Tuesday, May 26, 2015

THE PATRIARCHY HURTS EVERYONE IN MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

If you haven't seen MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (first of all, what is wrong with you?) avoid this article as it does contain analysis of the film's plot points.


After the anti-feminist analysis of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD from Return of Kings' contributor Aaron Clarey went viral last week, feminist thinkpieces promoting the film have been popping up from every corner of the internet. The overwhelming majority focus on the incredible characterization of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and her importance for female representation in an overwhelmingly male driven genre, but MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is vital film viewing for male audiences.  By definition, feminism is to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for the women on the same level as their male counterparts.  While it's easy to think feminism = women > men, this simply isn't the case. Feminism means women = men.  It's that simple.  In Aaron Clarey's piece, he states that male viewers may be “duped by explosions, fire tornadoes and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes.” Problematic equation that all men are simple enough to only see a movie with explosions aside, there is no trickery in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. However, the film is extremely beneficial for both males and females.


MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a feminist film, but that doesn't mean it's a Spice Girls-esque film about "gurrrl power." The film is arguably Imperator Furiosa's story, but she isn't some man-hating buzzkill. With the exception of referring to her in female pronouns (she, her, ma'am, etc.), Furiosa is acknowledged by her title rather than her gender by those of a lower ranking. While I may be wrong on this part, I cannot recall a moment when Immortan Joe or any of his "War Boys" use a sexist slur against her.  There are no "bitch" insults to be found.  The anger of our antagonists comes from Furiosa's "betrayal," not because she's a female. In the hierarchy of Immortan Joe's dictatorship in The Citadel, Furiosa is a well-respected leader. Before she goes rogue, the war boys on the convoy frequently refer to her as "boss," regardless of what's between her legs. Her "betrayal" is a personal directive to rescue five of Joe's "breeders," who are merely beautiful women he uses as sex slaves in order to produce more heirs. Sure, Furiosa is a bonafide badass (as are the Vulvani and the other female characters littered throughout), but that is not why MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is a feminist masterpiece.  It's the absence of female tropes that pushes this film over the top. This is important for men to see in a film, because it shows that feminism does not mean women > men, but emphasizes the equality of sexes in film representation. Furiosa is also complex character filled with a range of emotions. All too often, our "strong, female, leads" turn into inhuman characters limited to being nothing more than "strong," and that's just not how human's function. Even the bravest warriors crack sometimes, and that includes strong, female characters.


The plot of the film is centrally focused on gender politics, but it never once feels heavy handed. All of these women are survivors of sexual assault, but this isn't some Dick Wolf Law & Order victimization. One of the women has a moment of regret and begins running back to The Citadel, clearly traumatized from a life of abuse. One of the fellow women repeats, "We're not things, we're not things," in attempt to humanize her once again. This line is the extent of showcasing the deep-seeded turmoil they've all endured.  It's a natural response, and an authentic one at that. And what of the Vulvani? With Furiosa's assistance, she and the wives encounter Furiosa's former community, a group of female survivors on motorcycles armed with weapons, plants, and a thirst for justice. The women have also taken a far more peaceful approach to this wasteland, vowing "no unnecessary killing." Surprisingly, the women are also never sexualized, even from their former captor.  The girls do discuss Joe having a favorite, but the women are fully aware of their value. Amidst gunfire, the women use themselves as shields, understanding the War Boys' fear of harming them. However, this fear isn't rooted in a sexual desire, but in the desire to survive. Sexuality isn't used as a weapon (they way it 99.999999% of the time is used in super hero films), but the women use themselves as a weapon to address the fact they are in control of any hope for the future. Immortan Joe's desire to save the women comes not from a loss of beautiful sex slaves, but from a loss of the possibility of continuing his familial line. Men cannot continue on their own without women, and the world of FURY ROAD knows it. In this universe, we must work together to make a future.

And what of our men? Immortan Joe holds his power over the people of The Citadel through a cherry-picked patchwork of ideology. The promise of eternal life in Valhalla is pulled from the Norse, and the Kamikaze style of self-martyrdom from Japan is used as a way to weaponize their minds. Joe has taken these religions at surface level and created a dangerous society of brainwashed individuals hanging on his every command. Joe's army is dedicated and loyal, but is done so in an excessively patriarchal way. In the Citadel, there are War Pups, young men de-humanized from childhood in preparation for a life of animalistic tendencies and barbaric behavior. As they grow, they transform into War Boys, but never War Men. Joe is the only "War Man" and the rest of his army are merely his disciples, his children of the apocalypse. All of the War Boys are painted white and spend the entirety of the film chasing after what their "father" has told them to chase. The sperm chasing egg symbolism is strong, Joe desperately trying to hold the same type of power that women do, even though he cannot. At one point, we see a row of pregnant women having their milk "harvested," and many have expressed that this is an attack on women. While, yes, this is a direct example of Joe abusing women, he treats his men just as horribly. His War Boys are bred to die, the same way these women are bred to feed. He utilizes the resources he can get from the humans equally, they're just abused in different ways.


Nux is our main point of view into the world of the War Boys, and the true power that Joe has over these men. At one point, Nux is attempting to hijack Furiosa's war rig when Joe tells Nux that he will personally carry Nux to the gates of Valhalla if he brings the wives back alive. "Personally carry" sounds as if Joe is promising to kill Nux himself, presumably in an honorably ritual. Why? Because Joe cannot allow there to be a War Boy of heroic stature to live. Nux would need to be an honorable memory, rather than an honorable man. Joe cannot allow someone else to live that could possibly be idolized the same way he is himself. Fortunately, Nux does not succeed and instead fails miserably in the presence of Joe. This absolutely destroys him. Nux is terminally ill, he's at the end of his "half-life" and he has spent all of it under the command of Immortan Joe. When he fails in front of him, it renders him "worthless" in his own eyes. The patriarchy hurts everyone. His "failure" to appease his male leader and to prove his masculinity rocks him to his core, and the damage is too severe to save him even after his redemptive discussion with the wife, Capable. After a heart to heart with one of the wives that helps him "see the light" and support Furiosa and her cause, Nux is seen sitting in the War Rig amongst the sleeping women. A bug crawls up along her arm and Nux allows the bug to crawl on his finger before devouring it. He’s still damaged. He can’t take the “no unnecessary killing” mentality that the women have taken. Had he let the bug go, this would have been huge turning point for him, but he didn’t. Nux killed it when he didn’t have to, because the patriarchal damage has already morphed his mentality. This is similar to how the opening of the film shows Max eating a lizard in the desert, and later choosing not to stay in the Citadel. He's not ready to move on, not yet.

In the world of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, the fight for equal rights was probably still underway when the apocalypse struck. The film is as important as it is ass-kicking, and George Miller's masterpiece will hopefully inspire action films that follow.  A feminist action film doesn't need hot pink ray-guns, cleave popping vinyl outfits, or "sassy" one-liners to be feminist.  All it needs is to treat its female characters as more than just tropes, and for the characters involved to respect that decision.

7 comment(s):

Tim_W_Burke said...

Why is this a Mad Max movie?
"Fury Road" is a perfectly fine title and concept.

Thalia Graves said...

I can't see why anyone would have a problem with this unless they wanted to keep women "in their place." I haven't seen it, but I'm not worried about spoilers. Having read your post, I really want to see it. I'd love to take my 11 year old niece with me, but I imagine her mom (my sister) would put the kibosh on that. I suppose it might be a hard movie for an eleven year old to watch, but I'm thinking how much eleven year old me would have loved seeing a movie with tough female characters like this.

Stacy Livitsanis said...

Marvellous analysis. If there's a better film this year, then 2015 will immediately become the best year of my life, cinematically speaking. To paraphrase a friend, Fury Road proves, to anyone yet unable to see it, that the macho rubbish dude-bro action movies hurled at moviegoers is a conscious deliberate status quo-enforcing choice, and we could have been having wonderful female-driven action movies with real female characters AND really amazing action sequences all this time, but we've been cheated. After Fury Road, there's no going back.

noel tanti said...

is it really a feminist film? it's more of an action film with unusual female characters (for the genre) - i don't think it was pushing any kind of gender agenda... for instance, i could have done without that shot of the wives in white skimpy garbs hosing each other in the desert... even in terms of narrative, it's max who makes furiosa realise that her mission is a fool's errand and he's the one to 'show her the way' (back)... i see fury road as an action film through and through, one that doesn't want to go beyond the superficial level of 'good uns vs bad uns'... the less you see into it, i think, it's better... (which is also what makes aaron clarey's claims a pile of sh*t...)

Sarah Delion said...

While I don't know about any "patriarchy" that you are talking about (even in interviews, when asked Miller and Theron said it had nothing to do "patriarchy") I do believe there is plenty of literally content to this movie that many have missed.

The movie treats the viewer far smarter than most action films of today do, thus it may have been difficult to pick as we are so used to transformers and Ninja Turtles ruling the screens.

Subtext is key here, this isn't a movie that's about spoon-feeding themes and ideas, aside from the very obvious survival and desperation thematic elements. Looking at this simply as an action movie is doing it a total disservice. Yes of course the action is front an center, yet, a lot more is happening going on in the background than many have given it credit for.

I find it interesting how it was mentioned that this movie is a cultural throwback, but I don't necessarily agree. If you look to places in central Africa and some areas in the Middle East, this isn't too far off from being reality. (different locations, yet lets think thematically here) George Miller has discussed in great detail, things such as how many different cultures are able to make beauty from certain situations, referencing impoverished areas in India and Pakistan. Even in extreme poverty or extreme deprived circumstances, people create, people find deities, people create hierarchies, all of this is there, yet never especially told to the audience. We are left to come to our own conclusions.

There are a number of interesting religious parallels going on here, where the radiated wastelanders view Imortan Joe of somewhat a God figure or redeemer of their "Sin." (He gives them life though water and must maintain his image [plastic armor] to keep the people in check) The illusion continues. . . About the cars, the are particularly worshiped as they are seen as these artifacts of a prior age that somehow survived the apocalypse. Once again with subtext, this is never outright stated, but we infer this from the way they are viewed and a single line about "almighty V8" which is very poetic in nature. Yes the cars are over the top. But you know what else could be considered "over the top" from an Alien Cultural Perspective? The Pyramids, The Statue of Liberty, the 8 wonders of the world, the crucifix or any other number of cultural artifacts. It's fairly shallow minded to write this off.

The awesome looking Guitar player and the drummers are all also part of the culture and have a very real basis in reality. Just look as recently as the American civil war, army's would carry instruments such as flutes and drums into war. Go back further and this is seen everywhere. In a cultural that worships kinetic energy and must survive the heat of ruthlessness of the desert, people need things equally as ruthless and heat bearing to to keep spirits high.

Sarah Delion said...

While I don't know about any "patriarchy" that you are talking about (even in interviews, when asked Miller and Theron said it had nothing to do "patriarchy") I do believe there is plenty of literally content to this movie that many have missed.

The movie treats the viewer far smarter than most action films of today do, thus it may have been difficult to pick as we are so used to transformers and Ninja Turtles ruling the screens.

Subtext is key here, this isn't a movie that's about spoon-feeding themes and ideas, aside from the very obvious survival and desperation thematic elements. Looking at this simply as an action movie is doing it a total disservice. Yes of course the action is front an center, yet, a lot more is happening going on in the background than many have given it credit for.

I find it interesting how it was mentioned that this movie is a cultural throwback, but I don't necessarily agree. If you look to places in central Africa and some areas in the Middle East, this isn't too far off from being reality. (different locations, yet lets think thematically here) George Miller has discussed in great detail, things such as how many different cultures are able to make beauty from certain situations, referencing impoverished areas in India and Pakistan. Even in extreme poverty or extreme deprived circumstances, people create, people find deities, people create hierarchies, all of this is there, yet never especially told to the audience. We are left to come to our own conclusions.

There are a number of interesting religious parallels going on here, where the radiated wastelanders view Imortan Joe of somewhat a God figure or redeemer of their "Sin." (He gives them life though water and must maintain his image [plastic armor] to keep the people in check) The illusion continues. . . About the cars, the are particularly worshiped as they are seen as these artifacts of a prior age that somehow survived the apocalypse. Once again with subtext, this is never outright stated, but we infer this from the way they are viewed and a single line about "almighty V8" which is very poetic in nature. Yes the cars are over the top. But you know what else could be considered "over the top" from an Alien Cultural Perspective? The Pyramids, The Statue of Liberty, the 8 wonders of the world, the crucifix or any other number of cultural artifacts. It's fairly shallow minded to write this off.

Sarah Delion said...

The awesome looking Guitar player and the drummers are all also part of the culture and have a very real basis in reality. Just look as recently as the American civil war, army's would carry instruments such as flutes and drums into war. Go back further and this is seen everywhere. In a cultural that worships kinetic energy and must survive the heat of ruthlessness of the desert, people need things equally as ruthless and heat bearing to to keep spirits high.

And I'm not totally sure that biker culture is a product of the 1980's. Yeah it was more prevalent in American media then, but by all accounts biker gangs have grown over the past few decades, the mainstream media no longer focuses on them. Heck just a few weeks ago there was a massive biker shootout in Texas which has only served to show just how ruthless they can be. Calling this a product of the 80's just sounds fairly uniformed.

I find the "characters being too thin" excuse to be totally missing the point here. We are informed about these characters by what we known about them, but also by what we don't know. Mad Max is a myth, with keeping in the tradition of the last 2 films, the movie is told though a different characters perspective, in this case Furious who is seeking redemption, by which Max is able to find it as well and reclaim some of his humanity. The story is one of learning to trust, how to respect and gender unity is far more powerful than division and "destroying the patriarchy" (which is a silly and outdated notion at this point) as obviously about sacrifice.

Now this isn't to say that I think this movie is some literal interpretation of what a future might be like. But to view it as such is basically missing the point, don't look at the movie you want about a literal interpretation of the future, but the one we are given, which is more a fable. This is compounded by every shot in the movie looking absolutely stunning. I could take screen and hang on my wall and call it art.

Interestingly George Miller had this to sum up Mad Max. A few years back, there were Gasoline shortage in his native Australia. People were restricted to filling up once a week and normal gasoline (guzoline as it's called in Mad Max) was could only to be used regularly for emergency vehicles. It took just ten days for the first shot to be fired. He wondered what the world would look like if that had continued 10 years, 30 years, 50 years and so on. He wondered how would society react? how aggressive would we become> What would happened? etc. . .

Just my thoughts.

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