Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Monday 28 December 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road… Some Thoughts

Mad Max: Fury Road The website
Yes, I’m late to the party; I just watched this movie, at home, last night.

Christmas is a great time to catch up on movies we’ve been planning to watch, and we have, and this was one of them.

I was around for screenings of the original trio of Mad Max films with Mel Gibson in the eponymous hero role, and I enjoyed them at the time, although Thunderdome was less good than the first two films. The ideas were fresh, then; we’d never seen anything quite like what Miller was doing in the genre. We bought into the concept.

When Fury Road hit the screens back in the summer, it got a big audience and a lot of attention. I was told by quite a lot of people that they were interested in my take on the film when I saw it. I was keen to see it; I heard and read over and over again that it was a game-changer for women in film. I read and heard that this was an action movie with key female roles and that there were feminist themes.

I was surprised… Not that there could be room for roles for women, because, why not? We all know women can drive, and these movies are all about the vehicles. I was surprised that anyone would want to make a Mad Max movie with a feminist agenda anywhere near its heart. Honestly, this brand is pretty wedded to its post-apocalyptic, barren World themes, and I wasn’t sure there was room for more. It’s all about the action, isn’t it? Big crazy vehicles, linear storytelling and lots of action: The storytelling follows the trajectory of the action. We go on a journey, stuff happens and we end up where we’re supposed to be.

In the end, this, like the other movies in the franchise, is about survival. It’s somewhat about home, another thread that runs through the movies, since Max has always been displaced. There’s some vengeance, and, I suppose, moral corruption, but that’s not unusual in a movie this violent.

This movie is violent, and not just in the action sequences, which take place on the road. The imagery, from the outset, is incredibly violent and disturbing. It’s also beautifully done. The visuals are spectacular, while at the same time being absolutely in keeping with the earlier movies. It’s hard to fault the intent of this film to deliver an action-packed slice of more-of-the-same.

Of course, people who know me will want to know what I thought of this as a film about women, and whether I agree that it had a feminist agenda.

There are women in this film where they were mostly absent from the first three movies in the series. It is worth remembering, though, that it was the loss of his family that first set Max on his path through the films.

Charlize Theron plays Furiosa in the movie. As far as I can tell, she’s the only female driver, and this was my first problem. There is no explanation for her unique role in this society where women as young and beautiful as she is are routinely held captive as ‘breeders’. I wondered how she avoided her natural fate. This was a particularly knotty problem given that she was stolen as a child, and it became a massive plot hole for me.

I have no problem with this role being written for a woman… Let’s have more key roles for women actors, lots more! I simply wish there'd been a plausible reason for it. 

I’m also becoming very jaded by the backstories introduced for female characters in almost every film. When was the last time you saw a key female character that didn’t have a backstory that involved some kind of neglect, misery, abuse, tragedy or loss? That’s right… You could answer that question with ‘never’ and I’d be prepared to believe you. Why must the damage that’s been done to women always be their motivation for everything? 

Yes, we live in a society in which women are constantly damaged and undermined; we can and do all talk about those experiences. Those are not always the things that motivate us, though; they are not always the biggest things in our lives. Sometimes, we’re motivated by the positives. We are often bigger and stronger and better than the shit we’ve been through, and it’s time some of that was seen on screen.

That brings me very neatly to the ‘breeders’, who have, of course, had miserable lives. This film is ostensibly about their rescue. Yes, this is, for all intents and purposes, a ‘damsel in distress’ scenario. As a feminist, this is something else I’m rather tired of. These women have no agency of their own, and, obviously, they’re incredibly beautiful, white, young, and they’re wearing almost nothing. (Not for nothing there’s also a blonde, a redhead and a brunette, just to keep all the male viewers happy). We’ve been seeing this trope in films made by men for men since girls were tied to train tracks in silent movies.

Film criticism is often written by quite intelligent white men, and I’m happy for them to read this and any other movie any way they want to, but the majority of film-goers are not critics. When your average Joe sees a movie like this, or when your average misogynist goes, what he’s seeing is his fantasy, because he’s seeing the victimisation, the subjugation of women. The ‘breeders’ spend most of this movie half-naked, terrified and being chased down by men. As a feminist, I don’t find that empowering, and those images don’t represent any feminist agenda that I espouse.

Add to all of this the fact that one of those 'breeders' falls in love with one of the enemy, because, let’s face it, women can’t live without men, even a man who was trying to kill her hours before… Well, you get my drift. Yes, I know he switches sides and comes to the breeder’s rescue, but look at the type of man we’re talking about!

On the subject of saviours, Furiosa is a key character in this film, and one that women and even feminists are supposed to identify with, but it’s Max who makes the decisions. He persuades the women to return, and he saves Furiosa with the live blood transfusion… The women would absolutely have failed were it not for Mad Max, the real hero of the movie.

I know that there are women out there who like this film, and I know that there are women who saw it and for whom it ticked feminist boxes. I wonder whether some of this is about appropriation. The idea of the ‘breeders’ was a neat way of getting women onboard, of appealing to us. Childbirth and breastfeeding belong to women. Take those things away from us, and we fight for them.

Again, I had problems with this. Breast milk certainly appears to be some kind of commodity in this society, but it’s never explained what value it has or why. Furiosa doesn't try to take down the regime, she doesn’t appear to have a feminist agenda of her own with regard to the abuse of the ‘breeders’, or, more particularly, to the appropriation of the breast milk. The rescued ‘breeders’ don’t discuss it, and Furiosa rescues only these four women, the young, beautiful women. We clearly see more established breeders continuing to be held captive and being milked, and their is no plan to change their fates. 

Then, of course, there’s the caesarian scene, the second of its type in a movie in the past couple of years… I’m sure you all remember Prometheus

These two caesarian scenes are about appropriation, the abuse of women, and about ownership of offspring. They’re about patriarchy. They cut a swathe through feminism. They make things worse for women, not better, because they demonstrate how easy it is to rob women of the very last things that we can claim as our own. 

Those are the images that misogynists take away from this film.

It’s too easy to assume some kind of happy ending in the closing scenes of Fury Road, but we’re left with a morally corrupt society, and a broken, disabled woman to lead it, who has failed in her original undertaking. She wanted to go home, after all.

There is the hope that this might become the new Green Place, of course, but we all know what the chances are of that happening. Hope is a small thing. We all know that the Keeper of the Seeds is an old woman, and, by definition barren. Will the seeds prove to be the same?

Mad Max: Fury Road is a pretty good action adventure. It ticks a lot of boxes for those who like a film that looks good and moves at a pace. I quite enjoyed watching it, not least for the nostalgia of reliving the ideas from the original movies, which it matches pretty neatly.

This absolutely wasn’t a feminist movie. I’m not even sure that it wanted to be, and if it did, the all-male writing team and George Miller, the director, might have considered running their ideas past a woman before they put Fury Road into production.


  1. As a huge Fury Road fan, this was an interesting read and made me think about things a little differently. I agreed with all your points for sure.

    In a rather unfortunate series of events, the tie-in comics drop any pretence of being potentially empowering for women and become really stale and trite, as well as canonically suggesting the "home" Furiosa et al discover isn't one that will last, even with their patriarchal overlords cast down.

  2. I just wanted to say that they did ask a woman.

    1. Thanks, Delphine, very interesting. Eve Ensler, was, of course, invited to join Miller 'on-set', after all the key decisions were made. She wasn't part of the writing or decision making process before the movie went into production.

  3. Wow it never occurred to me that this film was thought of as having a feminist theme. I thought it was pretty misogynistic, for all the reasons that you described. I did not enjoy it for those reasons, and would have turned it off had I not been watching with my son. I particularly thought the love story was unbelievable as well as galling and share your fatigue with the "damsel in distress" trope. Lots of women I know do very well getting themselves in and out of trouble without help from men (well, sometimes the men "help" with the getting in trouble part). As it was, my son and I had a talk about men and women in film after we watched it, and that conversation, I am glad to say, continues. Thanks for writing about helped me see a potentially different view even if, like you, I did not see the film through that lens.

  4. I think this is an interesting take, though not necessarily one I can entirely agree with. While I'm not sure I would describe Fury Road as a feminist film, it has some interesting themes which are not acknowledged here. It's worth noting that there is a black female character amongst the Immortan Joe's brides but you don't mention her in the review.

    I'm also not entirely sure that the reference to the older, established breeders are necessarily treated correctly in the review. They seem, or at least, some of the characters initially seem, to be cognisant of the escape and to have assisted it. They have tried to save those younger members of the breeding pool so to speak. And Furiosa and the Brides stop running when they realise that the utopian female homeland has been destroyed. Instead, they take their own home back and, it seems, intend to make it their own.

    Now, while I do agree with the notion that no female character can appear in main stream media nowadays without a tragic back story, every character in MM:FR has one of these- especially Max. And Max himself is exploited just as the breeders are exploited for an essential substance taken from his body- blood. The world in which these characters exist is exploitative in every sense, irrespective of gender. I think this is the key point of the film- that within the post apocalyptic wilderness, men and women are equal in their subjugation. The relationship between the war boy and the wife is indicative of this: they form a non-sexual relationship based on a tenderness which neither of them has been able to experience before. They don't exploit one another; in fact, he does on her behalf- not feminist as such, but through the perspective I've touched on above, it makes thematic sense. I think the film has more to it then the review necessarily acknowledges.

    That being said, the review made me think about the film very carefully again. Thanks!

    1. That should be 'he dies on her behalf' not 'he does on her behalf'. Very different sentence otherwise!

  5. A Max on a different mad level...

  6. A Max on a different mad level...