[Mad Max: Fury Road](tag:41445) has been the runaway hit of this spring’s Hollywood releases. At first glance it’s easy to see why: with high octane action sequences that boast 90% practical effects, Mad Max is a visually stunning and logistically impressive film. The cinematography is gorgeous, the vintage inspired car designs are delightful, and let’s face it, Tom Hardy’s not too hard on the eyes either...
But one of the major contributing factors to Mad Max’s success is also one of its most surprising. It’s... feminist?
For an action franchise with a male protagonist, feminism isn't exactly the first theme that you'd expect. Mad Max has long been a cult lad film: with biker gangs and violence galore, it's good manly fun! But in Fury Road, director George Miller focuses, not on Max's story, but on the struggles of women in this cruel society.
The Road to Revolution in Mad Max: Fury Road
In this version of the future, nuclear war “killed the world”. The environment is damaged beyond sustaining life, and many of the human survivors suffer from strange mutations. Yet a patriarchal system reigns strong, with Immortan Joe using his control of the largest water supply to oppress the people of the Citadel. Revolution is far from our hero’s mind, however, as Max is captured and strung up as a blood bag, just fuel for the war boys who fight their cult leader’s road battles, despite suffering from a plethora of illnesses. Feminist point number one: men are also the victims of patriarchy. With Max all tied up right now, the film shifts focus to Furiosa, a buzzcut goddess with a mechanical arm. Did I say goddess? I meant Imperator.
(I also meant goddess. I mean really. Just look at Charlize Theron, she absolutely slays in this role.)
So it all seems like business as normal, until Furiosa goes off road and it is revealed that she is on a mission to liberate the Breeders, the captive wives of Immortan Joe. Feminist point number two: women saving women.
Cue the longest, most epic car chase in the history of car chases. Director George Miller envisioned the film as a “western on wheels” and he most certainly achieved his aims. The majority of the story takes place as dozens of cars roar across the desert, war boys swinging from poles, lance bombs exploding all over the place, vehicles crashing into each other. I’m no longer going to be satisfied by a car chase unless it is sound tracked by a blind guitarist strung up on bungee cords while mercilessly shredding it. On his bass that is also a flame thrower. Of course, in true Miller fashion, this glorious prop was entirely functional.
The revolution itself comes very late in the day, and after we’ve racked up many more feminist points. The highlights of these are: female characters speaking the majority of dialogue (as Max grunts emotionally), Nux the precious war boy being liberated himself from the masculine death cult, and badass older ladies on motorbikes. One of the best feminist scenes for me is when Max first encounters the wives. While they are dressed in thin shrouds, the camera does not linger on exposed legs or cleavage, but instead draws the audience’s attention to the vicious chastity belts they are cutting off. It is an image that is at once quietly intimate and emotionally shocking. These women truly were the playthings of a cruel man. And as they stare at Max, lips curling into snarls and fire in their eyes, we know they are not going down without a fight.
A Fresh Perspective
Thematically then, the film is pretty feminist. But Miller didn’t stop with just the plot. He brought in Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler to lead workshops with the cast, to give them a perspective on misogynistic violence in warzones. The mammoth task of editing was completed by Margaret Sixel, George Miller’s wife, who sifted through over four hundred hours of footage to stitch together this masterpiece. Miller chose Sixel to edit specifically because he felt a woman’s perspective would prevent Mad Max from becoming just another generic action film.
But the greatest triumph of this film is how it subverts expectations. So many post apocalyptic movies are wish fulfillment for men: they show a world with no rules except men are usually still the top of the heap. Even in survival situations, sexism stays strong. Mad Max: Fury Road takes this idea and runs with it. The fantastic thing is, instead of glorifying a boys’ world with no rules, this film reveals Immortan Joe’s patriarchy to be toxic, a remnant of a violent past, one to be overthrown.
All analysis aside, it’s just nice to be able to settle in for a good action film and not have to squint to see a good female plot. Because instead of getting annoyed at the casual sexism prevalent in so many movies of this genre, you can focus on enjoying the important things. Like a rad flamethrowing guitar!