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“We are not things” in Mad Max

Mad Max: Fury Road is being heralded as the best movie this year everywhere you turn. Some people are even saying it’s the best action movie in the last 20 years, or the best since Alien.

I enjoyed, for the most part, the original Mad Max movies with one glaring exception. It was sometime during 9th or 10th grade when I saw my first Mad Max movie and it showed a graphic rape scene right in the beginning. It was the most graphic scene I had ever watched before, and as such the moment is burned into my memory. However, another image burned into my memory is Tina Turner as Aunty Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Her character was bad ass, and was a rare (and perhaps only) example of an empowered, black woman in action film during that time period.

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With both those images in my mind, I was simultaneously intrigued and apprehensive about watching Fury Road. Then three things happened:

  1.  In an interview Charlize Theron discussed the feminism of her character Imperator Furiosa
  2. I discovered that Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler was consulted during the filming of the movie
  3. MRAs were calling for a boycott of the film

By the time I read about #3, I was pre-ordering my tickets to see the movie on opening night. With anticipation and expectations sky-high due to all the online hype, I settled into the super comfy red recliners at AMC Theaters with my fiance, and put on my 3D glasses.

I’m happy to report back that the movie was on par with my expectations, and surprised me in more ways than one. Mad Max: Fury Road is everything an action movie should be, and it expands the boundaries of what an action movie can be. It’s the darling of the media circuit, for good reason, and this post will probably be lost in the sea of Furiosa worship. The director is already hinting at a sequel (Mad Max: The Wasteland).

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Here’s how it breaks down using the Her Story Arc Scale of Inclusivity:

Not offensive to women = 1 pt

I did not find myself physically or emotionally uncomfortable by how the women characters were speaking, acting, or portrayed in this movie. My enjoyment of the show was not marred by any moments of dismay or thoughts of “how did this make it into the movie?” I was engaged by, and impressed by, the women characters.

Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts

Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is the star of the show. This comes as a surprise since Mad Max movies have always been centered around Max himself. Furiosa not only has more lines, she is the leader. Where Max is a loner, Furiosa is a leader and visionary.

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Imperator Furiosa

Furiosa is getting a lot of the media attention, but the wives/slaves of Immortan Joe are a large part of the narrative. For  more details about the actresses who played them, check out this article.

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Back (left to right): The Dag, Cheedo the Fragile; Front: (left to right): Toast the Knowing, Splendid Angharad, Capable

Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts 

Yup!

Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts

Action movies with high speed chases are not my normal cup of tea, but I enjoyed it. Director George Miller did a fantastic job of pulling off over-the-top characters, deformities, and vehicles in a guzzle-line and water starved desert world. What I loved the most about the near-future landscape he created was the linguistic changes (ex: gasoline to guzzle-line), the economics (ex: the bullet farm), and the religion of the “disposable henchman/boys” centered around getting into Valhalla through acts of reckless bravery.

These elements of world building give the audience an all-too realistic viewpoint of where society could be headed if we don’t slow down our consumption. George Miller’s genius lies in his ability to feed us these dark themes wrapped up in the high-paced thrill of car chases and a troupe of women yearning to escape, if possible, and start a better life.

Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts

It is abundantly clear in all the Mad Max movies that this post-modern society is highly patriarchal. Fury Road is no different. Fat women are rigged up to milking machines for the express consumption of the main bad dude and his, literally, twisted offspring. The bad dude’s wives, chosen for their “whole-life-ness” and beauty, are sex slaves destined to breed children. Until they escape with Furiosa that is.

What I love is that Furiosa is not the one responsible for their escape. She has facilitated it, but we find out the Splendid was the leader amongst the wives/slaves, and taught her fellow prisoners that “we are not things”. An older woman, who I assume is a mid-wife of some kind, has also clearly had an impact on Splendid’s non-compliant thinking.

The message of their escape does not need to read between the lines. It is up in our faces in ALL CAPS that PATRIARCHY IS BAD!

But the women are not the only victims of this patriarchal system. We also see into the mind of Nux, a “half-life” young man who morphs before our eyes from a villain to a sympathetic, fellow victim to the evils of Immortan Joe. Capable, and the other women, recognize that Nux is harmless. They try to convince Nux that following Immortan Joe is against his best interests, but it takes a while for the message to sink in. I loved this story arc, because the script could have so easily had the characters treat Nux as disposable, just like Immortan Joe does.

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Capable trying to soothe Nux

Fury Road is a story about women who have liberated themselves from sex slavery but does not include any scenes of rape. It is a story of a desolate world, but a group of old ladies on motor bikes has managed to survive on their own. It is a movie named for a man, but the lead role is a woman. It is a story of escaping by the skin of your teeth again and again and again, to the point that we, as the audience, just don’t know how they can possibly survive this next obstacle in the road.

In other words, Fury Road earns a solid 15/15 on the Scale of Inclusivity. And for those of you who have already watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I think you’ll appreciate this amazing mashup!

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13 Comments »

    • That’s a really good point Skye, thanks for bringing it up! While I enjoyed the film, I agree that the continued coverage of this as a “feminist triumph” is a bit exaggerated. It does not hold up so well when you start looking at intersectionality with race

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    • I wouldn’t say that, personally. The movie is such a great triumph otherwise, that it missing one particular bullet point on the list of Requirements To Be Progressive I’m more than happy to forgive.

      I grow more convinced every day that no piece of art can possibly satisfy every quota as far as this kind of thing goes, there’s simply too many groups clamoring to be appealed to. And if you become too concerned with covering every conceivable base like that, there’s potential for the actual story to suffer from the strain and limitations for drama brought on by such.

      Long story short, it’s still very much a feminist triumph for the many, many things it gets right, IMO.

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    • I wouldn’t say that, personally. The movie is otherwise so phenomenal with most everything else, that it missing one particular bullet point on the Requirements to Be Progressive list, I’m happy to forgive. I frankly don’t believe it’s even possible to perfectly nail every conceivable social topic in any work of fiction, there are simply too many groups/topics clamoring to be covered.

      If writers became so obsessed as to fixate on covering every imaginable base with this kind of thing, it would probably never be greenlit, or damage the story itself by creating limitations for drama so as to not have any danger of causing the slightest offense. It’s just not practical, IMO.

      So when a film like this does come along, which gets as much right as it did, it’s certainly a triumph compared to most other media, and I would hesitate to dismiss it’s many accomplishments for a reason like that (especially since it’s likely not at all meant to be taken as ‘erasing people of color.’)

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      • That’s annoying, I ended up remaking my comment because I thought the original one didn’t go through. Whoops.

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  1. This movie was definitely a “pass” on my list until I started seeing reviews roll in – now I feel like I have to make the time! Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not going to lie, I was excited about this movie before I knew it was feminist. I watched the older ones when I was younger and loved them despite some of the violence against women. I’m just drawn to dystopian stories be it movies, books, or video games. Mad Max is easily the best movie that has come out in the last few years. Everyone agrees that it’s empowering for females, but it’s also empowering for males, in my opinion, because it shines a light on the war machine mentality that is often pushed on men.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree about it being empowering for men too. Nux’s story arc highlighted that “war machine mentality” really well, and it was the most heartfelt storyline in the entire movie. It was nice how all the wives saw Nux for who he was behind the mask of bravado.

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  3. YES! I was really, really hoping you would see this film, though part of me wondered if it would be your kind of thing given its such an extremely violent film. But I really do think this is a stunning achievement, not just in action filmmaking, but also the art of visual storytelling, which seems to have been lost in this age of ‘exposition every five minutes’. A thrilling, emotional ride of a flick, and probably my favorite of the year so far.

    And also…what a badass feminist statement, too. Charlize Theron has long deserved a role as cool and iconic as Furiosa, and I’m so dang happy she finally got it.

    Just…I could never shut up about the ways I love this movie. So glad you saw it!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I had no interest in seeing this movie until I heard about the MRAs trying to boycott it. Since then, I want to see it more and more because everything I’ve heard about it sounds so good. Thank you for your review of it!

    Liked by 2 people

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