“We are not things.”
Mad Max: Fury Road was supposed to be a failure. Filmmaker George Miller dominated the 1980s with the ultra-aggro Mad Max series, gave the world Mel Gibson in black leather tearing up the highway, fused together the Western and apocalypse genres, cemented a forever reference in pop culture with the thunderdome, and then … pivoted to writing and directing kids’ movies. Babe. Babe: Pig in the City. Happy Feet. Happy Feet Two. This man made some of the hardest movies ever and then settled into a career with piggies and penguins. I suppose it’s not really a surprise that when Miller started trying to get Mad Max: Fury Road made, Hollywood collectively laughed in his face.
Stuck in development hell for over a decade, the movie was delayed over and over again. Casting stalled. Production took nearly three years. There were reshoots upon reshoots. Blind items came out that costars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron hated each other. It felt like half of Twitter was holding its breath, grasping onto some hope that the movie would be good, and the other half was rooting for it to fail, no matter what. You still see those people floating around the Internet, the people who scoff at praise for Fury Road, who question its numerous Oscar wins, who are still pissed off that Hardy’s Mad Max let Charlize’s Imperator Furiosa use him to better aim her gun, who don’t understand why Miller turned a series about masculinity saving humanity into one about masculinity destroying humanity. Those people are assholes. Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film of the decade, a phenomenally visceral, unforgettably intense, deeply satisfying cinematic experience that serves as one of the most kick-ass embodiments of “We should all be feminists” I’ve ever seen. Ride or die, motherfuckers. Ride or die on Fury Road!
In the bleakly desolate Joe’s Citadel, Immortan Joe rules as a dictator pretending to be a demigod, a man convinced of his own immortality and his own unshakable power. The Citadel is built on one of the ravaged world’s only sources of water, and Joe is feared by the people who live there; worshiped by the War Boys, his spray paint-addicted army of proto-incels (they all look sort of like when Mikey Day dresses up for the David S. Pumpkins SNL sketch); and despised by his harem of five wives, young women he rapes and abuses and forces to birth him children. They are his breeders and his property, and how dare they desire anything more? When Joe’s trusted lieutenant Furiosa disappears with the wives, it’s an open act of war — setting off a chase across the desert as Furiosa attempts to reach the Green Place, a safe haven from her childhood, and is pursued by all of Joe’s men.
Who’s strapped on one of the War Boys’s rigged-up cars? Mad Max as a hood ornament, slowly being sapped of his blood, as much of a commodity as Joe’s wives. In this world, every person, every thing, every idea exists only to be consumed, to be subjugated, to be destroyed. It only makes sense, then, that Max joins Furiosa’s party against Joe, but it also makes sense for this world that Max’s story is not the primary one Miller is interested in telling. Max is our constant through this franchise, the entry into the dense mythology Miller has created, but he is no longer its primary keeper. That honor belongs to Furiosa, who Theron portrays as a woman consumed with hatred for her reality and for the men who care not what they do in the quest for power. Remember when Don Draper says in Mad Men that “happiness is the moment before you need more happiness”? Swap “power” in there instead and that’s Joe’s ruling philosophy — that nothing can or should be free when it could be controlled instead. That’s the zealotry that inspires the War Boys and the super-strong Rictus Erectus; that inspires Joe’s first-born son Corpus Colossus; that inspires Joe’s allies, the degenerate cannibal the People Eater and the former military officer the Bullet Farmer.
The desire to belong rather than to be free is what keeps all those men in line, and that’s toxic masculinity in a nutshell. Consider those scenes in Fury Road that show that goddamn sea of male bodies coming for Furiosa and the wives, and remember that the women keep going anyway. They would rather die than continue to be meat, and we should know their names: Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Joe’s favorite, who convinces all the women to leave with Furiosa. Capable (Riley Keough), who is so compassionate that she forms a bond with reformed War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz), whose knowledge of weaponry hints at a certain past before her bondage. The Dag (Abbey Lee Kershaw), who breaks the wives out of the locked chastity belts that Joe holds them in, who sees in the Keeper of the Seeds (Melissa Jaffer) a woman to whom she can aspire. Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton), whose youth and innocence are hardened during the journey.
Female leadership. Female partnership. Female companionship. Female camaraderie. Female mentorship. Female power. Furiosa’s War Rig always in motion, always pushing forward, always dreaming of a better reality than the one in which these women are trapped. Hope, and the willingness to do whatever necessary to make that hope real. You know what I think about a lot? Furiosa on her knees, screaming in regret and anguish for the destruction of her childhood home. The pain of that moment. The bone-deep exhaustion. And — most important of all, and the essential takeaway from Fury Road — the resolve to keep going.
I haven’t even talked about the fucking insane practical effects in the film, but oh yeah, THEY’RE CRAZY. Miller takes the Western-meets-biker-meets-steampunk vibe of the original trilogy and doesn’t dial it all the way up to 11; motherfucker breaks the goddamn speaker, throws it on the ground, and runs over it with a tanker truck while a guy playing a guitar that shoots fire is strapped into a whole other wall of speakers. Sorry that every scene of this movie could be a painting hanging in a museum. Sorry that editor Margaret Sixel and cinematographer John Seale collaborate on one of the most visually memorable films of this or any other decade. Sorry that Miller single-handedly destroyed the popular understanding of the Mad Max legacy to instead craft a film that has something to say about gender inequality, about the destruction of our environment, about the inherent corruption of patriarchy, about tribalism and nativism and their endless dangers. Sorry that it’s metal as fuck.
It’s chaos, perfectly organized and deeply emblematic of the shocking lengths to which Joe will go to get what he wants, to get back those girls in white dresses whom he locked away, to continue ruling over a world defined by fire and blood. And the deconstruction of that male-dominated system by the very women who Joe underestimated is sensational and unforgettable. We are not things, and we didn’t kill the world. We’ll bring it back to life.
This piece is part of Pajiba’s Favorite Movies of the 2010s series.
Header Image Source: YouTube/Mad Max: Fury Road