Roger Ebert liked to create descriptive phrases for specific cliches that happened in movies. Mostly applied to SF and Horror movies, there was one phrase he called “The Refrigerator Moment”, in reference to thoughts that only occur to you at 3 o’clock in the morning, when you’re standing in front of the refrigerator.
My mind doesn’t seem to work quite that fast. These thoughts only occur to me many months (sometimes years) after having watched a movie 137 times. I’m doing pretty good to have gotten to my Fridge moment with Mad Max: Fury Road, after only a few months and about 10 re-watches. (Also, I’m almost never standing in front of my refrigerator at 3AM.) Some of these thoughts occurred to me over several days and nights and they’re all mushed with memories of other Mad Max movies, which I haven’t seen in a while.
This is pretty much how my mind both amuses, and exhausts itself, on a sleepless night.
We were first introduced to Max Rockatansky in the 1979 Mad Max movie, in which his wife gets fridged, and which no one remembers, (or if they do, they pretend not to), because we get re-introduced to him at the beginning of Fury Road. We pretty much have to guess it’s him. He’s the first human being we see, and he’s running from some crazy people, which is what Max does in all his movies, so he fits the description.
The beginning of the movie is confusing because Max stops, seemingly in the middle of his chase sequence, to have a smoke and eat a lizard, while his pursuers pause just long enough for him to complete these important activities. I still don’t understand if the “War Boys” were just minutes, hours, or days away from him, but the editing makes it look like they were just a few seconds away. And if they were right behind him, why did Max break for a snack?
The War Boys take him back to the Citadel of Immortan Joe. Joe looks like he’s been through some shit and is old enough to have lived through the collapse of the old world, which makes me wonder, what kind of nobody he was before he became a dictator. In the words of Auntie Entity from Thunderdome, “One minute cock of the walk. The next a feather duster.” His body is covered with what looks like leprosy, cancer or Hell, for all I know, radiation burns. I wonder about the things he’s seen, where he’s been, and what made him the way he is.
My head canon would love to believe Joe is the grownup Feral Kid from The Road Warrior, but if that were the case that would make Max an immortal being, of some kind, destined to wander the Australian wastelands for eternity.
In the middle of the night, my mind wonders what life is like for Joe and the Warboys (which is a great fucking name for a rock band). We do get glimpses of hydroponics gardens and stuff, but what kind of greenery is Joe growing, and who grows it? Who are the farmers in this world? Do the Warboys exist on just milk and collard greens? Incidentally we see one of the Warboys, Rictor, drinking a large bottle of breast milk in a room full of chubby women, who are being milked like cows. Who feeds them and what do they eat? They’re the fattest people in this environment, which isn’t saying too much, because the Warboys themselves still manage to look muscular and healthy, despite their various blood diseases and lymphomas.There’s even little baby Warboys, and I wonder who their mothers are, and where they came from? I know they’ve got plenty of milk though, so there’s that.
And then there’s Furiosa. There’s so much about this world that’s worth pondering and she is right smack in the middle of that ponder. We get only the barest nod to a backstory for any of the characters in the movie but we don’t care. The movie is so engaging in its present that we don’t really need to know its before. I love Furiosa. A lot of people do. She says she was taken as a child and I wonder how old she was. Did she grow up with the Warboys? How much ass did she have to kick to become an Imperator because that would have been no mean feat? How did she lose her arm? Or was she born that way? (My headcanon wants to say she did it to herself to keep from becoming one of Joe’s prize Breeders.)
Much has been said of the toxic masculinity of Immortan Joe and how he sees people as things and objects that exist to serve him, so I wont discuss that, but I will mention that Miller’s Mad Max movies have always addressed such topics, and the fallout for characters who practice that philosophy.
My favorite characters are The Vuvulini. How cool is it to have these senior women kicking ass and not caring one bit about names, at the end of the world? But this movie is crowded with women to admire. The Brides are interesting people,too. They’re smart, brave, and amazingly, not objectified. Although they are treated like objects by most of the men in the film, at no point do I end up having to ogle White Woman’s Ass, for which I’m very grateful. (White Woman’s Ass is something male Hollywood directors are deeply fascinated with, which is why it finds its way into narratives that don’t have anything to do with it, like Buddy Cop movies, and ads for Cheetos.)
I created a backstory in my head for The Brides too. Where did they come up with the philosophy that people are not things? How do they know to ask the question of who broke the world? One can assume that they got the idea from the history books they consumed, that their world wasn’t always the way it was. When we see Immortan run in to their living chambers/vault, we can see a wall of books. The Brides had a library. Joe is probably one of the few people in this environment that can read, but I don’t think he taught them.
I wonder if Miss Giddy, the old lady who tries to shoot Joe, taught them, because I’m pretty sure Joe wouldn’t give a shit. I can imagine Miss Giddy trying to keep these young women (possibly little girls) occupied, on some long, hot, listless afternoon. I do not doubt that they got their beliefs from those books, and since Joe doesn’t care what they think, or that they can think at all, these thoughts would’ve been allowed to metastasize without him noticing.
And I wonder about Miss Giddy, too. How long has she been there? Did she watch these girls grow up? Did she despair of saving them from the fate of being used by Joe the way she had been? Did she introduce them to the philosophies of freedom? Is she one of Joe’s former wives, now grown old and useless to him, after bearing him so many disabled sons? Is she Rictor’s mother, maybe?
Oh, and for the MRAs who got so mad about the femisinsm in this movie, I got news for you. This isn’t the first time feminsim has reared its head in one of these films. Except for the first movie, where Max’s wife and child get fridged to serve Max’s character arc, there have always been elements of feminism in his films. This is not a new thing.
Remember the “Warrior Woman” from The Road Warrior, played by Virginia Hey? She’s the model who later went on to play Zhaan in Farscape. She totally kicks ass in this movie, at one point even bringing Max to heel. She’not the only woman in the movie either. There’s “The Crone”, an older woman who is something of a pacifist, who thinks she can talk her way out of the situation. She’s an impotent Crone. She speaks with power and authority, but no one listens to her. And there’s The Maiden, who falls in love with the Gyrocoptor Man. In Thunderdome, we see that the Gyrocopter Man (if this is the same fellow), who steals Max’s stuff at the top of the film, now has a little boy with him. So, maybe we know how The Maiden’s future played out.
These characters are very rough parallels to the Triple Goddess Myth, from Pagan lore. The Maiden represents the promise of new beginnings, youth and excitement. In The Road Warrior, she is offered several new beginnings. She can start a new life with the Gyrocoptor Man, or follow her people to a new place, where they can live in peace, free from Raiders trying to take their oil. The Mother represents ripeness, stability and in the context of The Road Warrior, power. The Warrior Woman is the fulfillment of The Maiden’s promise, she is the protector, who has become a twisted version of The Mother, as she is a bringer of death. She fights and kills men, and dies like one. The Crone represents, wisdom, and compassion, which is what she actually practices in the movie, but her words, though they sound wise, are poison. Following her advice will only get everyone killed.
Just like the world of Mad Max, which has become polluted and barren, so the myths of that world are now twisted and corrupt, too. This is not a healthy world, and no one is who they should be, or could have been.
Just so you know this is not a fluke, and Miller must have done some reading on the issue, he did it again in the third Max movie, Beyond the Thunderdome. There’s Savannah, who represents aspects of both the Maiden, and Warrior Mother. She has no children of her own, but she is the leader of her small tribe, who are all still children. She wants to start a new beginning somewhere safe for her tribe. This is something she accomplishes by the end of the film, at which time we see she has become older, wiser, and a mother, herself.
There’s an actual Mother in the film. Yes, she’s a little girl, and she should represent The Maiden, but she lives in a twisted world, where order has been entirely up-heaved. She’s one of the more prominent members of Savannah’s tribe, as she is the only pregnant female we see. It is possible this is the first pregnancy in the tribe, as all the other girls are too young, and these children haven’t been in their place of residence, called Crack in the Earth, for very long.
Then there’s Aunty Entity, played by Tina Turner, who was in her forties when she made this film, so hardly a Crone, but she is the oldest female in the movie. She’s a rough parallel to Immortan Joe, but unlike him, she survives the end of the movie. She’s smart as fuck, so there’s wisdom, but she’s also underhanded and manipulative. She uses people and treats them like things too, but after she loses everything, there’s at least a promise of redemption, as she realizes her loss was due to her own machinations and hubris. The Crone is supposed to be wise, compassionate, and protective, but again, the rules of this world are out of order and people are not who they’re supposed to be, something Aunty alludes to when she talks about the old world in which she was a nobody, and when the world ended, she found herself in a position of power. She doesn’t display any compassion for her enemies until the end of the movie,when she allows enough mercy to let Max live, heading off to her own new beginning.
And then we have Fury Road, which is so full of feminist messages and imagery, that you can make several books out of just the online discourse. There’s Furiosa, a feminist icon, representing The Maiden, a new beginning for The Brides, in the Green Place. Like Savannah, she’s too old to be The Maiden and she’s damaged, but her actions fit the role she has adopted. No, she’s not young and fresh but this is a twisted world, remember? The rules have been overturned and people aren’t who, or even where, they should be. You have The Brides, they are The (reluctant and literal), Mothers. They are too young and should be Maidens. And then you have the “Many Mothers”, (The Vuvulini), who actually turn out to be the Crones. They have wisdom but no mercy, like Aunty Entity, they are corrupt. They literally carry the seeds of a new beginning, but they also carry death, as they are deadly, ruthless warriors and nothing like the gentle, wise women from mythology.
The point, though, is that George Miller, whether he knows it or not, is no stranger to feminist thinking, and has managed to sneak quite a bit of that, and some Pagan icons, into some of his Mad Max movies.
As for Max being a standby in his own movie, well he may not have been much of a standbyer, but he was always a pawn. He was used as a dupe in the second film, and Aunty used him as her patsy in the third. In each film Max just sort of wanders, or gets shanghaied, into someone else’s drama, and has to try to escape it alive. Fury Road is no different. He had a bit more agency in the first movie, but I don’t think anybody watched that one.
Ironically, though I asked myself plenty of questions about every other character in the movie, including Nux, I never asked any questions about Max, who is as much a cypher as everyone else. He’s usually referred to as the Man with No Name, and for the first thirty minutes, he doesn’t get one. I don’t think any of the characters in the second or third movies knew his name either. I guess Miller decided to throw us a bone and mention his name in this one, because the movie going public has gotten a little slower on the uptake since the release of the first film, I guess.
I still prefer my name and backstory though, and Miller can use it in his next film, (probably released sometime in 2032):
“Max the Immortal Bystander, Who just wanders off at the end of the film, Presumably to interrupt someone else’s drama, In the wastelands.”