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The Road Warrior and the End of the Industrial Revolution, the Civil Society and the Natural World

Updated on August 26, 2016

The roads traveled only lead to a chaotic wasteland of little more than a home to man's inhumanity to man.

Science-fiction has a tendency to present a bleak vision of the future. Futuristic societies are frequently totalitarian. These might not even be the worst images of the future as there are cinematic depictions of worlds where there is no actual society. Instead, anarchy rules.
In the 17th century John Locke articulated the concept of the civil society, a world where people came together to live under a just government that sought to maintain the individual's inalienable rights. The construct of society would be a more orderly and protective construct than living in the world of nature.

The current economic landscape many face in the modern world might have them believing future dystopia is not exactly something found solely in the future.

The Civil Society No More

In The Road Warrior (1982), we see a world where there absolutely is no civil society. There is no totalitarian society. There is no order. There is no society in any form. In a sense, you could say people have reverted back to nature, but the truth is, there really is no true natural world either. Nature has been altered in the aftermath of nuclear and chemical warfare.

Whether intentional or not on the part of director George Miller, the dystopia of The Road Warrior is a vision of the future where there is no civil society anymore. The film does depict the horrifying toll societal disintegration has on those that do remember what the civil society was. We see this toll personified in the misanthropic hero of the film, Mad Max.

The Road Warrior is, of course, the sequel to Mad Max (1979). The world we see in The Road Warrior, however, is enormously different than that of the original film. As bad as the decayed society of Mad Max was, what exists in The Road Warrior is a hundred fold worse.

Society on the Edge: Mad Max

The world of Mad Max was a loathsome one that was reeling from the recent effects of societal collapse. The police force does its best to honorable protect the citizenry, but they can do very little to stop roving gangs of criminals willing to prey upon the weak.

What makes Mad Max a film that does not succumb to total bleakness is there still remains a sense of hope. The civil society has not completely collapsed because many living in this Australia of the near future are not far removed it. They still retain the basic moral grounding of the society they grew up in. Unfortunately, society is about to completely and totally collapse. The problem for many is they do not want to accept this fact. They continue on with their existence ignorant what is to come. Or perhaps, the problem is not so much ignorance as much as it is willful blindness.

The relationship between Max and his wife and child is symbolic of the attempt to hold on to the precious vestiges of a civil, compassionate world. When the wife and child are murdered, Max goes insane. Again, the symbolism is hard to miss. Society has collapsed and all rules of law are gone just as Max's mental state is gone when his family is killed.

The Road Warrior and the Energy Crisis in the End of Days

When we jump ahead to the world of The Road Warrior, the last vestiges of the civil society are long, long gone. There is no law, order or societal structure. What exists now is nomadic anarchy. We have been thrown back into a world that no one on earth has seen for thousands of years. Ironically, it is the automobile and the mobility it provides, a modern invention, that allows people to hold onto the past which, also ironically, can be considered futuristic as deindustrialization is taking place in this new world. Max survives on the road scavenging for gasoline. On his travels, he eventually discovers a strange colony in the middle of the wasteland.

Cars run on gasoline and there are no sources. Once there is no more gasoline, there will be no more use for cars. The total deindustrialization of society will be complete. Within this vast wasteland, a colony has emerged that has taken over a lost oil drill site and refinery. They have the ability to make gasoline and may be able to make enough to fuel their vehicles to handle the 2,000 mile trek to the coast line. The goal of this colony is, essentially, to travel from dystopia to utopia.

Unfortunately, a brutal gang lead by the horribly disfigured Lord Humongous seeks to steal the gasoline and kill all those in the colony. Lord Humongous and his crew are the wayward brutarians that emerge in the collapse of the civil society. They symbolize a devolution to the animal nature of humans before civilization. While they wish to maintain access to the gasoline of the industrial age, they are humans devolving to pre-Cro-Magnon levels.

One of the more interesting subtextual touches the film that goes somewhat unnoticed is the only two characters with firearms are Lord Humongous and Max. They do not exactly have high powered weaponry either. Max has an old double barreled shotgun and Lord Humongous has an old revolver. These may be leftovers from their previous jobs as Max was a police officer and it is hinted Humongous was a military person scared by WMDs. The over characters are left with crossbows and bows and arrows. Humanity has not relied on these as their sole weapons in hundreds upon hundreds of years and they fact these two are the only ones with such weapons further notes the decline of society from an industrial one.

Nowhere to Go After Industrialization Ends

The problem here is in our historical time line, society evolved from being agrarian centric to industrialized. There simply is no agriculture to speak of in the wastelands of a post-apocalyptic world. Once total industrialization is gone, then all is lost because there is very little in nature capable of sustaining life. Ironically, it was the industrial development of chemical and nuclear weapons that was the source of all the devastation and the end of the natural world.

Is there any environmental message here? It could be said the film is a metaphor for alternative energy since this would eliminate a need for the gasoline so many fight over. Of course, it could also be said that the film is pro-fossil fuel since it is gasoline that creates the ability to escape the wasteland and venture to the coast.

In reality, there is no message other than you have to accept what is. Those that have survived in the world of The Road Warrior, both protagonists and antagonists, are scavengers. They must make use what is available to them in order to survive. If a metaphor does exist, it might be found in the struggle here is humanity vs. inhumanity.

The Decline of Humanity in the Wasteland

The loss of industry, the civil society and the natural essentially beget the result of the loss of humanity in those that have survived. The protagonists in the refining colony have help onto their humanity. The antagonist Marauders have long since lost theirs. Max has also lost much of his humanity but still retains a code of honor and a sense of moral grounding in civility. This may be a remnant of his stable family life and former career as a police officer.

Max may even be rejecting the hopes of finding a new civil society in the colony because to him such a society no longer exists and may never be able to exist again. Max has become jaded and misanthropic in the aftermath of the first film. The dangerous life of the wasteland has made him more distrustful and to an extent, his refusal to join a union with the colony shows a fear of getting too close to other people. Having lost his family and his comrades in the original film, he prefers to keep his distance and remain a loner. One of the reasons this film has achieved such cult status over the years is this psychological profile fits many of the loner types that find films of this nature appealing. He does eventually come to the realization humanity can survive in the wasteland, although very little else can.

The one thing that truly can survive at the end of the world would be a loner who rejects it. Such a loner, after all, has nothing to really miss. He has turned his back on society and when society collapses, he exists in his own temporal state of nature.

The one thing that truly can survive at the end of the world would be a loner who rejects it. Such a loner, after all, has nothing to really miss. He has turned his back on society and when society collapses, he exists in his own temporal state of nature.

UPDATE: The trailer for the new Mad Max film, "Fury Road" has just been released. The events in "Fury Road" take place in between the first and second film. For those interested in looking at how society collapses gains and insight into the events.

SECOND UPDATE: Tom Hardy has signed to agree to (up to) three more Mad Max films.

THIRD UPDATE: Warner is trying to decide on which one of two screenplays will be used first for the next film.

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