Feminist Criticism / Reviews

REVIEW- Mad Max: Fury Road: On patriarchy, thrash metal and the fury road

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It’s been 30 years since George Miller’s last outing on the road with Mad Max. It can be hard to come back to a series so embedded in the cult film phenomena and have a leading man so iconic that dad’s the world over are crying battle cries of ‘NO ONE CAN EVER BE MEL GIBSON!!’ But somehow, Miller has managed to create one of the best straight-up action films of at least, the past decade.

In the world of Mad Max, and in his own words, the only goal is to ‘survive’. Not stated in any particular time frame other than ‘sometime later’, violence is the way to survival, as shown in pretty much any dystopian movie, ever. The earth’s inhabitant’s have adapted, societies have been formed and the structure of yester-year has been forgotten, of course there is going to be anarchy and destruction; the entire basis of the original Mad Max trilogy. In this world, you cannot exist without violence and destruction; people born into this world find joy in the chaos, particularly the War Boys whose cries of ‘IMMORTAN’ and ‘WITNESS ME’ shrill through the cinema. We revel in their elation and gladly jump aboard the War Rig’s down the Fury Road. Cinema will always divulge the obscene and violent (that personally I can’t get enough of) and I don’t believe that will change soon, but when a film is directly commenting on patriarchy and social structure, how can we complain?!

Outside of the chase scenes, the ideas behind Fury Road are rooted in patriarchy. Despite the earth’s current state, a leader has emerged to exploit and use the people of the Citadel; Immortan Joe. Immortan Joe believes himself to be some form of deity, the man to save the people; he exploits different social groups for his own gain and controls access to water, food, milk and the gene pool, which has led to extreme deformities in his people. His ‘War Boys’ serve him, and deal with the action and the War Pups turn the cogs of the water wheel. The War Boys believe he has come to save them, that if they do his bidding he will grant them access to Valhalla (from Norse mythology), they are bred and rewarded for war, so I can forgive them for taking enjoyment in such acts. Immortan Joe is also a class A misogynist, he dabbles in sex slavery and keeps the most beautiful women in one room so he can use and abuse them and gain a male heir. In the case of ‘wife’ Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton), she even experiences a kind of Stockholm syndrome; attempting on numerous occasions to get back to Immortan where she believes she is safest. The reason dystopian movies are so great is because you can examine society in this way, you can break down these imaginary societies’ groups, see their motives and see the way they exploit different (if extreme), narratives, which can always been brought back to our current real-life society.

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Considering these traumatic events the five wives go through, there has also been much speculation about whether or not the film is ‘feminist’. For me, it’s a difficult task to solidly declare something ‘feminist’ or ‘not feminist’ because what might be empowering to one woman; may be downright offensive to another. My main criticism of the film as a whole was the lack of POC across the board and a few slurs (twice?). But what I’ve always admired, and will continue to praise, is someone who tries. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the film industry is not going to be bursting with varied characters of all ages, races, sexualities, genders and backgrounds in a day either. If we continue to praise and support movies that show some attempt and understanding then ‘up’ can be the only way, my friends.

As someone very much in love with the ‘gun wielding chicks’ trope but also very tired of the Hunger Games led trope of ‘this woman is saving her world because she is special, and the reason she is special is because she’s a woman and that’s SO unlikely’, Fury Road stood out to me in a film series usually so heavily drowned in testosterone. What was so interesting to me was that, George Miller could have set the plot as Max escaping from the Citadel and for some reason takes the brides with him too, but no, Miller chose a woman character to carry out the task. Imperator Furiosa may be my favourite female character in a LONG time, Charlize Theron is phenomenal as the one-armed War Rig driver (representation of disabled bodies, yes?!), her determination, clear passion and teary eyes all through the first half are forever embedded in my mind and her anguish at the ‘Green Place’ is up there in the most iconic shots in the film. Furiosa’s authority is never questioned by Max, her abilities as a woman are never doubted, and her abilities as a disabled woman are never doubted. Like anyone encountering another human in this barren wasteland, Max’s only hostility is upon their meeting when he’s trying to save his own life; the fact that even a lone ranger such as Max can respect women in a society where people kill, rape and blow each other up for kicks is quite a feat for your standard flashy blockbuster.

To the disappointment of many male fans and the elation of many female ones, the entire plot of Fury Road focuses around Furiosa’s transportation of Immortan’s Five Wives to the ‘Green Place’. Whilst a film discussing a woman single handily (literally) ending a sex slave trade in a never ending chase scene is completely thrilling, the brides themselves were pretty one-dimensional, a shame because the slight hints of their personality we did see were really interesting. Toast (Zoe Kravitz) clearly favoured herself as the next Furiosa, keen to handle weapons and get amongst the action, Capable (Riley Keough) showed great compassion for Nux, The Dag (Abbey Lee) was very spiritual but the most striking image in the entire 120 minutes for me was Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) throwing her pregnant body out of a car in a high speed chase to protect Furiosa, these women are not just pretty faces, they have individual personalities and what Miller managed to communicate in what he described as a ‘silent’ movie (relying little on dialogue and mainly on implying) was more than adequate.

The criticism of the wives’ beauty from viewers is rooted in misogyny; they are not too ‘model-like’ to be in this dystopia. Immortan chose these women specifically for their beauty, a man still practising the euro-centric beauty standards we hold currently. They were locked away and kept slim for breeding purposes; he clearly believes that keeping these women separate will eliminate the deformities in the gene pool. The first shot we see of the wives is also up for comment, what some say is a male-gaze doused magazine spread, I personally find to be an exclamation of freedom. The girls hose down in a desert, almost like a mirage. We see a close-up of the girls removing chastity belts, emblazoned with Immortan’s skull emblem, a sign of his property. With the breaking of the belts, the girls’ attitudes change, Abbey Lee Kershaw kicks hers away in a ‘fuck you’ to her previous life.  I also enjoyed the older female, their hardened faces and deep wrinkles telling a thousand stories, they had quick wit and a fast mouth, revelling in the thought of a new battle to face, these women have survived for so long, their thinking almost mimics that of the War Boys; killing for fun. The attitudes of Fury Road seek solace in women’s liberation and don’t shun or mock it.

Miller wanted to make a straight up action film, utilising the bigger budget and technologies 2015 has to offer, it’s excusable to me that the backstories run a little dry. The Mad Max franchise has been this way since its beginning, iconic characters are created and loved with just so much as a name; The Coma Doof warrior has already been solidified as a fan-favourite character from this film, and we know so little about him, his electrifying flamethrower metal sound-tracking the film and a distinct warning call for Immortan and the War Boys’ arrival. The thumping drums and booms amp up the film on a whole other level, something I haven’t felt since Interstellar. The way the different music was used to signify the arrival of another War Party was a sonic experience I need to see more of, and would happily sit and read an entire novella on every last character I seen on screen. This is what Miller has given us, a world so rich in detail and drenched with love that we can’t possibly comprehend the entire scale of the thing; I can only hope that Miller takes the critical success of Fury Road and adapts the same approach for his next few films. I can’t wait to see more of the rich comic book type cinematography even Zack Snyder would be envious of, and Tom Hardy’s ridiculously perfect pout. With an overall consensus of ‘THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN’ I hope the rest of the action movie world are quaking in their boots from the madness.

By Chloe Leeson


CHLOE

Chloe Leeson is 19 and from the north of England (the proper north). She believes Harmony Korine is the future and is pretty sure she coined the term ‘selfie central’. She doesn’t like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain but she does like Ezra Miller & Dane DeHaan a whole lot. Her favourite films are The Beach, Lords of Dogtown and Into the Wild. But DON’T talk to her about Paranormal Activity. She rants @kawaiigoff.

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