Yesterday I shunned the blue sky and sunshine to sit in a dark cinema with about eight men and with my coat on as protection against the air conditioning, and watched a film that some men in America have dubbed ‘feminist propaganda’ (check it out in the Independent).
I woke up this morning thinking about Mad Max: Fury Road. That’s a good sign, by the way.
Major spoilers alert. Only read this if you’ve seen the film or will never see it!
Additional warning: I have never seen even a little bit of the original, Mel Gibson Mad Max (yet, it’s now in my pile of To Watch), so this review is completely unbiased in that regard.
In short, Mad Max is about people trying to find freedom and the two rebels who try to lead them to it.
But that won’t make you go watch the film, so here’s a longer version.
The world has ended. There was a war, which left gasoline as the main trading good. This post-apocalyptic word is run on jacked up, meshed together and flaming vehicles. Mad Max (Tom Hardy) was a cop (aren’t they always) in our world, but in this new one he has lost his wife and daughter and travels the landscape alone, his sanity quickly diminishing. Captured by the War Boys of the Citadel, Max becomes a ‘blood donor’, and is imprisoned until he is needed.
Meanwhile, the king, Immortan Joe, who rules the Citadel, restricting the water, brainwashing young boys into becoming warriors who don’t fear death, keeping young women imprisoned as ‘breeding stock’ and older women attached to pumping machines for their milk (hate him yet?), sends out a convoy for more gasoline. This convoy is led by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron).
Furiosa, however, has other plans and diverts her convoy to head East. She’s freed Joe’s young ‘wives’ who are tired of being his property, and she’s taking them somewhere safe. Once Joe figures this out, which he does quickly suggesting he saw this coming, he follows with his army of War Boys, including Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who is taking Max’s blood. But he’s determined to fight and die for Joe on the Fury Road and so he leaves for battle, taking Max with him until their blood transfusion is complete.
So now we have a dusty open road, a warrior woman and her charges at the front and a load of men following to get them back, a ton of enhanced vehicles, a flaming guitar, drummers and men on poles.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a story about men destroying the world and imprisoning the prettiest women and controlling the poor (or, in this case, everyone else). But it’s deeper than that. It’s also about boys being brainwashed into believing that death isn’t the end as the War Boys spray their mouths with chrome before death, ready to enter into the halls of Valhalla and be reborn as warriors. It’s a film about control and freedom, which seems particularly apt in our current worldly situation.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a film for everyone. It’s arty, with a specific style which may seem strange as first but can be easily slid into after the first five or so minutes. It has cars (amazing cars!) and motorbikes and explosions, it has strong, brave women, it has depth and meaning and it has a soundtrack which gets your heart pumping while at other times being almost operatic.
So maybe you’re thinking this film is just one big car chase, and in some ways you’re right. Although there is a deeper plot playing out, and touching characters, while you’re watching that car chase you should know something. That all of it is real. There’s no CGI, there’s no computer generated flames or crashes. It’s. All. Real.
They made a real flaming guitar, and those men really are on top of poles on moving vehicles, and those cars really did flip and crash. On that landscape, which is also real.
The mixture of everything in this film made me curious, so as we walked back out into the sunshine I asked my husband what he thought. He liked the flaming guitar, although the film felt a little long, which is true. There are also a number of plotholes, for example, if Joe had a feeling that his wives would scarper, given how quickly he realised what was happening, why did he put Furiosa in charge in the first place? Even dismissing that, we never find out how she got given her command in a world seemingly run by men.
I asked my husband what he thought of the story and he replied, ‘what story?’, confirming for me that this is certainly a film that people will view differently, so you can take from it what you will.
Although the film is titled Mad Max, it’s more a film about the women and therefore Furiosa. Even then, there isn’t a great deal of character development from her or Max. Some people may complain that Furiosa has more lines than Max, but that’s because the man simply doesn’t talk much. We hear inside his head, and that’s enough. We glimpse the madness, but also the anger, strength and goodness. Hardy plays the role excellently, although because he doesn’t talk much, it comes as a shock when he does to find his voice quite so deep.
Theron is also excellent, playing a quick and determined but subtle Furiosa. The ‘wives’, described as pretty and ‘shiny’, are also well written. Despite not knowing about the outside world, they are brave and smart, led by the oldest The Splendid Angharad (yes, they all have cool names). While these girls don’t let their fear overcome them, they are also shown to be unafraid of Joe and his, quite frankly, huge son, Rictus Erectus (snigger). Angharad even places herself and her large baby bump between Max and Joe’s gun at one point, knowing full well Joe would not hurt his most prized possession and potential baby boy.
But, for me, the show was stolen by Nicholas Hoult’s performance as Nux. At first, he’s just a young man with dreams of making Joe proud and ending up in the halls of Valhalla at whatever cost. Despite numerous opportunities to do such a thing, he fails and curls up in a foetal position, hidden away at the back of Furiosa’s war rig, to despair in what a disappointment he is. He flowers, then, as a sweet and generous man who is only in need of guidance, something which one of Joe’s wives, Capable (played by Elvis Presley’s granddaughter, Riley Keough) gives him along with comfort.
That’s when it hit me. As I said, Mad Max: Fury Road can be viewed in various ways but it reflects ancient human society when the woman was respected as the carrier and nurturer of life, and the Goddess was worshipped. In this film, the women are life givers and nurturers, not only to their own children. But they are also equalisers, ultimately heading back to reclaim the Citadel, kill Joe and, thanks to the old mothers, giving water and food to everyone.
I can see why all the pro-men groups aren’t happy. Immortan Joe represents their kind, and this film is about their downfall. Let Mad Max be a message to them, and to everyone else, that people cannot be suppressed for long. As history has often shown, at some point a small group will stand up and, if they’re lucky, they will get through the road block. Life is a circle, and maybe when mankind has ripped this world apart, womankind will reclaim it and bring it back to life.