Destroy All Monsters: All We Have Are Our Bodies On FURY ROAD

Columnist; Toronto, Canada (@tederick)
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Destroy All Monsters: All We Have Are Our Bodies On FURY ROAD

In Mad Max: Fury Road, we get the great existentialist Western of our time. Save one character murmuring prayers in one shot to anyone who will listen, God is not in evidence. The movie is entirely bound up in human choices, and its characters come to understand that the only thing that means anything is what they choose to do - and do together.

In 2015, I suppose, it takes a two-hour rolling fireball of a movie, roaring across the Namibian desert, to expose the flesh of the human experience. And boy, does it ever.

If The Road Warrior was driven - literally and figuratively - on gasoline, Fury Road is built around wholly human fluids. Semen, thankfully, is left out of things except by association; but Mad Max: Fury Road is a bubbling wellspring of blood, water, sweat, and milk.

(And sure, there's gasoline, because one can never get far from gasoline in this line of work. And chrome spray paint. Just go with it.)

The fluids have been monetized, commercialized, made into product; Immortan Joe has built his citadel in the desert on a giant clockwork contraption that pulls the water up from underneath, only so that he can withhold it; "Do not become addicted to water," he warns his disciples, for no particular reason other than to emphasize, I suppose, the fact that he might stop providing it.

Meanwhile, behind him, lactating women are pumped six-at-a-time for their breast milk; imprisoned vulvas are kept exclusive by saw-toothed chastity belts; and Max is strung up in a gibbet to serve as a human blood bag for a recovering road warrior.

It must be one of the most passive hero introductions in a blockbuster in a decade: Mad Max spends the first act of Fury Road unable to move, turn his head, or do anything other than jibber to himself.

He gets free - because this is a Mad Max movie, and there wouldn't be much of a movie if he didn't - and runs across Imperator Furiosa and her war rig tanker truck, along with Immortan Joe's escaped harem of varyingly-pregnant slave women. Together, they all take off across the desert, with a War Boy in tow.

As this all gets started, there are some entertaining reversals to keep the hierarchy continuously revolving in terms of who's hostage, who's passenger, who's captor and who's in charge - a post-apocalyptic episode of Who's The Boss?, set in the truck from Duel, in which Max's only real priority is sawing off his iron mask with a small chisel, and then getting the hell on his way.

But before long, there comes a moment - not called out in any overburdened dialogue, thank goodness, but you'll know it when you see it - when all the people on the fleeing truck seem to realize simultaneously that they're not just in this together, but entirely dependent on one another. (The cue on the soundtrack is called, perhaps inelegantly, "Brothers In Arms.")

Motorcycles descend on the tanker in unholy zigzags and Immortan Joe's army is (temporarily) headed off at the pass, and only in one of those purely cinematic feats of brilliantly coordinated teamwork can the denizens of the war rig defend themselves from, well, life itself, I guess - or life's ceaseless willingness to throw shit at you, more shit, more and more shit until everything you're trying to do is just about surviving and getting to the other side.

This is where Fury Road - which has not been going at anything less than an aggressive clip so far, I assure you - really takes off. It doubles back on the subtext of its plot construction and circles it in a red pen, and thus stops being an action movie, and starts being a movie movie.

Fury Road has been called feminist, and unobtrusively so, and it would be those things (and wonderfully) just for its flawless flipping of the script on every trope that would normally land on a movie like this in its treatment of its female characters.

But Fury Road also brilliantly draws a direct, and vital, equivalency between all the characters on that truck (except Furiosa): they've all taken back their right to control their own bodies, that right having previously been co-opted by others.

The Wives (Immortan Joe's "breeding stock"), Max (War Boy's blood bag), even War Boy himself (a suicide bomber-ish zealot promised a spot in Valhalla in reward for annihilating himself for the cause) are all in the process of reasserting ownership of their own flesh - in a race across the desert at 200 mph.

It's a problem set that we're used to seeing conferred upon nominal "others" in cinema - whether women or minorities - which is heaped generously onto the two Caucasian males here too, as if to inscribe "do you get it now?" on a couple of years of conversation about why the answer to #YesAllWomen is not #NotAllMen, or one cannot respond to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter. Traditional privilege is shattered in Mad Max: Fury Road, the slate wiped clean, all players returned to the start of the game board. It's enough to make one yearn for an apocalypse.

This leaves the heroes free to negotiate their choices in defence of the only thing they have left in this world: their rights to their own agency. And because this is a Mad Max movie and the story is, nominally, his, it will boil down to the story's least-invested character deciding whether or not he gives a fuck, and choosing accordingly.

But importantly, that choice is the only time in the film that Max changes the story's direction - again, literally and figuratively - because otherwise, he knows exactly what his purpose is, and it isn't being the traditional male hero. (We don't need another one of those.) He's the shoulder for Furiosa's rifle. He's the mechanic for the busted valve on the fuel pod. He's, by choice this time, the blood bag for his wounded friend. This group is made of equals.

My favourite beat in the movie comes near the end of the second act. Furiosa and her protectorate arrive at the matriarchal tribe in the desert, the Many Mothers, well-armed warrior women who immediately want to welcome Furiosa and the other women with open arms, but are immediately suspicious of Max and War Boy.

"It's okay, they're reliable," Furiosa assures the Many Mothers. What a wonderful choice for a word; no finer point of praise. I'm a fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick's Bitch Planet comic book and have been happy to see female fans getting "non-compliant" tattooed on their arms... here's hoping I live long and well enough to deserve getting "reliable" tattooed on mine.


Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Twitter.

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Charlize TheronGeorge MillerMad MaxTom HardyBrendan McCarthyNick LathourisNicholas HoultHugh Keays-ByrneActionAdventureSci-Fi

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Todd HarringtonMay 20, 2015 10:31 AM

Great piece that puts the words I couldn't find to all the feelings that I've had watching FURY ROAD three times this weekend. Was talking to friends at Warners who thought I was messing with them when I said this film (yes, "film") will be discussed long after we're all done, a cinematic masterclass in two hours.

Favorite thing is that FURY ROAD demonstrates how woefully underappreciated George Miller has been as one of the key studio directors of our time. With luck, he will now more frequently be discussed in context with Spielberg, Lucas, Cameron, etc.

Niels MatthijsMay 20, 2015 11:10 AM

But in the end it's still a mediocre, old-fashioned action flick that becomes more boring with each passing minute. And for an action flick there's no lack of minutes.

Mr. CavinMay 20, 2015 11:23 AM

Well wrote. I am happy to see the movie's reliance on people as literal resources--the fluids you mention, and I have no doubt that semen is included in the big picture somewhere--take on such a fundamental role in your essay of the great equality here, where women are not only equalized, but privilege broken down. One of the things that I didn't even notice watching, but then struck me later in conversation about the movie, is the ease with which Max and Nux assume ancillary roles as their stories dovetail with the rest of the group. It isn't material that Furiosa is a better shot than Max, it's material that he isn't lessened by the revelation.

Ard VijnMay 20, 2015 11:30 AM

I wish it were mediocre. That would mean we'd have a lot more films this good.

Mr. CavinMay 20, 2015 11:37 AM

PS, thanks for the heads up about Bitch Planet. Wishlisted.

Niels MatthijsMay 20, 2015 11:54 AM

Oh, but you will. The 80s revival machine is going at full force nowadays, cranking out films catering to our gen. Enjoy it, in 10 years time the generations before us will stand up and we'll be seeing a whole lot of 90s crap being remade. Circle of life and all that :)

Todd HarringtonMay 20, 2015 2:47 PM

I get that you don't think much of it as entertainment and I wouldn't try to convince you otherwise - entertainment, like food, is inherently subjective when it comes to taste.

That said, even if I don't like a meal and how it tastes, I can acknowledge the craft and skill in preparing it and - in this case - I think George Miller created a craft-masterpiece with some of the most exciting cinematic language I've seen in film in years, let alone a "studio action film". Your mileage may vary.

Niels MatthijsMay 20, 2015 4:50 PM

I think Miller is still stuck in the 80s. I for one am not waiting for "less shakey cam" and "no CG", especially not when it tones down the action scenes. The most impressive part of the film was the impending sandstorm, which was never topped during the rest of the film. That's not okay if that means 90 minutes of action. It's also clear that by the end of the film Miller was completely out of ideas, as the action scenes failed to climax but just got more and more repetitive.

As for actual craft, I'm not a pro so I'm in no position to judge, but I found most of it quite dull. The coolest thing I saw were the swamp dwellers, but they weren't that original and Miller jus glances by them, hardly giving them any screentime. I'd expect a good director to see the potential and act upon it.

Dunno, I was just put off by the attempt to pimp some 80s cool (the Kiss-like guitar dude :') ) with contemporary production values. I get why all the reviewers like it (30+ for the win), but I found it a complete waste a cinema time. Sadly I paid for a ticket, which means I'm actively endorsing a film like this.

Todd HarringtonMay 20, 2015 5:19 PM

Yikes. Guess I shouldn't tell you I liked the comic that DC put out as a tie-in...

RayMay 20, 2015 5:44 PM

"Traditional privilege is shattered in Mad Max: Fury Road, the slate wiped clean, all players returned to the start of the game board. It's enough to make one yearn for an apocalypse."

Excuse me for saying this, but WHAT THE FUCK!? That is the absolute WRONG idea to take away from this film thematically and morally! If anything the movie insists that in the absence of civilization humanity will revert back to a tribal system whereby dehumanizing and oppressive dicatatorship rules over humanity.

Mr. CavinMay 20, 2015 6:17 PM

right. Dehumanizing and oppressive dictatorships will rule over humanity. Not over women and not men, like they do in the presence of civilization. Now, if you point out there are no black people in the movie at all, I'll have to concede.

RayMay 20, 2015 8:25 PM

As Thomas Hobbes put it the life of the stateless man was nasty, brutish and short. Like Mad Max in the beginning of the film he is a man reduced to pure instinct and violence. Hobbes characterized the state as a "Leviathan," a single power which would keep people in awe. In the absence of order a tribal warlord like Immortan Joe could rise to power by providing people with the necessities like water and the security.

One of the best books I've read in recent years is Steven Pinker's The Better Angel's of Our Nature: Why violence has declined. There he documents how the trend over the past several centuries has been towards an increasing respect for human rights and human autonomy. There are more people living under democracies now than in any time in recent history. There are fewer people dying in warfare, by the hands of the state, or by violent crime now than any other time in past history.

joeMay 21, 2015 1:40 AM

Zoe Kravitz is black.

disqus_eZOjKdg2ZpMay 21, 2015 8:48 AM

This was one of the very few films I have been following this year and I was surprisingly disappointed in what I saw. I went into this expecting a masterpiece - the trailers were awesome and the initial buzz had straight up told us that this was 'the film' 'game changing' 'maxterpiece' aIl this dribble. I honestly do not know how people who call themselves professional critics can make claims like this on an action film. Yes, the action was above average, the standard of production was very high and will no doubt become the new standard for action films to follow. I am not complaining about that.

However it was not that good. The online buzz around this seems to suggest that the film peeps / enthusiasts have busted their nuts and have lost any strand of objectivity.

To put this into contexts, I was expecting raw intensity, something that could make me feel something. I thought it was quite dull, apologies for the rant. I guess I just don't agree with the majority of the populace.

PS: Slow West is good.

Ard VijnMay 21, 2015 9:50 AM

You thought the sandstorm was the most impressive thing, and the swamp dwellers the coolest? Seriously, you are a compass pointing straight South and i love you for it!

KurtMay 21, 2015 2:47 PM

Expectations are a bitch. I fell into this trap as well. It's a solid bit of filmmaking though. People want to lather on the hyperbole because of the relative tame-ness, PG-13 nature of Studio Action Films these days.

cjohnstonMay 21, 2015 6:18 PM

Darn Straight, + Word - upon your observation here.
~
haven't seen this one (MM) yet, but it's on my bucket list.
--
Turning the conversation some 80 degrees or so ~ ..while I AM "relieved" that Deadpool is gonna be an "R"; i held since day one that (at its simplest), a pg13er COULD have worked for the film.
-
*while this is most certainly filled to the brim with subjectivity and imho"ness -- this, ...the aforementioned rating.... worked QUITE well for the likes of Sucker Punch, Burning Bright, Transporter 3, Lockout, The Island, In Time, The A-Team, and Sahara.

not to beat this to a bloody pulp, but.. imo; ALL of these Could have been even tighter, grittier, crazier, and even more "jacked up" - so to speak; but they all work VERY well as *pardon my brief language* BAMF films..

Josiane OchmanMay 21, 2015 7:35 PM

I went in with very little expectations, saw the trailer and it really popped, didn't read any reviews ahead of time and was frankly pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. Part of my enjoyment stemmed from the fact that I've been so burned (feeling jaded actually) by all the so-called action films which are CG enhanced to the max. Went to see Avengers/Ultron found that one incredibly dull, where's the suspense when you know all the major stars have signed on well into the future for Avengers numero ten. The preview before Mad Max was for Star Wars.
I liked the original when it was fresh and we didn't have a wealth of CG effects produced movies to compare it to now we're being completely overrun,there's a sameness and uniformity to all those pics, maybe robots are making them. Not sure if Mad Max was a masterpiece, that word, gets thrown around way too much, but it definitely had me on the edge of my seat.

Josiane OchmanMay 21, 2015 7:41 PM

Wow you're very bitter about this film. Thought the flaming guitar dude was pretty cool personally. As to the swamp dwellers you already found the film overly long not sure how the director could have incorporated them into what is essentially a chase movie. They did serve as an effective backdrop. I didn't think the chase flagged at all, it seems like the one effect you did like, i.e. the impending sandstorm ,was possibly the one thing which was CG generated. I personally liked the real clash of metal on metal, didn't miss the CG enhanced scenes at all. Ten points for the fantastic stunt work,now that's something which is getting rarer and rarer.

Josiane OchmanMay 21, 2015 7:43 PM

Great Todd, couldn't agree more. I was the lone woman for the viewing, lots of guys and a few couples.

Pa Kent Says MaybeMay 21, 2015 7:53 PM

Maybe, and I say this with no disrespect, the problem is you.

Pa Kent Says MaybeMay 21, 2015 7:55 PM

Except...Until it doesn't. THAT'S the takeaway.

Pa Kent Says MaybeMay 21, 2015 7:56 PM

There are a couple black people. And, as is to be expected, they are all in the exploited underclass.

Pa Kent Says MaybeMay 21, 2015 7:57 PM

Gotta ask. Are you a Marvel movie fan?

Pa Kent Says MaybeMay 21, 2015 7:58 PM

Nice article, Matt.

We're not gonna start insulting each other for old-times sake?

Niels MatthijsMay 22, 2015 4:08 AM

Not in the least.

Niels MatthijsMay 22, 2015 4:09 AM

The Sand Dwellers actually reminded me of Frankenstein's Army, which is probably why I liked them :)

Niels MatthijsMay 22, 2015 4:10 AM

Like I said, this film is loved by people who love traditional effects, scoff at CG and don't like shaky cams. Fair enough, but that's not what cinema is nowadays. And you can complain about that of course, but not without a good load of <oldfartmode> :)

Ard VijnMay 22, 2015 4:36 AM

Heh, I saw MAD MAX: FURY ROAD with my parents, and when the Sand Dwellers showed up my mom leaned over and whispered: "They stole this from THE DARK CRYSTAL!"

Pa Kent Says MaybeMay 22, 2015 8:22 AM

Alright. Good on your consistency. Carry on.

A man with a knifeMay 22, 2015 11:30 AM

Steven Pinker is clueless tool. He's logic ignores not just historical facts but facts about human nature and human conditions - whole strata above he's shameful 'statistic'. World will choke in shit and he will still be on he's kitschy fantasy's. There is no such thing as 'moral progress' that is not reversible at any given opportunity let's not kid our self.
Caliphate or middle age part 2 could be our tomorrow if conditions are right - and we may even like it.

Josiane OchmanMay 22, 2015 5:26 PM

Old fart mode never heard that one before found it quite insulting, nothing fair about that comment of yours. Felt my reply was quite measured. I have enjoyed some films with CG effects (Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to mind) although that particular one had the benefit of a great story with great characters, a dedicated director+piles of money to throw at the screen, also enjoyed Life of Pi, again great original story coupled with a sensitive great director. Don't reject all CG enhanced movies off hand, merely finding that there are too many of those which sometimes make for lazy script and lazy character development if that makes me an old fart so be it.

Peabo BronsonMay 22, 2015 7:00 PM

They immediately reminded me of the Dark Crystal too.

Peabo BronsonMay 22, 2015 7:12 PM

Great article. Really, really enjoyed the film (only minor gripes being that some of the dialogue was a bit clunky, and the film deserved a much better score), and most of all loved that all these complex messages about destruction of hierarchy, tyranny and commodification, etc could be told with so few words, and as an action chase movie of all things! Absolutely mind-blowing operatic action, and impressively deep storytelling without having the messages completely force-fed to the audience.

Beyonsheet GnomesJuly 6, 2015 7:20 AM

if this movie was dull, i wonder what you'll describe the majority of the movies obviously beneath it.

stuwillisJuly 7, 2016 2:09 AM

Still a great review, Matt!