There are times when I wonder if George Miller deliberately went and created an incredibly elaborate troll when he made Mad Max: Fury Road.
I say this because while the film has generated a great deal of discussion in the oft-contentious arena of gender politics, it’s a film that can be unpacked on a sufficient number of levels as to be quite possibly tweaking the nose of functionally everyone who is both lauding and attacking it.
I emphasize the word “can”, because as is so often the case, it’s difficult to discern the intent of the author without directly questioning them, and even then the author often conspires to keep the audience guessing, out of sheer contrariness.
That having been said…
It could be argued that Fury Road is, contrary to what many people seem to think, not a “feminist” film.
SPOILER ALERT, PROCEED FURTHER AT YOUR OWN RISK
The “feminist” angle I’m referring to here is the focus on Imperator Furiosa’s journey, (though to be frank the role of Max has been that of a facilitator for the character’s two previous outings), specifically her escape from the blatantly patriarchal society centered around the villain Immortan Joe and flight to the blatantly matriarchal society centered around her former tribe, the Vuvalini.
Yes, it’s as difficult to write those names with a straight face as it is to read them, I assure you.
While Max spends the first act or two playing the thrilling role of a hood ornament, Furiosa leads the wayward wives of Immortan Joe towards the semi-mythical Green Place, the home of the Vuvalini. And while ultimately Max proves to be the deciding factor in their reaching that far-away land, it’s what happens when they do that could be argued as undermining the film’s “feminist” credentials.
And yes, there’s a reason I keep putting that word in quotes. Bear with me.
Because when they get there, they don’t find some magical wonderland, a post-apocalyptic utopia ruled over by wise matriarchs.
No, what they find when they get there is a trap, with one of the younger Vuvalini playing the role of a literal damsel-in-distress in order to lure travelers to their doom.
If we’re to assign the role of patriarchy to the kingdom of Immortan Joe, and the role of feminism to the Vuvalini, what is George Miller saying about modern feminism? The thought intrigues me, in no small part because I’m doubtful that Miller intended to say anything in particular, but you can still read it into the work.
Once again, I realize that at some point in the last twenty years, I became my English professor.
What do we know about the Vuvalini? They failed. The Green Place was destroyed by their inability to adapt to a changing world, and rather than move on or evolve, they instead squat in the ruins of what was and prey on those who stray into their domain.
One could argue that George Miller is showing the audience two broken systems, not simply one.
Furiosa’s role actually strengthens that argument, given her background. Taken from the Vuvalini at an early age and enslaved by Immortan Joe, she is, in effect, a child of both worlds, fluent in the strengths and weaknesses of both systems. She’s a woman, yes, but doomed to fail without the intervention of Max, who while he may be a man, exists outside of the established systems.
If one were willing to put that literary damp clout in a vise and squeeze a veritable torrent from it, one could almost interpret Fury Road as George Miller telling us that the real solution isn’t established feminism, or established patriarchy, or whatever ideology you believe in or adhere to, but rather setting aside all of that nonsense and just treating each other as individuals.
Then again, it’s probably just a movie about a two hour post-apocalyptic car chase.