Mad Max: Fury Road is here. It’s big, it’s loud and the car chase scenes (which make up about 90% of the movie) are ah-may-zing. Though the four of us tend to do the vast majority of our viewing on DVD (and occasionally VHS), what with our being an old school video shop and all, we do sometimes take ourselves to the cinema. Last week, Taylor, Bags and his housemate, Pete from Bristol Silents and I made our collective way down to the de Lux to see Mad Max: Fury Road in XPlus 3D with Dolby Atmos surround sound. It was awesome, if a little troubling…
After we got used to the feeling of the bass rumbling its way through our bodies and were entirely taken by the film’s impressive production design and kick-ass live action sequences, we had only to let the content play out. Or so I thought. As a part-time Australian, I found its representation of Indigenous cultural issues a little clunky.
George Miller hasn’t shied away from ideology and social commentary in this franchise. Sure, the Mad Max films are brilliant action movies but, like most dystopian storytelling, there’s plenty more to get stuck into. His earlier films have been subject to queer readings and discussion on issues of development and technology, fear of drought and diminishing natural resources, addiction, gender, race, class and other such serious social concerns.
Fury Road, as expected, has already been written about all across the internet. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, MRAs along with your garden variety misogynists have taken to the great uncensored cyber space to warn other men against seeing the film, lest they accidentally expose themselves to its supposedly sinister feminist agenda!
I’ll admit that hearing they were up in arms about the whole thing was what piqued my interest and, ultimately, inspired us lot to book such expensive cinema tickets. So, in that regard, well done MRAs for getting a part time Australian off her arse and into the cinema!
Unfortunately, and not at all surprisingly, MRAs and garden variety misogynists are also total farking idiots who don’t understand and can’t read film. Fury Road isn’t so much pushing a feminist agenda as it is a film that has a strong female character in a lead role, with other female characters in supporting roles and with a storyline that includes women trying to escape and fight against sexual enslavement and fascist rule. There are also strong male characters, in leading and supporting roles. The only difference is that in their quest to escape and fight fascist rule, there’s less to do. This is because they are, as male characters, not subject to sexual exploitation. They also fit into three categories, each one implicit in said fascist rule: 1) apathetic (Max), 2) brain washed minions (Nux) or, 3) the proverbial oppressors (Joe & co).
What is most fascinating about the film is when it shifts from top gear entertainment down into serious post-colonial Australian issues terrain. Miller might make big budget movies these days but he is Australian and the film did receive Screen Australia Producer Offset funding. Plus, the Mad Max films, for all their cross-culture entertainment value, have always been deeply Australian.
Fury Road is, for this part time Australian (and I dare say anyone who’s ever lived in Australia for any amount of time) a film that takes a sharp turn when it transitions from second to third act. In her quest to save the women from their bridal and breeding enslavement to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is headed straight to the place of her birth: The Green Place. When she talks about why she ever left, she reveals that she was stolen. Miller very deliberately uses the word ‘stolen’ in the dialogue and pauses thereafter. The Green Place no longer exists.
The weight of the stolen generation in Australia can never be lifted. It is one of many scars that post-colonial Australia must always bear.
What’s curious to me about the choice of this particular issue to serve the narrative is that Miller does so without casting Indigenous Australians in any of the key roles. Theron does an outstanding job as Furiosa but what are the implications of casting a non-Indigenous Australian in such a crucial role? Especially when Indigenous Australian women are so hugely under-represented in Australian cinema. One of the (many) stipulations of the Producer Offset funding is that it must have a certain percentage of Australianness (not SA’s official terminology) – some info on that can be found here.
Miller did plan to shoot the film in Australia, but apparently the weather gods were against him and it wasn’t quite dry or barren enough, forcing the shoot to relocate to Namibia – a little more on that here. Whether or not that had anything to do with other ways in which the film ended up being deeply Australian, I can’t say. What I wonder, though, is if the treatment of such a significant social, historical and cultural issue is adequate.
Though I’d agree Miller has paved a dangerous journey, I’m just not sure it’s furious enough.
Should you want to revisit any of the earlier films, we have them all, ready for renting, here at Flicks.