Wednesday, April 26, 2017

ENGL 3053: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Here, the cause of the apocalypse is far in the past (it seems to have been a combination of the death of oil, global climate change leading to massive drought, and nuclear war). We are years, possibly decades, past the actual apocalypse now, however, and into the attempt to rebuild. This movie is, in fact, about whose worldview – whose civilization – should rebuild the fallen world.

As the narrative opens, we are shown Max, who is the solitary wanderer who moves through all these movies, visiting different bands of survivors and giving aid or bringing destruction down upon those bands, depending on how the narrative judges them. He is, we can see from this, a kind of angel – the hand of the god/artist, as it were.

But unlike in the other three films that bear his name (Mad Max, Mad Max: The Road Warrior, and Mad Max: Thunderdome), Max is not the focus of this film. Rather, that role belongs to Furiosa, who appears as the film shifts its focus from Max to the Citadel, an oasis in the midst of the desert.

Here, Immortan Joe controls not just the water, but with that water the lives of those who depend on it. High up on the butte above the desert, Immortan Joe lives in a kind of palace fort, surrounded by his actual and his adopted sons – the Warboys and the Warlords – who fight to protect him and the Citadel, with the promise that upon their deaths in battle they will ascend to Valhalla. Immortan Joe is the literal patriarch (the dad) in this patriarchy.

The women in the Citadel – or at least the fertile women – are all Immortan Joe’s property. The “breeders” are kept in his locked harem; those who can produce milk are kept in his dairy. Furiosa, who is sterile, shows us that women who are sterile can serve Immortan Joe in other ways. (We also see women living down below the Citadel, among the scraps of humanity starving slowly there, but these don’t seem to count as actual citizens of the Citadel.)

Furiosa, with several of the Warlords riding along as protection, takes a big rig, pulling an oil tanker, off toward Gasoline Town, where she is to collect more fuel for the Citadel. (There’s also a Bullet Town. Immortan Joe has alliances with both of these places, as we find when he calls on both of them to come to his aid.) On the way, however, Furiosa goes off course, and we soon discover she is attempting an escape, having taken the enslaved women from Joe’s harem with her.

Joe, intuiting this at once, goes off to the harem, where he finds Miss Kitty (an interesting name!) who delivers a message to him: “They are not your property!” she shouts at him. “You cannot own people!”

And on the walls and floor of the harem more messages wait for him, left by the women: 




Immortan Joe, on the other hand, calls the women his property, his assets. And he has named them like they were animals. His favorite is named “Splendid,” for instance, while the brown-skinned one is called “Toast.” The red-headed one is called “Capable.”

You’ll remember the definition of evil that Granny Weatherwax gives us in Carpe Jugulum – treating people as things. Here, with Immortan Joe, we see it; and not just with his treatment of women, either. Notice how he treats the young men and boys in his Citadel. It is not just women who are his property, his assets. The young men and boys, his sons – these too are things to him.

Notice the difference between how Capable treats Nux (the Warboy who ends up on Furiosia’s rig) and the way Immortan Joe treats him. And although at first Furiosa and the other women on the rig react with hostility toward Nux, and toward Max, they soon accept both of them as brothers in arms – as fellow human beings, that is to say, and part of their community.

Notice how essential this is to the survival of the community of women. It is because they accept Nux and Max as one of their community that they survive. First, it is Nux who is able to get the rig out of the mud when they are stuck. Second, it is Nux who sacrifices himself to block the passage between the wastelands and the Citadel – without him, none of the women or Max would have survived to reach the Citadel. Finally, it is only with Max’s help that the women make the return, and that Furiosa survives. It is literally his blood that raises her from the dead.

So even though men are the natural enemy to these women – and with good cause – and you might expect them to reject any man, to bar all men from their community, it is only because they are able to see beyond their natural wariness and prejudice against not just Max (who might be an enemy) but Nux (who they know is an enemy) to accept these particular men as allies that these women survive.

Furiosa, and how we know she’s the hero here: Those of you who have seen the earlier Mad Max movies may remember that in those movies Max is not just banged up and post-apocalyptic (as he is here as well); he is also lame.

Why does this matter? In the classic monomyth which Joseph Campbell says informs all epic stories (well, all stories, really) the God-Hero is often lame.

What’s the monomyth? According to Joseph Campbell, this is the Ur-Story that underlies every story we tell. You might have heard this called the Hero’s Journey. It contains a number of steps or stages that every story supposedly has –
·        the hero is born in some magic or mystical way
·         the hero has a hidden or threatened childhood;
·        the hero is called to action; the hero refuses the call (first) but then accepts the quest;
·        the hero overcomes challenges on the journey
·        the hero meets a wise advisor / mentor
·        The hero travels to the land of the dead
·        The hero repents
·        the hero learns a great/terrible truth or receives a great gift
·        the hero returns, bearing the gift/truth to the community

Often this hero is the Year King figure, which is to say he is an Incarnate God, who dies for his community and is reborn so that the community can be saved. When the hero is the Year King, he will almost always be lame in some fashion – this is because, in the Year King mythos, the Year King was often lame.

Why would this Year King be lame? That's an interesting question. The Year King is a sacrificial god, one who takes the sins and crimes and bad luck of the community upon himself. He's the scapegoat god. The lameness may be an actual lameness -- a memory of how communities used to lame the Year King to keep the victim from running away before his year as "King" was up -- or it may be metaphorical, a kind of mark of Cain, the mark that shows the King has taken the burden of the grief and sin of the community upon himself.

If you’ve seen Road Warrior and Mad Max: Thunderdome, Max plays this role in those stories. In each of them, he is the lame God-Hero from outside the community who takes the burdens and responsibilities of the community upon himself, and who then “dies” and is reborn; he is the sacrifice that allows the community itself to be reborn, to live again.

Here in Mad Max: Fury Road, Furiosa is the lame God-Hero. She too comes from outside the community – the Green Place – and she then takes the responsibility of saving the community upon herself. She too sacrifices herself for the community. She too dies and is reborn (rising again with the help of Max’s blood). Through her, the community of the Citadel is reborn into a new community. 

The old patriarch, whose influence was birthing warped and terrible children, who believed they were things, is dead; the new community, with water for all – because everyone is a member of the community – and Furiosa as its leader, rises in its place.

This, the notion that everyone should be a member of the community, that seems to be the gift that Furiosa brings back, the thing that she has learned. Notice that both she and Max believe they need redemption. But what has Furiosa done that she needs to be redeemed for?

We know that she was stolen as a child from the Green Place – which seems to have been a matriarchy – and that her mother, who was stolen with her, died “on the third day,” presumably the third day after they were stolen. We know that eventually she ended up at the Citadel, where she became one of Immortan Joe’s Imperators, or commanders. It may be something she did in order to achieve that Imperator status that she feels she needs to repent.

On the other hand – think of that odd spooky scene, just before the rig arrives at the desert territory now held by the Many Mothers. The rig drives through a ghosty blue land, boggy, filled with crows and strange beings walking on stilts. None of that is explained, but the Many Mothers do tell Furiosa that this boggy land is what remains of the Green Place.

And we might notice that there are no boy children in the territory held by the Many Mothers. What became of their sons? According to some online sources, the Many Mothers abandoned their sons and brothers in the poisoned swamps of what had been the Green Place – and always had. When a Mother wanted a child, she would visit the men who had been abandoned in order to gather sperm, and then leave the abandoned ones again.

This may be what Furiosa needs to repent – like Immortan Joe, she too (along with the women of her community) has turned people into things.

If this is the case, then her redemption, like Max’s, comes there in the desert, when she and Max both accept one another as equal members of the community, and resolve to turn back and reclaim the Citadel as a place where everyone can have membership in the human community.

No comments:

Post a Comment