action, Borderlands, Charlize Theron, Christopher Hitchens, Darren D’Addario, Feminism, Film, film review, god is not Great, Kill Bill, Mad Max Fury Road, Manipulation of men, Manipulation of women, science fiction, Tom Hardy
What madness has taken me that I would write a review about a new release that involves sex slavery, psychos in automobiles, and Charlize Theron with a shaved head? Naturally a review on this blog has typically been reserved for books, essays, and short stories that exist within the literary canon, so once again it must be asked, why would I bother writing about Mad Max: Fury Road?
The answer dear reader is simple, it’s an important movie. In the last week I have been pained as woman after woman has confessed their desire to see Pitch Perfect 2, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a goofy movie, it seems ironic to me that the latest Mad Max film inspires more feminist sentiment and issues than singing and dancing to songs. Let that be my last bitchy remark about what I’m sure is a…charming….movie.
Mad Max at first appears to be everything we experienced in the past franchise, a post-apocalyptic action film in which characters fight over fuel for their vehicles. I’m not going to lie, there is plenty of that in the film, and despite the feminist overtones to the movie there is still plenty to love from a male perspective. Mad Max is used for his blood by a War Boy, one of the numerous bald cronies of the warlord Immortan Joe (sure to be the next favorite cosplay for men in my particular weight category with his plastic armor, flowing white hair, and respirator mask complete with human teeth). Immortan Joe we see controls his people through manipulation of water. He sends Furiosa out to gather supplies and thus begins one of the most epic car chases since Death Proof or Smokey and the Bandit. Along with the chase scene that takes the viewer inside of a dust/electrical storm, there crazed psychos that attack Max and the women with chainsaws, spears that blow up, and there’s also a giant fat man with nipple clamps. There is not one moment in the film which fails to satisfy the typical male queue of action cinema, and yet the recent complaints by many male viewers is that the film is, and I cannot believe I am actually typing this, “Too Feminist.”
The fact of the matter is the film is feminist because the chief conflict is Immortan Joe’s “wives,” five young women that at first promise only cheap sexual imagery but in fact deliver real performances, have escaped because they no longer wish to be his sexual puppets. Charlize Theron delivers these girls out of their slavery, and with the help of Mad Max, liberates them indefinitely when they rip Joe’s face completely off. Spoilers.
When I watched the movie I was floored and not just because Charlize Theron was spectacular. I’m a sucker for buzz cuts and axle greese. As a fan of the Borderlands franchise(which is basically just Mad Max the videogame) and virtually every great/Bad action film Arnold Swartzenager has ever done I was constantly pumping my chest while I was watching the movie, but more importantly I was observing a trend I have observed and enjoyed in past films. The Kill Bill Franchise signaled a trope that has failed to continue in recent years which is the “Chicks Kicking ass” plot structure. There was a time when we allowed women to wield guns and swords and not just because the male lead handed one to them in a tone that was smacking of, “and if you’re not too busy make me a goddamn sandwich.” Furioso is much like the Bride, a.k.a Beatrice Kiddo, because her concern is first and foremost with saving the brides from the sexual slavery of Immortan Joe, and as the film continue the bonds that existed between women served as the saving grace from the relentless grotesque phallus wielded by men and their automobiles.
There is one scene that haunted me the most. Max and the women find the remnants of a civilization that amounts to five or six elderly women wielding single shot rifles. An older woman is showing one of the brides her collection of pieces from the old world that include a plant. Rather than center the shot on this small bit of green the director George Miller, instead centered his shot upon the contrasting faces. It is almost impossible in today’s cinema to even consider showing a woman over the age thirty, let alone fifty, and the contrasting nature of the young girl with the fair features, and the elderly woman whose face was cracked and lined with experience is unlike anything a movie-goer will expect in the next year. The old woman offered the young her knowledge and wisdom.
Beat that Pitch Perfect 2. Sorry, I know I promised, but dammit I’m making a fucking point.
Mad Max was unapologetically feminist because the women in the film were not reliant upon Max; they enriched his journey and thus the audiences.
Darren D’Addario on his website Afflictor.com has written one of the best reviews and I’ll allow his words to explain its significance before I continue with my own.
The key moment comes in the calm after the storm. Max drags himself across the desert, still connected by a length of chain and a blood-transfusion tube to an unconscious War Boy and his car door. He spots the wives, bathing in radiator water like nymphs at a pond while taking bolt cutters to their chastity belts. Half-wrapped in diaphanous linen, they resemble America’s Next Top Model competitors who’ve somehow escaped Tyra’s clutches before the makeover episode. You can read the movie’s politics loud and clear in the fight scene that follows, in which Max’s literal blood tie to a foot soldier of the phallocracy becomes both action beat and telling metaphor. Miller came close to shooting a Gibson-led version of Fury Road back in 2001 before 9/11 and the fall of the dollar torpedoed his budget; presumably, he can’t have anticipated Gamergate making representational parity and misogyny into third-rail issues within the core audience for postapocalyptic action movies any more than he saw Boko Haram coming. But the “men’s rights” crusaders now gnawing their fedora brims in righteous apoplexy over the thought of Mad Max’s manly iconography being perverted to serve a misandrist agenda aren’t actually imagining things. This is an unambiguously and unapologetically feminist, Bechdel test–passing sci-fi blockbuster that begins, I’ll say again, with Charlize Theron commandeering an 18-wheeled battle-dong in order to free some sex slaves and ends by explicitly linking the liberation of humanity in general to the dismantling (and, in some cases, dismemberment) of the patriarchy.
D’addario’s point seems to sum up the most pressing significance of the film, but upon reflection there was still another thought that needs to be addressed.
Within the film there is a character named Nux, a sick War Boy who literally uses Mad Max as a blood bag, and calls him such throughout the first half of the movie. Observing Immortan Joe’s control over the society rings a familiar tune to anyone who has observed cult behavior. For starters there is the psychological pomp of the self, and Immortan Joe throughout the film is dressed charismatically and treated as a King/God. Along with this is the subjugation of women for his personal needs, young women in particular that he fancies are controlled through sex. Those that are not used for sex are literally hooked up to milking machines. Finally is the manipulation of the War Boys themselves, all young men who are told through bloody conquest and heroism, typically through self sacrifice, they shall enter the plain of Valhalla. All of these elements combine together to form the typical façade that real cults follow in our society whether it be massacre at Waco or fundamentalist religions across the world, it is a traditional rhetoric that young men are kept at bay by denying them sex and instead channeling their energy into violence, while young women are used for sex to satisfy an older male who champions or leads the “society.” If this sounds familiar perhaps a passage from Christopher Hitchens’s god is not Great can illuminate why:
The Inter-Islam and Islamic Voice sites recycle this tripe, as if there were not already enough repression and ignorance among young males in the Muslim world, who are often kept apart from all female company, taught in effect to despise their mothers and sisters, and subjected to stultifying rote recitation of the Koran. Having met some of the products of this “education” system, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, I can only reiterate that their problem is not so much that they desire virgins as that they are virgins: their emotional and psychic growth irremediably stunted in the name of god, and the safety of many others menaced as a consequence of this alienation and deformation. (227)
Mad Max is brave to follow this pattern because within the film Nux’s psychotic devotion to the “next world” is broken as he falls in love with one of the brides.
The romance between Nux and Capable, the aptly names wife who is able to show Nux that life is worth living, disrupts the patriarchal rhetoric that has been plaguing the society dominated by the corruption of an old man bent on war and malevolent control of his people. When the young are allowed to interact freely, they may decide for themselves what they want out of this life
This relationship, while at first seems and sounds hammy, is the actual soul of the film because this new interpretation of a self-parodying film franchise affords audiences a real entertainment possibility while affording the audience intellectual concerns.
Never has it been a more difficult time to be a woman, and for all the talk that women in our society have it off great, there are still ills and problems in our society holding them back: Victim-blaming, rapes in the military that go unpunished, the fact that East Texas is the nation’s capital for sexual abuse, the new rise in sex trafficking, colored women’s continual negation in our society, and the very fact that this movie has been criticized for being “Too Feminist” as if that is some sort of problem.
This review is NOT going to keep people from seeing Age of Ultron and Pitch Perfect 2, and it shouldn’t. But an excellent film that addresses a real issue women face in our culture, without resorting to a rape scene thank-you-very-much-George-Miller-fuck-you-Game-of-Thrones, while at the same time watching psycho’s chase people in cars set to a Heavy Metal guitar that breathes fire?
Come on boys, don’t be punks. Just shut up and try and learn something because lord knows you’re getting anywhere complaining.
For the most part I cited Darren D’Addario’s entire article but I’ve posted a link to it here:
I’ve also posted a link to another review of the film that argues for the feminist position far better than I have:
Yeah screw Pitch Perfect 2, seriously that World War II joke is lame as balls. Just sayin.