Black Maria contributor Diana Drumm takes time out from rubbing elbows with the cinema glitterati on the Croisette to talk about Mad Max: Fury Road which debuted at Cannes last week.
Hitting the red steps of the Lumiere last Friday, decades-gestated Mad Max: Fury Road came out bloody, ballsy and with guns blazing. After a brief flicker of context, director George Miller jolts us into the Mad Max universe, embellished to new life through jaw-dropping visuals and frantic-adrenaline pacing (thanks to editor Margaret Sixel, Miller’s wife). Fans of the franchise will come for the latest non-Mel Max (Tom Hardy), but history will mark this for Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Sneaking itself in the form of a testosterone-heavy actioner reboot, Mad Max: Fury Road reveals itself to be a revolutionary feminist film of the highest subversive order.
Set in 2060 (yes, 45 years from now), society has devolved into a bizarro combination of road rage and medievalism, with mangy men running the show. At its head is Immortan Joe (Hugh Keanes-Byrne, reprising his Mad Max baddie status after having played Toecutter in the original), a despot grotesque in both politics and physical form. Squandering the few resources on himself, his breeders *ahem* wives, and underlings, Immortan Joe maintains his position through an army of brainwashed-from-birth War Boys, who subsist on Joe’s bullshit dogma and long to die in battle in order to reach Valhalla. Underneath Joe’s imposing wild hair, shiny armor and white-powdered skin, he is just an elderly man covered in boils and reeking of overcompensating insecurity. (i.e., patriarchy at its worst.)
On the other side of this world’s male spectrum is Max (Hardy): stoic, sturdy, and the film’s sole categorically handsome man in a sea of deformed, be-gouted, wasting bodies. (i.e.. the neutral male hero.) A loner wandering the wastelands, Max is captured by the War Boys and turned into a blood bag for the weaklings. As such, he winds up muzzled and on the hood of a War Boy’s car driving into battle against the sole female rig driver, the commanding in both manner and beauty Imperator Furiosa (Theron), who’s absconded off with Joe’s most precious property, his (in)appropropriately young and model-beautiful wives (including actual model-actresses Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, and Zoë Kravitz).
The resulting chase is massive, combustive, and littered with male-masturbatory allusions. Surrounded by his fanboy troops, Joe pushes the charge but stays a safe distance from actual contact/confrontation/risk with the target. Instead, he designates junkie-looking, sickly War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) to go in for the dirty work, marked so by spraying silver paint on his mouth in a very ejaculate-illusory move, visually echoing the “She’s Not What She Seems” scene from Mad Max in which a female mannequin is shot in the face. And in a masterful stroke/finishing touch, the battle sequences are to the tune of an electric (erect-ric?) guitar player acting as the army’s drummer boy, keeping adrenaline and potency up.
Out of the tussle, Max winds up with Furiosa and the Wives out of necessity, effectively transferring from the male to female sphere. In the ensuing battle scenes, the Wives turn from objects into compatriots, following Furiosa’s orders and fighting alongside Max. In one pointed exchange, designated inventory-taker wife Toast the Knowing (Kravitz) tells Max that he has the choice between 4 bullets for the big gun and 29 for the small one, advising for the latter. In a machismo-laced move, Max chooses the big one and comes to regret it.
Whereas Joe ruled with an iron-gilded fist forcing misled sycophants, Furiosa leads through daring resourcefulness, earning the respect of those around her. While Joe hides his deformities through strategically placed armor and powder, Furiosa has a glistening metal contraption where her arm used to be and is all the stronger for it. Joe maintained a faulty system for his own gains, Furiosa breaks out for the betterment of her fellow women, to get them to a safe space beyond the grasp of Joe’s exploitive tyranny. When Max asks what Furiosa wants, she answers hope for the Wives and redemption for herself. To which Max, infuriating in his accuracy, responds that trying to fix something that’s broken will drive you insane.
While on the topic of broken systems, this is the crux of what’s been infuriating men’s advocacy groups worldwide – that women are being represented as effective leaders and warriors over their male counterparts, that a female freedom fighter is a more empathetic and compelling character than a male loner. Personally, I would rather fly Furiosa’s banner and try to fix the broken patriarchy with high-caliber “feminist agenda” films at the risk of going insane than stand aside and let “the man” bulldoze the cultural map with yet another male-led franchise reboot (oh wait…). Who’s with me?
Not entirely without faults (there’s a sidebar budding romance with as much impact as the Jimmy/Hayes friendship in Peter Jackson’s King Kong), Mad Max: Fury Road is still one of the most refreshing, enlivening, revisionist-for-the-better reboots to hit the big screen. It will go down in the annals of film history not only for its stunning effects and out-of-this-world pacing, but for completely redefining the action-packed dystopian genre and building a world for women within this formerly male-centric sphere.
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