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Mad Max: Beyond imperial capitalism

Review by Gus Fromke |
May 18, 2015
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**Spoiler alert: This review is full of spoilers**

This summer moviegoers have an opportunity to witness the thrill ride that is Mad Max: Fury Road. Fury Road is a modern continuance of iconoclast George Miller’s epic post-apocalyptic trilogy from the 1970s and 80s featuring the dark and distant hero Max Rockatansky.

As a fan of the original Mad Max films starring Mel Gibson, before he became an idiot, it was an easy step forward to become a fan of Fury Road. An easy step for sure, but not a foregone conclusion. Fury Road is very gritty, contains minimal dialogue, lacks background and is one non-stop car chase - not the typical ingredients for a social commentary. My first impression was to be unconvinced of its genius, but I soon let Fury Road’s art and nuances mesmerize me.

Critics have responded enthusiastically to the film’s nostalgia, its theatrics, its raw emotion and intensity, and its social commentary. The film has been described as a shift of gravity away from the leading male role of Max, portrayed by Tom Hardy to the film’s leading female role of Furiosa, portrayed by Charlize Theron. Aside from the very conscious decision George Miller made to promote feminist ideals within the film, the plot still pushes a broader social commentary.

In Fury Road the post-apocalyptic world is a desolate, barren wasteland left ruined by nuclear or chemical warfare, famine, drought, climate change, or all the above. The only hope for mankind is the Citadel where an autocratic mutant king, Immortan Joe, has complete control over the world’s natural resources. The Citadel is mountainy fortress where Immortan Joe has sole access to the world’s only known fresh water source. He floods his destitute subjects with water daily through a gushing duct system for one single moment where they can fill their buckets and then fight over the runoff. He shuts off the water valves and then tells his subjects to never become addicted to water.

Fury Road’s protagonist is Furiosa, a female road warrior, who at first appears to be a trusted lieutenant of Immortan Joe. Her mission is to drive what is referred to as the war machine. The war machine is a tanker with a series of axels and dual engines. Furiosa is to lead a mission with some other road warriors in supporting vehicles. She is sent to her mission with both Immortan Joe’s praise and an adoring crowd. As soon as she is outside the Citadel, Furiosa purposely goes off course.

In the post-apocalyptic society humans are resources just like oil and water. Immortan Joe possesses scores of human beings and the most prized of those possessions are his wives. Virtual sex slaves, Immortan Joe’s wives are also referred to as breeders as their offspring is also his exclusive property. Furiosa has rescued Immortan Joe’s five young wives from bondage as she diverts her mission to bring them to freedom. As you can imagine, Immortan Joe is enraged with Furiosa’s coup and the remainder of the film is Furiosa’s escape and Immortan Joe’s pursuit.

Max Rockatansky returns to his role as the wild animal of the wasteland who decides to join with Furiosa to repel Immortan Joe’s legions of war machines and road warriors. At first Max does so for his own self-preservation, but soon he does so for his own catharsis. If you are familiar with the original Mad Max films then you will understand Max’s back-story. Max lost his family to violence and now runs on revenge and redemption just like the war machines run on guzzle-ine or gasoline. The interaction between Furiosa and Max is deep and piercing. When they communicate it’s as if they are looking into each other’s souls. Furiosa, much like Max, is raw emotion and even acknowledges that her own act of humanity is motivated by redemption.

The young wives of Immortan Joe have been captives for most of their lives and are helpless without Furiosa and Max. Some on the left view this is a deviation from the feminist construct, but I disagree. The wives are physically helpless because they have been isolated from the outside world locked in a dungeon-like vault by Immortan Joe. However, the wives do have an attribute that is extremely important. It’s clear that Furiosa didn’t rescue them merely out of feminist solidarity, but because they are quite knowledgeable. Sometime during their captivity the wives became self-aware of their plight; not only that they are slaves and their captor is a tyrant, but also crave justice for humanity in this post-apocalyptic feudal word. They also know the truth behind Immortan Joe: he is neither king nor god but, as one wife put it, a very old man. The revelation is dangerous for Immortan Joe and his power hold over the Citadel. Immortan Joe’s legions are willing to die for him because they have been led to believe that their self-sacrifice will honor him and he is god. He promises them eternal glory and they readily accept.

The film reaches its climax when Furiosa is told that there is no escape from Immortan Joe unless they continue through an endless sea of desert. Furiosa breaks down in defeat, but they do not give up. They come to terms and prepare to ride through the scorching wasteland. Max then intervenes and informs the group that they must go back and race Immortan Joe and his legions to the Citadel. The Citadel has water and vegetation - it can sustain precious life!

In the modern U.S. we sit at the citadel of imperial capitalism which tips the balance of resources toward Immortan Joe. Of course, Immortan Joe is just a fictional villain who is more easily identified with Twister Sister’s Dee Snyder than a modern oil baron or conservative politician, but his archetype is very real and very sinister. The battle over patriarchy is just as real as the battle over natural resources.

In patriarchal society men are not just the sole leaders and decision makers, but also control the opposite gender. If you don’t think this is the case today in the U.S. you haven’t been paying attention! War on contraception in Colorado, the largest most sweeping abortion restrictions in several states have been legislated in just the last four years, and the lack of paid maternal leave is a punch line on late night television. Immortan Joe is very much in control over the opposite gender, though he doesn’t need to lock women up in a vault - he instead locks them up in legislative bondage.

Today’s natural resources are under scrutiny as the extraction of oil and the scarcity of fresh water are causing worldwide famine. Fresh water is facing global depletion and the U.S. is not immune. The continued process of oil extraction is a major cause of fresh water depletion. Privatization of fresh water around the globe has placed over 170 million people at the mercy of private corporations for life sustaining water. Immortan Joe knows that natural resources under private control increase the power and profits of the few.

With the cost of many lives, Furiosa and Max return to the Citadel with Immortan Joe’s lifeless body strapped to the hood of their war machine. The subjects, the legions and the slaves see that their god is nothing more than a selfish man. They turn on the water and lift Furiosa and the four remaining wives to victory. Furiosa looks around for Max and sees him disappearing in the crowd. They look at each other and Max sees that Furiosa has found her redemption, but for Max there is only eternal striving. Max is gone and the film ends.

The more I think about Fury Road the more I get mad and want to quit running from the modern day Immortan Joes. Fury Road asks its audience to turn back toward the citadel and open the flood gates to all the people. The world cannot change until the people control the citadel.

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