Why MM:FR Was the Most Tasteful Action Movie I’ve Seen
Things that the film handled with restraint:
Rape: As countless people have said – Half of the movie’s main cast consists of sex slaves. And there’s not a single rape scene.
Gore: The film looks exactly the type to be ultra-violent a la Quentin Tarantino. But it’s not. The one gory moment is one that you can see coming from miles away and lasts only for a second. And even then, it’s not terrible. Considering this, the movie probably could have had a PG-13 rating with minor alteration.
Sexualization: Five women wearing nothing but gauze sounds like a recipe for anything but what we got; no lingering, awkward, bodily shots. There was even a scene with a completely naked young woman with the camera focused directly on her. Guess what. The camera treated her exactly as if she were wearing flannel pajamas.
Degradation of women: Bad people get upset. We get that. Sometimes they like to swear at our heroines. And yet no one felt the need to say “bitch,” “cunt,” or “whore.” How a film managed to present about the least female-friendly society you can imagine but treated its female characters with more respect than 99% of action movies is beyond me.
Things that the film did not handle with restraint:
Gender equality: No one once says “Women are ___,” or “Men are ___.” It almost seems like outside of Immortan Joe’s freakishly utilitarian society, men and women get along just fine. Huh. Weird.
Death: Good and bad people die alike on the Fury Road; very quickly. It’s your typical action movie body count. But in a move that’s both odd and brilliant, the film spends a good amount of it’s scarce dialogue detailing what death means to the characters. For some, it’s a suicidal call to honor. For others, it’s a necessary risk to bring about more life. People die in droves. And it’s sad. Death matters.
Criticism: This is about the most critical movie of gender inequality, capitalism, and fascism I’ve ever seen without anyone ever mentioning gender inequality, capitalism or fascism.
COMPASSION: I can’t state this enough. This is a post-apocalyptic genre movie where people kill each other over sex slaves, border disputes, and cars and its message is hope and compassion. The biggest, most heroic moment of the movie is an act of healing, not an act of violence. WHOA.
I was thinking about Furiosa’s last (and only) words to Immortan Joe: “Remember me.”
That line’s always kind of puzzled me. Is it a challenge? A rhetorical question? A “fuck you”? A reckoning? All of the above? I mean, it’s no doubt a pretty badass thing to growl at the tyrant who abducted and enslaved you right before you tear his face off, but I started thinking about its similarities to another of Fury Road’s Arc Words: “Witness me.”
When you’re a War Boy, your body is an expendable, broken-down machine, your torturous half-life spent waiting for the ultimate self-sacrificing high; the best you can hope for is a spectacular death, for that death to be “witnessed.” The worst thing you can hear is the scoff of “mediocre”: your life, you thought, was building to this moment; you cast yourself on the pyre of blood and chrome with hopes of eternal glory; you gave up everything, and it wasn’t enough. Your half-life (and afterlife) hinges on the moment of your death, and how well it served your god-king.
Now, let’s look at the Vuvalini’s death-rite. You know the one.
In contrast to the War Boy’s bombastic cry of “Witness!”, this action is quiet, a silent promise to remember, to write the names of the lost on one’s heart. This is not a weakness- the Vuvalini are nothing if not resourceful and resilient, despite the tragedies that have befallen their once-prosperous clan.
But those they lost are never forgotten- who they were is more important than how they died. Thematically, this healthy and compassionate culture of remembrance contrasts with Max and his frequent visions of “those I could not protect.”
Memory is a theme that is especially present in Fury Road, and yet it’s the aspect of the film’s thematic gamut that I see least discussed. Mad Max as a whole takes place in a sort of limbic time warp. How long ago were these disasters? The oil shortages, the flying nukes, the water wars? Fury Road might take place two decades or two centuries after this cataclysm. Even people who grew to adulthood in the old world, like Max and the Vuvalini are implied to, have foggy, off-kilter memories of those times (”Everyone had a show…”), that seem more like secondhand myths than actual recollection. The old world has passed into legend and superstition even to those who lived in it.
The remnants and parphenalia of the pre-apocalypse and their use in the post- is a major cornerstone of Mad Max’s aesthetic, and even in this, there is a clear thematic distinction between how these trappings manifest between groups. The Buzzards, for instance, seemingly lacking even the demented ingenuity of Immortan Joe’s rev-heads, merely scavenge the past, cannibalizing it into a shape that is feral, ungainly, and myopic.
Immortan Joe’s empire is a blood-soaked engine whose organic components are reduced to their function- whatever it is that they can do or give to benefit Joe, whether it be milk, blood, or children. It’s no wonder the War Boys’ fetishize and worship of technology. They regard their own diseased, “half-life” bodies as inferior to the vehicles they’re obsessed with- strong and solid and never-tiring. Indeed their doctor is even called “the Organic Mechanic” and they bear circuit-like engine-tattoos and ceremonial chrome mouth-spray-paint to imitate the mighty machines they worship and envy.
The accoutrements of the past are used as symbols of power, or else hoarded away, as in the vault-like chamber where Joe keep his wives and other “treasures.”
The Vuvalini (and to a wider extent, the women of Fury Road), are the keepers of memory and hope.
Their way is not fetishization, but preservation. From the bag of seeds to their extensive clan and familial history, the Many Mothers have a rich and vital store of knowledge and culture. And, of course, lets not forget Ms. Giddy, the History Woman, literally the physical embodiment of knowledge, her body a living record.
So back to Furiosa, who herself has gone on a journey from being trapped in the depths of the War Boy culture to reconnecting with her past and, like Max, relearning how to connect with people, to move beyond the instincts of survival. In the moment of her confrontation with Joe astride his Gigahorse (incidentally the first, last, and only time in the entire film that Joe comes truly face-to-face with either of our protagonists), Furiosa sums up her entire journey, not just in the film, but over the course of her entire life, in those two words, before literally, figuratively, and gruesomely ripping the mask off the false god and spelling an end to his horrific ideology. From this perspective, “Remember me” is a powerful statement, the mantra of the society that Furiosa, the Vuvalini, and the no-longer-Wives will build, where people are more than their “usefulness”; where the past has lessons to teach, not just trappings of power to grant; where those you’ve lost do not become spectres, but immortalized in memory.
In the fires of armageddon, one ideology says that you are infinitesimal, expendable, that the world will not miss you, is not capable of missing you. The other promises that there is more to you than your base instincts of survival or your “function” in a harsh and violent world; that your name will be remembered; that those who survive you will not forget.
My character design of ‘Colossus’ from “Rickmancing the Stone”….I feel so honored to have worked alongside the amazing people I did this season. Thank you everyone. Art direction: Jeffrey Thompson - Color direction: Jason Boesch - Color by Eric Omega