grannies who can kick some serious ass), you should probably stop seeing movies and be kept away from the internet.
The endless factory of offendedness that the internet creates is a stark and bleak apocalyptic world of its own and perhaps that is the real lesson to be learned from all this. Thanks for reading!