Movie Review

Mad Max: Fury Road

By September Grace

The Internet blew up about a week ago when Mad Max: Fury Road hit theaters around the same time as yet another controversial Game of Thrones episode hit cable. While Game of Thrones is repeatedly praised for its strength of storytelling and character, it is also no stranger to instigating public outrage with its handling of the topic of rape. With the most recent backlash against Game of Throne's choice of narrative direction (another rape scene), critics from all different backgrounds seemed to come to a unified conclusion: Mad Max: Fury Road did something most films (or television shows) just don't know how to do — it empowered women.

Now, many people view the topic of "female empowerment" as a trigger phrase for a hateful and vindictive definition of "feminism." "Women's rights" is associated with the intentional degradation of men and attempt of women to "take over." And while, yes, there are people who align themselves as "feminists" who think this way, not all people who align with the word "feminism" are planning a hostile takeover of the patriarchy.

What Mad Max defined through a near-constant and explosive car chase through the post-apocalypse as "feminism" was simply the inherent fullness of a woman's human worth. This is most succinctly spoken when one woman declares to the villain, Immortan Joe, in the beginning, "we are not things!" right before he discovers all his "wives" have fled. And so begins the wild ride of Mad Max: Fury Road.

If I had to sum up the feel of the movie for movie buffs, I would say it was like an inverse of Waterworld (the dwindling resource was water, not land) fused with Fast and Furious...if it had been post-apocalyptic punk and directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby). There is very little dialogue throughout the film, and there aren't really any plot twists. Mad Max: Fury Road is very direct — and very literal — in its point A to point B narration. But instead of being flat, the story is fleshed out with the wordless expressions of the characters acting and reacting to lightning fast peril in a beautifully over-the-top (sometimes to the absurd) fight for value and humanity.

Mad Max is about the people more than the story. It doesn't try to be anything it's not. The film starts off with a bang, continues with a bang...and ends with a bang. It knows it's an action flick and doesn't try to make some eloquent philosophical point. Instead of waxing poetic on how people should take care of each other or characters expositioning how life-changing their meeting ended up being, Mad Max just shows people taking care of and respecting one another and lets the screen speak for itself.

Yes, women are empowered in the film, but they are empowered in the manner that reflects a woman's equal worth to a man, not her so-called "empowerment" at the expense of the man (which is not true empowerment to begin with). There were a multitude of moments that blew me away at how well they did this. So often when I watch a movie that I hear heralded as having "strong female characters" I cringe, not because I don't like strong women but because often if said women are labeled as such, they're more of a poorly written political agenda than an actual dimensional, inspiring character.

Mad Max showed evil, cruel men, and it showed good, kind men; it showed men who were just boys, but strove to be more, and it showed men who were boys and didn't strive to be more; it showed weak women who were too scared to try for a better life and ran, and it showed physically weak, "soft" women who compensated by working together; it showed motherly women and it showed tough-as-nails, survivalist women.

Mad Max: Fury Road showed the diversity of real people.

For some viewers, it may be more difficult to pull a theme out of Mad Max from under its dirty, grungy, insanely-stylized carnage. Mad Max: Fury Road earned its R-rating for glimpses of female nudity (sexualized almost exclusively within the context of a world where women are treated solely as breeders and milk-producers), some disturbing violence (someone gets their face ripped off), and the general non-stop string of destruction. Christian viewers may also take some issue with the self-deification of the villain, "Immortan Joe," and his promise of entry to "Valhalla" to all who follow him into battle. These are reasons alone to take pause and see if this film would be a good fit for you.

Some people may get good food for thought out of Mad Max — most prominently, to me, would be its unflinching theme of upholding inherent human value, a theme that is practically lost nowadays — while other people may find the nudity and violence too abrasive for their conscience or the stylization just too weird. But while Mad Max is praised by and for its "feminism," don't let the negative connotation of the word alone dissuade you from seeing a better-than-average representation of what the word was intended to mean.

Mad Max is definitely a unique film. And whether that brand of uniqueness is for you is something only you can decide.

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Published 5-25-15