Having come out just last week, Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth movie in the post apocalyptic Mad Max series, which originally starred Mel Gilbson. I had no idea about this, though, when I watched this latest instalment on Sunday. Here’s to watching movies with no idea what they are going to be about!
I’m going to preface the rest of this post with a disclaimer that I haven’t watched any of the prior Mad Max movies and have little idea as to what they were about.
So I’ll give you a run down of this latest movie: set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopic future, mankind has reduced Earth into a desert wasteland where survival is a series of harsh, brutal choices. Nuclear disaster seems to have been the cause of Earth’s demise. Water is scarce and controlled by a dictator Immortan Joe, who has established a cult-like mythos of power around himself. Women are enslaved and used as ‘breeders’ to provide Immortan Joe with sons, and to provide milk. Men are indoctrinated into becoming war boys, who are ‘mad’ and violent soldiers, happy to die in thrilling martyrdom for their leader Immortan Joe.
Amidst this world is ‘Mad’ Max, who appears to be a lone survivor and is captured by Immortan Joe’s men to be used as a ‘blood bag’. He becomes inadvertently involved, when Furiosa, a high ranking Imperator of Immortan Joe, escapes in a war rig vehicle with five of Immortan’s wives. To survive, ‘Mad’ Max ends up helping himself and Furiosa, and the wives, escape into the desert wasteland, in search for the ‘green place’ that Furiosa remembers from her childhood.
So what can we draw from this movie?
The action and visuals in this movie are stunning. Yet what is stunning is not beautiful, but rather an incredibly brutal and harsh view of a scorched Earth. In true form of the dystopic genre, the setting has the conventions of environmental destruction and resource scarcity. What is interesting are the visual symbols of steampunk and industrialisation. Despite the world falling into disrepair, the poverty and the lack of technology, monstrous vehicles (‘war rigs’ and the like) dominate with obscenely powerful engines, wheels and weapons. And to be frank, much of it focuses on an ongoing chase involving a number of these vehicles and motorcycles. Whereas some dystopic texts would paint the future as cold and bleak, Mad Max’s world is scorching, full of dust and smoke.
What is also conventional in this movie are the features of a stratified society (those in power vs the masses), private ownership of resources, and the subjugation of women. What is different and perhaps more interesting, though, are the elements of tribalism and religious fanaticism. I suppose typically in futuristic texts, we see science and secularism dominating, and the loss of religion, hope and faith as the cornerstone of a ‘lost humanity’. However, in Mad Max, we see humanity has degraded not into artifice and science (a lack of feeling), but has succumbed to animalistic instincts and fanaticism (a ‘madness’ of feeling!).
In this sense, I think, by comparing Mad Max with other dystopic texts, you can draw some really intriguing questions about where we think human society may be heading and what we consider as dangerous to humanity.
If we go beyond looking at how Mad Max fits within the conventions of the dystopia genre, we then look at what the story is really about. But when we think about, this movie feels much more like its about having an experience, rather than having a message. There’s minimal dialogue, with some hints at themes of redemption and hope and rebellion, but this remains largely unexplored, because the backstory of Mad Max and Furiosa is not really revealed in this movie. The status quo in characterisation is not really challenged either, and we do not see any real character development or transformation apart from Nux, the ‘war boy’.
In the end, this Mad Max movie feels largely like putting the audience through an engrossing and intense experience. We feel a bit like Mad Max in the first half of the movie: forcibly strapped to the front of a raging vehicle driven by maniacs, compelled to keep looking as swirls of dust and smoke hit us in the eyes.
It’s hard not to flinch.