Jesse Heinig (trekhead) wrote,
Jesse Heinig
trekhead

Fury Road

Like many other people but not as many as those who went to see Pitch Perfect 2, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road.

This is an interesting movie. I have some things to say about it, hopefully without giving away too much.

Matt Colville​, always an interesting commentator on movies, had some thoughts about it too, though his is more spoiler-y. You can read about his impressions here.

I think it is interesting as a note about our society that our artistic movies, our commentary movies, our movies about who we are as a people, are now this filled with violence and dystopia. I suppose though that for anyone who grew up in the '80s in the U.S. this is nothing new. We all lived under the spectre of mutually-assured destruction and the fear of imminent nuclear Armageddon.

Fury Road is, basically, a two-hour car chase, one that goes back and forth and winds up ending where it started. Of course, that's how many good stories work: Something happens to change the status quo, characters leave their home and come back wiser, sometimes upending the society upon their return. That's basically the formula here, and it works very well, because the characters reveal themselves in the journey and the movie is very tightly wound, with pretty much every element that's introduced important either as a catalyst to a later event or due to its symbolic power.

I feel like Fury Road is a movie that you can get a lot of meaning out of, but what meaning you get will be largely based on your own interpretation. I feel like George Miller made a spectacular romp, knowing exactly what he could get away with in terms of story and action and CGI, and he made many events that matter as the movie unfolds, but a lot of meaning in it is based on what you decide to apply to it.

The brief opening mention of oil wars and water wars should sound familiar to anyone living in California. It's a future that we simultaneously tell ourselves will never happen while secretly dreading that it's just around the corner. This is perhaps important to Max's characterization; he's a shellshocked survivor from a world mostly familiar to us, trapped in a hellscape of our creation.

This is one of the important parts of Mad Max's dystopias: They aren't of an Earth destroyed by a meteor or a volcano. They're destroyed by us. In all of Miller's Mad Max movies, there's some kind of cult-like leader figure (the Night Rider, Lord Humungus, Aunty Entity, etc.) who's building their own society from the ruins of the old world. As the movies become increasingly bleak and dystopian, these leaders become more and more wrapped up in eccentricities, in religious trappings, and in their grip on control of the precious resources of life. Even trampled, the world can support a little bit of life, but just like a two-headed lizard, life takes on strange forms when it's put under such pressure.

In Fury Road, Max tackles the question left hanging at the end of Beyond Thunderdome: Where is there to go? Where's the promised land? Where can we make a new home? Obviously the viewer knows that Max will never find a new home. His old home is dead and destroyed and all he has left is wandering and survival. With Fury Road, Max goes out to help look for a new home, but in the end he says, there is no new home. There is only the home you have. It's up to you to make it worth living in.

To me, this is inspirational. It's one of those moments where I take meaning from the movie that might or might not be intended, as I mentioned earlier. Max is dragged into a dysfunctional society of warriors who live in what could be a paradise, but it's under the thumb of a diseased dictator (a familiar and recurring trope of Miller's). At first, some people want to escape. They want to find another paradise, a promised land where they can raise children and live in green and have peace. After all their struggles, though, Max tells them bluntly, there is no promised land. Out there is nothing but desolation and death. If you want to live in a peaceful, green, flourishing society, you must make it. You must take it from the hands of tyrants and shape it into the paradise that you dream about.

The parallels of this message, the message that there's nowhere else to go so you have to make your home livable, with the offhand comment early in the movie about "water wars" is obvious. It's a kind of ecological litany crossed with an invocation against tyranny. We only have one world to live on, and if we overtax it and make it poisonous to us, if we let tyrants control the water and the green and all that lives and grows, it will choke us and kill us. The only thing we can do is try to turn the home that we have into the paradise that it could be, and to do that we must overthrow the tyrants who want to control all of the life and poison all the minds of its people. And Mad Max doesn't shy away from saying that many will die along the way, and many will never see that promised land. Even innocents. Children. Unborn babies. They will be casualties of these struggles. Because just as Max is desperate to survive at any cost, if humans are to survive we will have to pay costs for the horrors that we've racked up. But there's nowhere else to go, nobody out there who will swoop in and save us, so it's up to us to figure out how to make our world one that we can live in.

Another message that I took away is that of consequences. Arguably that's just good plotting: every significant action has a consequence down the road. You accidentally nick someone's leg while wildly firing a gun, and it's that injury that leads to the victim's death later. You establish that Max is an unwitting life-giver -- he's a universal blood donor -- and this ties him to other unwitting life-givers, when the tyrant of the piece tries to claim them all as property.

There's a lot of transformation, too. The movie's replete with chains. Chains are constantly used to hold people back, to turn them into chattel. Those chains must be cut or thrown off in order to move forward. Yet those same chains can bring people together, force them to cooperate or help them to work for a bigger cause that they can't do alone. It's pretty straightforward symbolism, but it feels like it's pointing to the idea that there are symbols in this movie, here's an obvious one, now go find more. The chains point toward other bindings: masks, chastity belts, artificial pieces made to bind people; it's when they are removed or cast off that people are able to develop bonds to each other and form their own road community. Every one in Max's unwitting band undergoes some kind of transformation along the way, whether learning to fight, exchanging dreams of the past for a hope of a new kind of future, or from living to dead. Max is looking for that transformation - he wants to leave behind his nightmares and be at peace with himself - but he gets something else instead: He succeeds in helping someone he cares about. This is important because it's something he was never able to do before. His wife and son were murdered. The peaceful inhabitants of the refinery were killed en masse and then forced out of their home. The children hoping to go to the Promised Land in Beyond Thunderdome . . .  well we don't really know what happened to them but the implication in Fury Road is, nothing good. This time, Max connects with someone -- he doesn't want to, but he can't help it -- and he saves them. He makes things better. His destructive power, channeled in concert with a glimmer of hope for a new world, becomes a revolutionary force.

You can find other messages in Fury Road, too, whether feminist or fascist or futhark. Some are uplifting, some are horrific, but that's the funny thing about our world: It's full of things wonderful and terrible. Mad Max's world is pretty awful with glimmers of good. So how good do we have it, in our world that's pretty good with some pieces of pure nastiness? And how much will it take for us to take responsibility and keep our world from sliding down from pretty good to pretty bad?

Also, lots of cars explode.

Tags: movie, review
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