In Mad Max: Fury Road…
Nobody falls in love with Tom Hardy (who’s a real dreamboat).
Men die. Women die.
All this—It’s wonderful.
Not because people die, but because the women and men who do have names, weapons, and relationships. Because Tom Hardy’s version of Max is a supporter, friend, and fighter, and because the bodies who could have been naked are discovering their own sexuality, not putting it on display for the moviegoers.
I can explain.
Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), who is the “Mad Max” of the famous franchise, starts the movie with a voice-over update of the post-apocalyptic world in which he lives. Right away, we understand that the title character’s motivation is to survive. It’s not clear he’ll be able to do this when he’s captured for use as a living blood bag. So when Max meets Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), it looks like a fantastic escape; he’s going to steal her War Rig and outrun the “war boys” who are siphoning his blood. But he can’t simply do that. He needs Furiosa to drive the rig, and she only goes if the wives go too.
See, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) is the leader of “the Citadel,” and controls the water and “guzzoline” (fuel) of their domain. Along with this power, he breeds with these wives to create a perfect son—one who could be fully human, without deformation, in this landscape where almost everyone has some sort of fault from the radioactivity invading their bodies. Toast the Knowing, The Dag, Cheedo the Fragile, Capable, and The Splendid Angharad are his breeders, attractive sex slaves that Immortan Joe kept for years as his property. But Furiosa’s helped the wives out of the Citadel, and the next step is to get all of them to the “Green Place,” where other free women live, enjoying enough resources for all.
And this is where we learn about the big picture. The main point. The focus—whatever you want to call it. Here’s where it’s hinted that Furisosa doesn’t just want to help women escape, she wants to go back to the green place to flourish with them. She was born in that wholesome, lush paradise, and wants them to know the innocence she felt there. She wants to be redeemed.
There can be great movies with no lesson. This isn’t one of them. It’s still an action film, still a flame-throwing, muscle-car-laden, dialogue-lacking flick.
But it’s redemptive.
And this redemption is found in the feminism of the movie.It’s the details of the film that make Furiosa the lead character when all is said and done. It’s the moments when she drives the War Rig like the master of it that she is, or takes on Max in a fight sequence, or when she leans on his shoulder to take the decisive shot at their would-be captors. At times we realize that Furiosa and the wives need Max, but not to be their hero—he’s a peer, an equal. He helps them escape, but he’s not their rescuer. He befriends Furiosa, but never takes advantage of her. He fights alongside, not in place of.
I know, I know. That’s not exactly redemption. But here’s my case: On my most idealistic, most spiritual days, I’m a pacifist. However, in an alternate world in which the women are going to kill or be killed/enslaved, the violence they commit is good in that it breaks the stereotype that women cannot handle their own battles.
So, women in this movie get killed.
Deep into Fury Road, a biker gang of elderly women help the wives, Furiosa, and Max fight off Immortan Joe and his allies, and some of them die. The idea is not that we should ignore this or brush it off as a painful necessity; we get to see them as characters, warriors, who hold their own and get to live and eventually die as equally capable fighters. If women are to be taken seriously as a part of the force against evil, then we must accept the loss that accompanies that responsibility.
Feminism inherently implies that women are freed of excessive socially constructed assumptions of how they should behave, and this is important in a theoretical, post-apocalyptic world where action, especially violent action, is the main form of communication.
I wish I didn’t have to point out the strong female roles in Fury Road. Director George Miller seems to have made the movie to tell a good story—not to make a statement supporting feminism. The feminist tones are neither subversive nor overt. Imperator Furiosa is a flawed, dynamic character. She develops as an individual who guides an enthralling story. But her strength and that of the wives needs to be brought up, because this particular action flick is redeeming a generally male-dominated, misogynistic genre of film, and that’s what makes it wonderful.
The women of Mad Max: Fury Road establish themselves as protagonists by acting on their own volition to survive through violence. The movie shows them exercising their power as individuals, especially as they determine their own values and develop their sexuality throughout the film.
Like the movie, this article isn’t about Max. He’s important, no doubt. But the women in the film don’t show up for him. They are valued because they exist.
They are valued because they are human, because they are self-contained. Because they may be broken, but they are being made whole. Because this is about redemption.
Hope is real, good, and needed. Hope is helpful. But redemption is the goal. To wit, redemption is the point of the gospel. The heaven Christians hope for isn’t at the top of an escalator to the clouds; it’s the moment when God restores the Earth. Consummation won’t happen until redemption’s occurred. We redeem things in this world because we know that it’s best for others, for ourselves, and for our home.
Furiosa explicitly tells Max she’s looking for this. We realize what Max’s role is when he suggests to her that redemption may not mean going back to where she was born, but going back to a place where she can bring meaning, wholeness, and purpose.
It’s in that place she may redeem something.
Now, redemption is not the same as bringing order to madness. Redemption is taking a structure that already is and shaking out the dark and evil bits to establish a right-side-up version of what was corrupt.
In the movie, they go back. Imperator Furiosa, each one of the women who were wives of Immortan Joe, and Max. Why would they do that? It’s because we don’t fight to colonize, to gain new land. We work to take back the world that was created to be beautiful, luscious, and plentiful. We restore the people, the land, the institutions. Because, in the words of Max, “At least that way we’ll be able to … together … come across some kind of redemption.”