The Clan of the Boltcutter
or, Why Keys Are Not the Tools of Freedom
Science fiction is a genre that loves its stuff. For a genre of ideas, the invention frequently takes center stage as the manifestation of those ideas, as the crucial prop of the plot twists, and as the symbol of whatever deeper meaning we find in stories of the Future-That-Could-Be. In a world of outlandish vehicles, practical prosthetics, and that damn guitar, the humble boltcutter may be the most powerfully symbolic object in Mad Max: Fury Road.
The recurring skull/skull-in-steering-wheel motif certainly dominates the beginning of the movie. What are the women and the audience left with at the end, though? For a story of escape and freedom, in which locks and chains make repeated appearances, we need a symbol similarly oriented around getting out, away, loose. Not a key, I’d argue, nor a vehicle, but the boltcutter: a tool favorable for the physically weak, independent of any of their oppressors, and designed to dismantle that which binds.
(Warning: under the cut, spoilers for everything. Seriously, much spoiler, so details, very warning.)