Mad Max: Fury Road

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“My name is Max. My world is fire. And blood.”

Oh, you better believe it.

Your world will be fire and blood after you see this film.

Believe the hype.  Believe every word.

This film earned every bit of praise that has been written or spoken.

This film is every bit the fuel injected, turbo charged, flame throwing battering ram that you’ve heard. It is a jaw dropping feat of cinematic bravura. It is also a cornucopia of visual riches; cinematography, art direction, design and a level of choreographed mayhem that will be the standard against which all future films will be measured. Most importantly, it is a well written story with vividly rendered characters and a highly detailed world.

Though I enjoyed it, I also don’t think that it’s without flaws. There are mixed messages regarding the nature of freedom, some dumb clichés about commerce, property rights and capitalism, and a frustrating veneration of the myth of the Leader Who Brings Equality and Emancipation. In this case, the variation on the same theme, The Female Leader Who Brings Equality and Emancipation Because She’s a Woman, you FUGHYNG PYG. Clichés to which I probably should be accustomed, but feel compelled to draw attention to nonetheless.

There has also been a lot of hullabaloo over the film’s alleged feminism. While I can accept that there are aspects of the story that could be construed as feminist in the manner that was asserted in the original conception of the movement, these claims are, by and large, wildly overblown. Aside from a little blatant pandering to redfem sensibilities, the film mostly emphasizes the contribution that each gender is able to make to one another; a position which stands in stark contrast to the position of antipathy, bigotry and antagonism towards men which is actively fostered in feminist circles and media.

Don’t get me wrong. What’s good about the film far outweighs the dubious. While these flaws do not derail the film, they warrant mention.

So let’s take a look at them.

Just as the three predecessor films, Fury Road presents a world in a state of collapse. Or perhaps a cynical extrapolation of the current state of affairs. Presumably, all governments have fallen and the gun is the only law. It provides a perfect backdrop for an exploration of morality.

The best part of this film and the series is that it asks you to consider what morality is when the structures of society which allegedly provide the foundations of moral behavior have disappeared.

Enter Max Rockatansky; a former cop who lost his family and is haunted by his past failures. He’s searching for a “righteous cause” and some redemption. Once again, we’re presented with a protagonist who was once an agent of the state and by extension, a symbol of the state. In Max, we are expected to see one of the last guardians of law, virtue, and morality in a world in which the law has failed.  It’s ironic that we are expected to view a former cop as the embodiment of morality in light of so many current instances of police brutality, but it’s a believable leap of imagination because he’s no longer beholden to the state. Instead of a trigger happy killer like the psychopaths we see later in the film (and in the real world), Max is a model of restraint. He does not arbitrarily initiate violence against others.

“My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me… Or everyone else,” he says in the opening narration.

Tom Hardy was cast over Mel Gibson this time out and brings a new level of gravitas, physicality and appeal to the role of Max.

On the flipside, we have Immortan Joe; a psychopathic despot who wields power through fear, violence and manipulation through religious belief. Immortan Joe is the dictator of The Citadel; a dystopian hellhole in which Joe and his minions live in relative splendor and plenitude, and the population live in a state of debased poverty and abject misery. He controls the water supply and, in the tradition of all totalitarian assholes, preaches an inversion of reality to keep the plebes in line.

“Do not become addicted to water, it will take hold of you and you will resent its absence,” he bellows in one of his speeches to the masses.

Self-abasement and sacrifice, you worms! You’re taking up space and resources and you’d be dead if not for my benevolence!

Just as the previous films addressed the possibility of a global shortage of gasoline, this film wants to draw attention the availability (or lack thereof) of clean, potable water as the issue of mounting concern.

Additionally, Joe has an army of War Boys who answer to his every command. They are a whole legion of mutated men who’ve been bred for combat, are hopped up on some aerosol amphetamine and swear a religious fealty to Joe out of a belief in an afterlife of glory.  This is also a possible bit of feminist pandering. Though it’s true that heads of state who’ve been responsible for so much misery and death throughout history have been male, contrary to contemporary feminist propaganda, there’s nothing inherent in manhood that automatically makes you a rapist/murderer/sex trafficker/child molester/genocidal maniac.

Here, George Miller reveals both a cynical view of commerce (there isn’t any) and a despairing view of humanity. It seems that he’s portraying life as a choice between being a mindless minion, a servile and helpless serf or a cruel despot. He seems to be saying that life is confined to solitary acts of virtue, morality and violent resistance (which are the province of “Heroes”) in a world that is poisoned and beyond hope of reclamation. All other options lead to enslavement or rule over others by force.

In reference to Joe’s iron fisted dominion, a character says, “He owns the water, and he owns us too.”

What a dumb, narrow, cynical, and fallacious view of property rights and the world.  Instead of viewing markets as an emancipating force, Miller has chosen to take the view that those who have commodities that people need will use them to enslave others.

This same view carries over to the characters which set the events of the film in motion, The Five Wives. The Five Wives were Joe’s “breeders”; women held in captivity to give birth to Joe’s children.  Imperator Furiosa, brilliantly portrayed by Charlize Theron, steals the Five Wives when sent on a mission to obtain gas for Immortan Joe.

Upon discovering their absence, Joe finds the words “WE ARE NOT OBJECTS” painted on the walls. Naturally, Joe is enraged and mobilizes his entire fleet of battle cars to hunt down Furiosa. Not only is Joe’s ownership of these women a cartoonish view of the life of freedom enjoyed by women who live in Western market-oriented societies, it is predictably one of the themes around which feminists have rallied.  It reveals the sad contempt for private property held by filmmakers and feminists alike. It also reveals a frustrating refusal to recognize the fact that the earliest American feminists of the 19th century agitated to overturn common law statutes which made women actual slaves to their husbands.  The Married Women’s Property Acts (laws which preceded suffrage by 56 years) allowed women to enter into contracts, own property and earn a salary!  Yet for some reason, feminists seem intent on denigrating and dismissing these early gains and regarding the opportunity that the free market presents as a monolithic force of oppression. While I can accept that this plot element could also be construed as a metaphor for sex trafficking and countries with epidemic levels of rape like the Congo and Sudan, these are countries with an absence of markets or a lack of appreciation for property rights, an excess of religious belief, rule by force or all three. Either you respect property rights and voluntary exchange or you submit to rule by force.  You can’t have both, feminists.

Furthermore, isn’t this Five Wives plot element just a variation on the “damsel in distress” trope famously decried by Anita Sarkeesian as a disempowering cliché?  Is it true that all you need to do to appease feminists is make the savior a female?

Feminists have also lavished praise over the toughness, bravery, resourcefulness and ferocity of Furiosa.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the character and Theron’s performance and I get the appeal she holds as a representation of female badassery, I still find it strange that feminists are swooning over this character. Furiosa knows how to drive and repair the War Rig, how to use firearms, and can hold her own in hand to hand combat.  It’s as though feminists equate fictional representations of toughness with real world “equality”.  Feminists are generally deeply opposed to gun rights and never agitate for equal representation in automotive repair or auto sports. I cannot recall even so much as a single kind feminist word spoken about someone like Danica Patrick nor can I recall a single line of coverage given to women who work in pro auto sports in feminist media.

What’s even stranger to me about the praise of the Furiosa character is that, in contrast to women who live in the Western world, she had no real choice in her life.  She was kidnapped as a child and her only real option was to climb the ranks of Immortan Joe’s military. It’s possible that she developed her skills purely out of necessity. And why aren’t feminists praising Joe for his female-friendly hiring policy? There weren’t any other women amongst the ranks of the War Boys as far as I could tell.

One of the other themes which has been downplayed and sneered at by feminists is the subplot involving Nux, one of Joe’s War Boys who ends up siding with Furiosa, Max and the Wives. A mutual affection develops between Nux and Capable.  Since Joe kept the men separated from the female population, they developed stunted views of their relationship towards women.  Having lived most of his life deprived of any real affection from a woman, Nux reclaims his humanity through the power of the love of a woman freely given.  Feminists often seem way more invested in denouncing “toxic masculinity” and “misogyny” rather than seeing men as humans who need and crave love.  Sometimes, the only validation a man seeks in this life is the love of a woman.

Furiosa’s intention was to return to the Green Place; a fabled land of unspoiled beauty that was the homeland from which she was kidnapped as a child. Instead, they meet the Vuvalini, a gang of motorcycle riding, gun toting matriarchs who are the last remaining survivors of the Green Place. Here, Miller does a little blatant pandering to feminist tendencies towards misandry. They’re initially distrustful of Max and Nux and are only assuaged by Furiosa vouching for them as “reliable”.  The Vuvalini are a manifestation of a feminist power fantasy and give a voice to contemporary notions of “white, male capitalist patriarchy” promulgated in feminist circles today. They speak lovingly of women as caretakers, mothers, and givers of life and tell stories filled with atavistic yearning of the bygone days when fruit, flowers, and trees grew in abundance before everything was destroyed by all the nasty, evil men. When the climactic chase goes into overdrive, he even pays tribute to the Valerie Solanas-loving/SCUM Manifesto-reading crowd when one of the matriarchs declares, “One man. One bullet.”

After a breathtaking final chase sequence, Furiosa ultimately vanquishes Joe while she venomously spits “Remember me!”

The heroes ride victoriously into The Citadel with Joe’s corpse on the hood of the War Rig. Furiosa and the Wives are admitted to the upper levels once reserved for Joe and his minions to assume control of The Citadel. The final scene shows one of the former Wives allowing the water to gush forth from the giant water pipes on the mountainside and waste it even more profusely than Joe ever did. From this act, the presumption with which you’re left is that Furiosa is going to be a Better Leader.  Because….FEMALE!  And Joe’s fundamental flaw was that he was a MAN!  Never mind that they had scarce resources to manage in the first place and had no apparent system of prices, wages or exchange. We’re left to believe that Furiosa would be a more benevolent leader simply because she had a uterus.  Hillary 2016!

Again, these are not fatal flaws.

The film never fails to entertain. It succeeds at being a nail biter not only as a result of the physicality and virtuosity of the stunt work, but because the human drama is the backbone of the film. The look of the film is absolutely first rate and you are completely immersed in the world.

Highly recommended.

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