Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Fine Cinema of Mad Max: Fury Road

The Australian Outback after a nuclear and biological disaster is dominated by three city-states, each of which controls one vital resource- food, fuel, or ammunition.  As part of a periodic exchange of goods one of these city-states, the Citadel, manages a heavily guarded merchant caravan that connects the three city-states.  Despite being the best source of water (via a well-pressured underground spring) and food, the Citadel struggles with radiation and birth defects among its population.  The leader of the Citadel manages the social tensions generated by these birth defects in three ways.  First, by enslaving healthy men and using them as living blood banks. Second, by enslaving healthy women to act as brood mothers in hopes of birthing a generation of fit children.  Finally, by creating a Norse-inspired cult that reveres death in combat before succumbing to radiation-linked diseases.

Enter the film’s main conflict- the Citadel’s best warrior and caravan leader is a woman kidnapped from a distant matriarchal city-state as a child, who wants to free the brood mother sex slaves and with them return to her homeland across the desert.  As an experienced caravan leader she is familiar with terrain, the unusual weather hazards, and has made deals with the scattered bandits and tribes along the way for protection.  When the caravan leader makes her break for her homeland we see start to see the importance of healthy potential mothers to the new society and the strong connections between the city-states as all three bring their warriors together to recapture and re-enslave the brood mothers.  This sets up the film’s ominous question: what is more important, the continuation of a stable society, or the personal freedom of individuals?  In the finest tradition of the Western films, a lone silent gunslinger enters the plot to challenge the assumptions of the main characters and drive them to greater levels of personal understanding and introspection.

That’s Mad Max: Fury Road in a nutshell.  Or, it’s a two hour car chase with almost no dialogue.

Honestly, it’s both.  There is a rich story going on in Mad Max: Fury Road, and it’s right there for any viewer to note.  But you can also completely ignore that story and go right for the constant rev of engines and beautifully choreographed mayhem (Cirque du Solei did some of the stunts in the big fights).  If director George Miller did a film of nothing but two hours of motorcyclists in the Namib desert I would pay to see that, but have them jumping over trucks on fire?  Awesome.

My favorite part of Mad Max: Fury Road came about 2/3 of the way through, in a brief pause in the action, as Max Rockatansky himself spoke his first full line of dialogue: “Hope is a mistake.  If you don’t fix what’s broke, you’ll go insane”.

This film is brilliant.

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