Film Fridays: Mad Max: Fury Road

When I first saw the Mad Max trailer, I almost shuddered. I honestly thought it looked like one of the stupidest movies I’d ever seen. Inexplicable babes and dystopian car chases and apparently nothing else. Then it opened, and Steven started hinting that we might want to go see it; the internet buzz was that it was fabulous. I started softening, and agreed to watch it. We watched two of the originals first, and I’d recommend it. Anyhow, we were way behind everyone else in seeing it because parents, but if you haven’t seen it yet, rent the originals off iTunes (they’re like $4) and then for heaven’s sake hie yourself to the movie theatre and go see this movie because it is awesome. And probably wait to read this post, because spoilers.
Visually the movie is stunning. The scenery is incredible, especially for a barren wasteland, and the prop department must’ve had so much fun designing the vehicles– everything, the polecats, the hot-rod tank, the costuming, the engine-based religion, all harks back to and expands on the offbeat motorcycle-gang world introduced in the original, but taken to an epic scale.
Actually it felt like that progression in a lot of ways. The original was a (kind of awful yet oddly beautiful yet weird) very intimate story in the midst of apocalypse. No cities levelled, no epic battles, just open road and a few motorcycles and cars, really; a story about a family. The second one expanded the scale to a settlement big enough to need a bus to get around. From the looks of the trailer the third is a slightly larger world still. And then this, a handful of cities. Really, it’s still quite small, Joe’s territory not more than a day’s journey around. But the environment got harsher, the cultures stranger, the violence broader, and Max himself more laconic and withdrawn.
It’s no secret this is being hailed as a feminist film, but really what I really loved about it was it was just a great story. The women didn’t feel like tokens, like cardboard cutouts, like embodied concepts about feminism, but like real humans beings with passion and resonance and variety. You know, like women actually are.
So, here I go with the breakdown:
Role of Women: In the world of the film, the women of the Citadel are breeders. The most telling line to me was just a casual comment between two of the warboys after the Five Wives are discovered to be escaped along with Furiosa: “She took a lot of his [Immortan Joe’s] stuff.” “What stuff?” “His breeders.” Although Furiosa is entrusted with driving a war rig, most of the women we see in the Citadel are caged and controlled: the nursing mothers hooked up to constant breast pumps, the wives in their warren. In the commentary of the film, though, the women are, to quote, “not things.” The moment when you first see the Wives, slender, sparsely clad and luscious, (described in the previous link as “what would happen if someone decided to heavily arm a Burberry ad”), the knee-jerk reaction is to assume they’re what they look like, what they would be in almost any other action movie: eye-candy. My gut reaction was to object, as I would in any other action movie. But, of course, in the story eye candy was what they were, the role they had been forced into by nature of their lives. But the story took you beyond that. Into their loyalty, dignity, and ferocious passion to be free. Early in the movie, during the first chase into the dust storm I think it was, a war boy drops into the vehicle. The five young women, out in the rough, dark world for the first time in their lives, with no knowledge of weapons, with soft hands and long flowing hair and smooth skin, pounce on him, grabbing and biting, their drive to be free crackling across the screen. I swear, in any other movie ever those women would’ve been screaming and cringing. It was a beautiful moment to see onscreen. Another equally beautiful one was when the heavily-pregnant Angharad places herself and her child between the man who had owned and abused her, and the woman who was helping her escape. Her dignity in that moment was palpable. Great article that outlines a little more of this aspect here.
Sexualisation of Women: Coming out of the theatre, I was reminded of the movie Sucker Punch, the one and only movie I walked out of midway through at the theatre. It purports to be a story about young women fighting back against sexual abuse, but the moviemakers sexualised the actresses so heavily that it felt like it was spitting in its own face. Fury Road was the opposite. A story about women sexualised and abused and objectified completely by their world, who are not at all sexualised in the film. No panning shots up their legs. No suggestion that the hero is entitled to sexual access to them by virtue of helping them (see Skyfall). Even the way they were dressed, which could easily have been presented very sexually, was instead a piece of storytelling, an imposition on them from outside that didn’t detract from their dignity and strength.
Bechdel Test Pass/Fail: Pass, of course.
Male:Female Ratio: The pursuers are exclusively male, and there are a lot of them, so in that sense they outnumber the females, but of the characters you get to know and connect with, females outnumber. Outnumber, yes.
Are you buying your movie tickets yet? Need more convincing? Everything here.
Still not convinced? Look at this picture of Road Warrior Mad Max and COME ON.

Oh, and one final good moment. At the end of the film, the lactating mothers you saw at the beginning, they ones who just felt like props establishing the place of women in this society as, like, human cows? They’re the ones who step out and open the water gates. They are not things, either.

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