Monday, 18 May 2015

Not Your Parents' Mad Max

We saw Mad Max: Fury Road with friends this weekend and it was amazing. I knew a little about the film from the trailer and that some people were upset that it was a “feminist action movie”, but it was definitely one of those movies that I didn't want to know too much about beforehand, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t read beyond the trailer below.

Fury Road is a challenging movie in many regards. It helps to have watched the previous movies (which my friends had not) and it requires a certain amount of visual literacy to enjoy it to the fullest (remember that I went to art college). Every frame is filled with so much detail like car parts, logos and tattoos. Three-quarter views, profile views and symmetrical shots add a lot of visual interest and show off the cars and craziness. Much like how authors will write entirely in dialogue or start their story by discarding the first part, Fury Road is told almost in visuals and with very little dialogue. Most dialogue sounds pretty grunty anyway! Close attention needs to be paid to how the characters use objects and speak through their actions. For example, Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa expresses emotions mostly with her eyes and Tom Hardy as Mad Max has a wild, fearful look most of the time. It’s the ultimate in “Show, don’t tell”.

Come to think of it, Fury Road is not a traditional action movie at all. Fury Road challenges viewers expecting to be spoonfed the who, what, when, where and why. It was clear that our friends would have preferred to see Age of Ultron instead as they did not like it at all. “I don’t understand why…” they kept wondering as we wandered the mall afterwards, and I kept piping up with answers like “The War Boys spray their mouths with spray paint because huffing paint gives them a high before battle…”. The movie is so nuts that questioning how the drummers hang on to the sound machine or why the world is so weird will just drive you nuts.

I welcomed the challenge and found the movie so refreshing in many ways. I loved every second, from the practical effects and stunts. The movie does not shy away from showing blood or the effects of violence. Another piece of sly commentary on bloodless CGI, perhaps? Be prepared for a lot of squishy stuff to happen.

Trivia: did you know that George Miller also directed Happy Feet and Happy Feet 2? Are you surprised at all? I’m not, since Fury Road has a strong environmental theme. In one of the more subtle moments, reformed War Boy Nux points at a tree in the desert and doesn’t even know that it’s called a tree (this tree, by the way, is a nod to the Arbre du Ténéré). There’s something hopeless about watching the tree being uprooted by the war rig in order to keep the Five Wives from being recaptured.

Speaking of the Five Wives - five physically healthy and beautiful young women held captive by top baddie Immortan Joe - they are never shown as damsels in distress. Although they are fragile and unsure after living their lives locked behind a vault door, they quickly find their strengths and fight for themselves alongside Furiosa and Max. All the women in the movie are given agency, and there’s even room for older, wrinkled women to shine. The Vuvalini are bad ass little old ladies on motorcycles that show up about halfway through the movie. It’s all right for men to look a little rugged in movies, but never women. Furiosa and Max fight as equals, never trying to one up the other and sometimes shooting at the exact same time. They triumph not just physically over Immortan Joe but over inequality of the sexes when they stand together in victory at the end. A movie that shows men and women working together equally and respectfully to solve a problem? OMG!

It seems that all the reading that the Wives did put some ideas into their heads about equality, and as seen in the trailer, they wrote “We are not things” in their sheltered paradise. At every turn Miller slips this idea in that people are not commodities. Max is treated as a “blood bag” by Nux, the Wives are stored away like precious jewels and the War Boys are Immortan Joe’s disposable warriors. I really liked that Nux, shown as a crazy disciple worshipping Joe and V8, is allowed to become human again. So many times society writes off people who have made poor choices in life. Once bad, always bad - but the wife known as Capable does not believe this about Nux and treats him with love and kindness.

Whoo…I should probably stop here. A whole book could be written on all the subtle intricacies and meanings of Fury Road. Just enjoy it if you see it, and marvel that George Miller was able to make the film he always wanted to make 30 years ago.