How Mad Max: Fury Road Turns Your Writing Advice Into Roadkill

Said it before, will say it again: Mad Max: Fury Road is the dust-choked rocket-fueled orifice-clenching crank-mad feminist wasteland batfuck doomsday opera you didn’t know you needed. It’s like eating fireworks. It’s like being inside a rust tornado. It’s like having a defibrillator pad applied directly to your genitals but somehow, you love it?

It’s not a perfect movie.

But it’s amazing just the same.

And part of — for me! — what makes it amazing is how easily it flaunts its rule-breaking. Writing — particularly the very-patterned art of screenwriting — comes with all these preconceived sets of “rules” or “guidelines,” and like most creative rules and guidelines, they’re half-useful and half-dogdick. It’s great once in a while to be reminded why the rules work. But it can be even more illuminating to realize when something works in spite of those rules — in direct contravention to what you expect can and should happen.

And I wanna talk about that just a little. Real quick.

Hold still. *fires up the defib pads*

CLEAR.

bzzt

Begins With Action And Then Action Action Holy Fuck More Action

Beginning with action is hard. Because a lot of the time, you need context. You jump right into some actionstravaganza and you feel lost — unmoored, drifting, caught up in OMG THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE EXCITING BUT MOSTLY IT FEELS LIKE ACTION FIGURES BEING FIRED OUT OF A CANNON AGAINST A WALL BECAUSE I DO NOT YET HAVE A REASON TO CARE. It’s all whizz-bang-boom, but ultimately? Hollow as a used grenade. Shallow as a puddle of sun-baked urine.

Fury Road is like, “Yeah, fuck you, mate,” and then instantly there’s a car chase? And then like, five minutes of setup and another car chase that goes until the middle of the movie? And then a sequel to that car chase that ends the movie. On paper, that shouldn’t work. On screen, it roars like an engine and drags you behind it like you’re chained to the goddamn bumper.

How does it work? I don’t fucking know. That’s the amazing thing. Best guess is that we get just enough character overlaid — Max is a survivor, Max is haunted by ghosts, Furiosa is a bad-ass, Immortan Joe is a skull-mask wearing chemo monster, and we’re off to the races once more.

Very Little Oxygen

Writing action is very often: ramp up action, then draw down into some oxygen, then more action, then more oxygen. A action film’s rhythm is like breathing during sex — starts normal, then you hold it, then it gets faster and faster and then you slow back down and then go go go nnngh holy toe-curling shitkittens, boom. Die Hard has that classic rhythm. Intense action, then oxygen of roughly equal duration. You learn about character and context, then back into action. It works. It’s a good pattern and you can use it for a lot of storytelling that has fighting or gunplay or fucking or fightplay gunfucking or whatever.

But Max gives the tiniest little appe-teasers of oxygen. But mostly? It’s all action. It’s two hours of cinematic-foot-on-an-accelerator with only a handful narrative potty-breaks.

How does it work?

What little oxygen you get is like gulps of air when you’re drowning in rising floodwater.

They’re meager, but they work. And the film never really lets you get comfortable.

That won’t fly with every story.

But hot chromeshite, it works here.

Protagonist And Main Character Are Not The Same

Mad Max is the main character.

Furiosa is the protagonist.

His is our POV.

But she is the one with agency to change things.

She moves the story.

He is merely present in the story.

She fires the gun.

He’s the shoulder on which she rests the weapon.

(I can’t speak to whether or not the film is truly feminist — that’s for smarter and more impacted people than I am to decide. But you have a world where the men are either all-brutal or half-useless, and are made more “human” by their contact with women. Women in this are generative creatures, the keepers of the future, the civilizing force. They’re the ones who get shit done and who will change the world. The men can either get in line, or they can get fucked. It’s not just that the film gives the women characters agency — it’s also about what’s necessary for them to be equal, and for the world to be made better in their wake, not in the wake of men. We are given the suggestion that men ruined this world, but it might just be the women who fix it.)

Regardless — separating your protagonist and your main character is a tricky maneuver. It’s ADVANCED LEVEL shit, hombre. But Mad Max handles it well — even using it to perhaps drive home the point I just made (re: feminism) above.

Explains Almost Nothing

Haha, you wanted answers and context as to what’s really going on?

WELL TOO GODDAMN BAD.

The film’s world-building is such that here’s how it builds its world:

“Did you see that thing that just happened? We just drove past it at 120 MPH.”

“But you didn’t tell me anything about it.”

“Oh, you want to know more about it?”

“I do!”

*shoves bottle rockets in your mouth*

*throws you into a pit*

*covers you in guzzoleen and bullet casings*

*throws a car on top of you too because hey cars are cool*

*the car is covered in spikes and Juggalos because of course it is*

The movie doesn’t linger. It never AS YOU KNOW, BOBs you. It assumes you either will figure it out or you won’t and that’s on you. What’s with the chrome paint? And the Valhalla? And who are the Bullet Farmers and what the fuck is Gas Town? Why is Max a blood bag? What is a Doof Warrior and why is that girl named Toast? Who is the little girl in his vision?

What the actual unholy sand-fucked shit is going on?!

Nope. None of it. No hard answers.

Just buckle up, butterfly. Can you get away with this in your story? Maybe. Fury Road does it because it still recognizes that the real story isn’t all those details but rather, about the flight for freedom. It gives you the details you really need to get to the next moment — and literally nothing more. No fat on those bones. It’s lean and raggedy as a starving coyote.

But it still hunts.

And Oh By The Way, Fuck Consistency

Everyone wants to know how this lines up with the previous three films and they’re scrambling to draw the comparisons — MAYBE MAX IS FERAL BOY AND FURIOSA WAS MAX’S DAUGHTER AND LOOK THE MUSIC BOX AND I’M PRETTY SURE I JUST SAW MASTER BLASTER IN THE CORNER OF MY EYE SITTING NEXT TO ME IN THE THEATER — and all of that routinely fails because these films are basically disconnected narratives. They advance only the narrative of the apocalypse (in each, the world is worse than when we last saw it). Max is different in each. Little actually connects them. Less connects this one to the last three. It doesn’t matter.

Good luck pulling that off in your story, ha ha ha.

Why does it work here? Again, fuck if I know. It works because it works. It works because thematically it’s tied together. Because it’s like revisited mythology — an interpretation of character and story, whether we’re talking about Zeus or Jesus or Batman or Bond. (Behold my new character: JAY-ZEUS BATBOND, the super-spy vigilante savior! Somebody pay me.)

Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t give a bucket of sunburned fucks about your rules.

Your writing and storytelling rules are just roadkill, bubba.

91 comments

  • There are no perfect stories. Just stories that resonated so much with us, we could not see–and did not give a damn–about their imperfections. Mad Max either worked for you or it didn’t. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is–and what it is is something unique. An action movie that has no respect for the old world order. God bless it’s Valkyries and Warboys and the beautiful, surreal, half-light shot of creatures on stilts in a ruined marsh. It’s the worst world ever to live in, but I would pay again to visit it. A LOVELY day indeed.

  • It’s the rule of cool, man: the limit of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to the element’s awesomeness (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfCool).

    Eh, it’s really more than that, but that’s a lot of it (imagine a motorized flaming guitar war machine in a Michael Bay film – somehow I don’t see it working as well). The Mad Max movies have always understood that simple motivations (survival, revenge) can illuminate larger themes and that our shared humanity means we don’t really NEED all that much information to understand that.

    Which leaves more time for car chases. And, well, really just more car chases. It’s like 2 hours of pure car chase.

    George Miller: “Did y’all like The Road Warrior?”

    Audience: “We fucking LOVED The Road Warrior.”

    George Miller: “Here’s the Road Warrior with a massive budget and an even simpler plot. Enjoy.”

    Audience: “Fuck yeah!”

    • It’s appropriate that the “Rule of Cool” page you linked to is illustrated with a pic of the Coma Doof Warrior still crushing it from beyond the grave.

  • You know why I think a lot of this works?

    The movie gives us space. It keeps us at arm’s length. Varying degrees of distance.

    That separation gives the viewer the opportunity to fill the void between answers. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all, and we are more than happy to supply explanations for something we love, even when it is trying hard to be unlovable (see Game of Thrones). The difference here is that it feels deliberate.

    Why did Furiosa become an Imperator? How did Joe build the Citadel? What is the relationship between the War Boys and the Vultures and the mountain pass raiders?

    You have an answer. It’s probably different from my answer. It’s probably not even a great answer, honestly, because it’s made of the same backwash-brainjuice that “writer ideas” are made of (“Wheee, I made the perfect story… and then I write it down and the magic turns to shit”). But it’s enough to glue together the world into a thematic whole. We square the inconsistencies because the thrill of the narrative compels us to, and because the movie respects us enough to not offer smug little answers in an attempt to show how smart it is.

    • The lack of explanation for how Furiosa came to be an Imperator has been nagging at me since I saw the film. It felt like she was the sole woman in the Citadel who wasn’t being used for her body. I feel like her backstory must be pretty exceptional and I need to know more.

      • I’m with you, Amanda, and I didn’t even realize it was itching at me until you said it. Was this because she was missing an arm, and was therefor not a “perfect offering” for the petty god Immortan Joe? Who knows? Do we need to? It’s funny how we sometimes just accept something, maybe because we assume we’ll get the information later. I seem to remember that she said she’d transported other women several times before. Transported where? Obviously not to the “Green Place.”

        • Yeah, my headcannon is that her disability gave her a little more leverage in controlling her fate. Re: her comment regarding transporting women before: that bothered me too! She implied she’d failed every time before so I want to know how she got away with it without Immortan Joe or someone else finding out she’d smuggled people out.

          I heard there’s a comic book releasing next week might explain more about her origins, which could be cool.

      • Weirdly, it didn’t bother me at all. Just like Nate said, my mind instantly filled it in with backstory. In my mind, she’d given up something, sold someone down the road or did something she knew was wrong in order to get out of that life. When she told Max that she was looking for redemption (to the point I actually said “redemption” before she did), well, that just furthered my theory. And when she said to Joe, “Remember me?” It pretty much sealed the deal for me.

        Am I right? Who knows? But it gave me just enough information that I was completely cool with my own backstory. It was all I needed.

  • In part, I think it works as a movie because the writer and dierctor are the same. Few to no sceenwriters could successfully both write and pitch such a dark horse concept.

    In fact, I think the rumor is that they worked off storyboards as compared to an actual script. I think one critic said that for Miller, the action was dialogue.

    • I totally agree that the directing played an even bigger role in the storytelling than normal. The way everything fit together visually and the way the action fit into the plot told us so much more than a normal action movie might have; I felt like I understood the characters even though I hadn’t been directly told about them. Subtle cues provided loads of intimations about backstory. I don’t think it would have worked the same if the writer and director had not been either one person or a closely-knit team.

  • “The movie doesn’t linger. It never AS YOU KNOW, BOBs you.”

    Seriously, it’s one of the most beautifully efficient understandings that film is a visual medium, and therefore “show, don’t tell” can work gloriously. It has story and character development and emotion and reversals, and it does so with the understanding that you can get all of those with a skeletal minimum of narration and dialogue.

  • Regarding the “FUCK CONSISTENCY” bit: The best theory I’ve stumbled across, and now personally subscribe to, is that in the Mad Max films, Max is a legendary character, like Robin Hood or King Arthur — what we are seeing are the tales told of him, by the people of the later civilization, of the effect he had on the various groups that put the world back together. (This is pretty much explicit in ROAD WARRIOR and BEYOND THUNDERDOME, where the narration comes from the Feral Kid looking back on his childhood, and by Savannah as she does “The Tell of Us All.”)

    Like the Arthurian or Robin Hood legends, there is no internal consistency, because it’s the particular tale that’s the important bit.

  • Another film that does great work on not settling down to tell you the backstory: John Wick. I love, for example, the detail of the gold coins used as currency of favors among the underworld. Why gold coins? Where do they come from? How do you earn them?

    These questions are never answered because the true answer about the gold coins is that they are needed as an element of the story. They exist because they have to exist.

    So the bullet farm in Mad Max? It exists because bullets have to come from somewhere. Gas town? It exists because gas comes from somewhere. More than that is irrelevant to the story.

  • The audience, rather than the movie itself, makes it work. The audience that comes to see Fury Road doesn’t need the set up. The first three movies did that for them. If you’re not a fan of at least one of the first three films, you won’t be a fan of this one. I may have loved this movie twenty years ago when I still loved the original three, but I’ve moved on. I couldn’t care less about Fury Road.

    • That is about as wrong as an opinion can be about a film that one has not seen.

      The previous films lay ZERO ground work for this film, aside from the idea that there’s a guy named Max, and the overall existence of the genre. In fact, a lot of the stuff that happens in this film doesn’t appear to jibe exactly with the previous films (for example, Max is tormented by visions of a little girl who was apparently killed by a truck — except his kid in the first film is a baby, and is killed by bikers).

      That’s kinda like saying that the Daniel Craig Bond films only work because the audience brings with them the set-up from Sean Connery in 1963. Not only is that kinda ridiculous on it’s face (since it shares almost nothing stylistically or thematically with them), but it’s also just mathematically unlikely, given that most of the audience wasn’t alive at the time.

      To claim that the audience is providing set-up based on some contradictory film elements from 30+ years ago is kinda odd.

      I mean, I totally get that it’s the hipster iconoclast thing to set one’s self in opposition to Much-Hyped Popular Thing, but I think you might be surprised by Fury Road.

    • Mad Max Fury Road is the first Mad Max I’ve ever seen. I never saw the old ones. I loved this new one. Nothing was explained and it was awesome.

      In fact I had a long conversation with my boyfriend after seeing it about how much I love being thrown into a world without explanation, having to learn by osmosis. Reminds me of the first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope. It’s also what I liked about David Lynch’s Dune when I caught it on TV as a 12 year old (which then introduced me to the amazing books). I’d rather figure things out than be given a ton of exposition. It makes me feel like a kid again.

    • Yeeeaaahhh, I was originally planning to skip it because I wasn’t a fan of the first three. Reviews and opinions of people I trust were unanimous, so I gave it a shot and was delighted. Exhilarated, even. The movie itself absolutely made it work, because I didn’t have any nostalgia to do the heavy lifting for me.

    • May 28, 2015 at 12:40 PM // Reply

      I feel like Miller completely overlooked the whole origin thing, another rule break?, because we already know who Max is. And this is just another day in his hellish life.

    • Nope.

      I went in having never seen any of the previous films. Neither have any of my friends who have seen it. We’ve all loved it and actually have no desire to see any of the other films. It’s an experience, not a franchise.

    • There was no need to see any of the previous films. The only thing that really called back to the previous films were the flashbacks to the death of his daughter. That was it. I’ve heard way too many people say that they had either not seen the films and loved it or they had seen the older films, hated them, but loved this one.

      This movie completely and utterly stands on its own.

  • I loved it, Chuck. I came away with the feeling that THIS was what film is meant to be. Not quite the thrill I got from the world in Avatar, but much stronger as a STORY. I wanted to buy another ticket and watch it again immediately. The MC – protagonist thing worked like a charm, and I was aware of many of those unanswered questions, but didn’t care. The sound was poor – I missed a lot of the dialog, but even that didn’t matter. Loved it. [My wife hated it.] Will sneak back and watch it again or buy the video. And try to write like that.

    • Haha, no way, I loved that! It was so preposterous and over the top I found it endearing. I totally believe the douchebags who ran that culture would require flaming electric guitars to provide the soundtrack as they road into “Valhalla.” :)

      • This, exactly. It was so DRAMATIC. And this wasn’t just a random chase; war was their raison d’etre (I mean, everything in their culture was named after war, literally) so of course they would require a dude with a guitar to play a badass soundtrack to accompany them. It was just that important.

    • May 28, 2015 at 12:45 PM // Reply

      Really? Mad Max, to me, has always been about outlandish characters and strange dress styles. They need that drum beating guitar player to keep the troops ready to go to Valhalla, a place they clearly know nothing about.

  • CUT THE GUY WITH THE GUITAR???!!!!

    That was my wife’s favorite bit. She wants that sucker following her around on errands!

    I agree the complete absence of context and backstory was a risk and yet I also agree that’s what triggers the increased audience engagement. We all quickly realize — whoa, I better sit the fuck up and pay attention or next thing I know I’m going to watching the ending credits roll.

    Tricky line to walk, though. Less is more unless it’s not enough. Learning that, and knowing that the line isn’t defined until you get there, is one of the subtlest, trickiest things to learn.

    • “Less is more unless it’s not enough.” That has to be one of the most profound statements I’ve heard in quite a long time! You’re right, that *is* a tricky line to walk, and the main reason we, as writers, desperately NEED beta readers! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had something in my mind so firmly that I KNEW I’d written into my story, only to have my reader yank my chain with a WTF? LOVE that phrase, David. Can I steal it for my blog?
      Also, LOVE the guy with the guitar, and the guys with the taiko drums. AWESOME! You can’t cut those!

  • In a lot of ways, the absence of context and backstory is what I loved about BUCKAROO BANZAI — which was a film that was played as if it was the latest film in a series that you already knew everything about, and (in the words of Kevin Smith, hosting a Lithgow & Weller interview at a screening at the NYFF a while back) it just said… “Eh… you’re a smart kid. You’ll keep up.”

  • Never mind the film, that was the most exhilarating bit of writing I’ve read for ages.
    “Just buckle up, butterfly.”
    Genius. Channels sandblasted James Ellroy w/guttural hacking throat stuck full of bush flies, gas fumes.

  • To me, this is where “Learn the rules so you can break them effectively” comes from. George Miller knew the rules. Oh boy, did he ever know them.

    This calls to a lot of newbie writers these days. Many of them focus so hard on learning the rules, and applying them as hard and as fast as they can–playing “by the book”, as they say–that they never try anything new or out of bounds.

    • Or worse, their adherence to the rules strangles their style and forces them to contort their work to compensate for all those Laws Writers Must Live By, like passive voice. God almighty I hate Passive-Voice Nazis.

      • Or “NEVER EVER USE AN ADVERB” or “KILL YOUR DARLINGS.”

        Oh shut it. Can it. Stick up your hoody-hoo.

        Wait, hold on. Let me get this. Here: Carefully stick it up your hoody-hoo.

        Right, okay, in that case, never use an adverb works, but fuckily fuck poody poo!

    • Yes, the ending was entirely predictable, but we needed a happy ending – a hopeful ending, where the women could rebuild the world. The men had made a dog’s dinner of it!

  • May 26, 2015 at 5:02 PM // Reply

    Did not work for me. One long too loud car chase. The trilogy had more soul, more engagement.

    • I agree. Too much going on is just about as boring as too little.And I love movies, and I was dying to see this. So I was disappointed.The first fifteen minutes was exhilarating, the dragsters beating the kettle drums was one of my favorite images, along with the guitar-guy. But he was so overdone that I got tired of seeing him. Just a fleeting glimpse of him would have been enough to inflame my imagination.

  • I saw this movie–and I LOVED it. I’m an old lady with a chip on my shoulder about movies in which women are always secondary, eye candy, power-behind-the-throne, yada, yada. But [SPOILER ALERT] they threw all that away and knocked my chip off my shoulder just when I was getting it all buffed up and shiny. They made me laugh at myself and at apolcalypses and at crazy, over-the-top action-on-action-on-action chase scenes.

    But I have to disagree about not giving backstory. What they did right was to plaster a backstory right in our faces that said, you wanna know why that guy was strapped to the front of a war-wheels going bat shit outta hell in the original Mad Max? Here’s why! You want to know why he’s called Mad Max? Because he really is. He’s not some hauntingly sad ex-hero who lost so much. He is almost as batshit crazy as the rest of these nutball survivors–and he has real ghosts who blind him and make him run and twitch. Now THIS is a Mad Max worthy of the moniker.

    Then they broke rules introducing vital characters WAY into the movie without making them miracle makers–just necessary. They were always there, you just didn’t know it.

    I wrote a sci-fi, action film, and my boss wouldn’t let me introduce characters half-way in. He was pure Hollywood. You JUST DON’T DO THAT. Well, nyaa-nyaa-nyaa-nyaa!

    For me, the best thing they did that really worked and broke the rules [ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT] is they put the Hollywood-required all-is-lost moment almost at the start of the movie. I was halfway out of my seat ready to shout at the screen, “Wait! Max is the HERO, dammit! Your violating the sacred formula. He’s not supposed to be trapped and beaten and hopelessly toss around like a sock puppet. He’s gonna get himself loose by some Herculean feat of strength or wit, right? RIGHT?! Right now. Well, maybe now. Well, okay, not then, but it’s got to be NOW!

    But he doesn’t. That drove my adrenalin way over the overload point (reminder to people with heart issues–don’t see this–I shouldn’t have). It made me pay attention to who Max was–that he was human, not a preternaturally lucky hero. It made all the craziness real and slid a message in while I wasn’t paying attention about loner heroes not really being so heroic–that ya gotta act together to effect change.

    So they did follow formula–all action movies have to start with action, even if you don’t care yet. Then they feed you the character and make you care. In this case, they make you care even if the characters don’t seem in the least bit lovable. I want to write like that.

  • So, my impression of your rant-bit about “Explains Almost Nothing” is this: Remember when you were in some writing class or workshop and you had just read your story, and some jack-hole tells you, in supercilious fashion, to “show-don’t-tell”; but you don’t know what that means, dammit, and your confusion is not helped when you look into said jack-hole’s eyes and know, beyond doubt that they don’t know what it means either but they had to say it, because it sounds writerly and cool and shows just how much better, and cooler, and writerly they are? Yeah. So then, remember days or weeks or hell, even years later when you’re in another writing group or workshop or class and someone else reads their story and you have an epiphany, an Aha Moment when you know exactly what that tired old cliche means? Well, Fury Road is one long, giant, mother-fucker of an Aha Moment, and telling is left by the wayside in a cloud of Outback dust.

  • For me the all-is-lost moment was when they met those women on the motorbikes and learned that there was no green place, only an impossible stretch of salt ahead and the enemy back the way they’d come. I’m pretty sure when I see it again I’ll be able to map Hollywood’s immutable 3-act structure onto the film. The character “Nux” was interesting. The way he switched sides without any motivation that I could see. Maybe I missed something in the dialogue.

    • Regarding Nux’s motivation, there wasn’t really any dialog to explain it but this is how I read it:

      He was nearing the end of his ‘half-life’ and so desperately wanted to die a glorious death which would lead him to Valhalla. He first failed when Max broke through his car’s window and caused him to crash before setting off a flare into the gassoline-filled car. A little later Joe gave him a second chance to die in glory (with a glorious send-off speech to boot) at which point he again failed embarrassingly in front of his judge (‘mediocre’). On top of that Joe had seen that Nux’s escaped bloodbag was the one driving the rig. At this point he basically gave up on his lifelong quest for Valhalla, the primary motivation for the War Boys to fight in Joe’s army, and found some other reason to proceed with what was left of his short life after being comforted by Capable during his lowest moment.

    • jjtoner, I think it was almost subliminal. Back in the citadel he’d said something about how he was going to die, and wanted to do something worthy of going to Valhalla; that was why it was so important to him to go on the chase after Furiosa. Then he ended up in the war machine, and a beautiful woman was kind to him — for just no reason at all that he could see. I think she was his ‘Valkyrie.’ It was that moment where he switched allegiance.

  • Nix, well, first there was the pretty face of the red-haired girl, then there was the fight against the common enemy, but the final kicker for him was when he realized that Immortan Joe saw him driving the War rig for Furiousa and the girls, and therefore was never going to escort poor li’l Nux to Valhalla. Least that’s my take on it!

  • I personally would’ve loved more of the Green place, with those weird stilt walking almost human creatures, but that would be a whole ‘nother movie!

  • I adored this movie, and I don’t even bloody like action films, usually, so I’ve spent a long time pondering what made it work as well as it did. Regarding the sparsity of explanation for various elements of the world – that really stuck out to me, both when I watched it and afterward. I’ve seen plenty of films/shows where there were a lot of details that went unexplained where the ultimate effect was just “well this is dumb and doesn’t make any sense,” but I think it worked so well in Fury Road in large part because I really had the sense that someone sat down and thought out the logical structure behind *every* one of those details (and with a degree of orifice-retentivness similar to my own, regarding such things).

    It’s the same kind of thing that has snagged my interest so very deeply with movies in the past – my favorite film of all time is (laugh if you must) Labyrinth. I don’t think it’s objectively good in a number of ways, but what let it sink its claws into my brain so deeply it’s probably never letting go is the sense of world-building beyond just what was shown/explained – and that far more was shown than was explained. It’s that kind of thing (…and not, contrary to some of my friends’ beliefs, a glam rock star prancing around and sounding sexy…) that makes me wonder… makes me want to write fanfiction.

  • That scene at the end with the fire guitar closeup… Straight up camp cheese. ALMOST a touch too much camp cheese. Almost. Btw, is cheese camp a thing?

  • Because so little dialogue is used, what’s there is really important. Nux switches sides not just because of the red-haired girl’s pretty face, but because of what she says to him. She asks, “Why are you so sad?” and he tells her it was his manifest destiny to die that day — “three times the gates of Valhalla were opened to me, and three times they closed!” She replied “Then I would say it is your manifest destiny not to.” He’s spent his entire life being told it’s his job to go out and get himself killed, and suddenly, with one sentence, she’s flipped a switch. Maybe, just maybe, he’s actually supposed to want to live. At least, that was my take on it.

  • Visual mediums can get away with just action a lot more than books, I think. The cool and spectacle factor works better when you watch it than when you read about it.

  • One quibble: Max isn’t the main character, he’s the misdirect. He’s Janet Leigh in Psycho, there to create an immediate bond with the audience by presenting a form of protagonist we recognizable, before snatching him away to unmoor the audience’s emotional anchor. Then we go looking for a new anchor for our empathy, and are presented Furiosa.

  • I don’t have to tell you that you rock, sir, because surely you know. However, although I never cared at all for Mad Max prior to this, Fury Road resonated with me. Your post is almost like a trace of a hint of why.

  • Fuckin’ amazing film, but I think I’m going to disagree with your parenthetical aside there. I’m a man, so probably speaking out of turn here, but I was a BIT confused at the gender disparity for good and evil. Like you said, all the men in the film are depicted as fuckin nutjobs, while the women are all righteous, compassionate folk. And the only two men become worth a damn is because of their interactions with women.

    IDK…I think I would have liked to have seen some Wargirls, ya know what I mean? I feel like if this situation was reversed, where the women were all the nutjobs who fucked up the world and all the men were righteous warriors, and women only became worth a damn because the inherent goodness of a man, the internet would be a-flame with misogynistic claims. And I don’t think feminism is the opposite of misogyny, or should mean misandry. It should mean equality.

    • I think it’s much more nuanced than females are good and males are bad. For this particular, very focused story the villains we see on the chase are all men, yes. However, the film strongly implies that Furiosa has done terrible things in the past to get where she is (hence her need for redemption). I’m sure if we’d spent more time at the Citadel there would have been other women in positions of power, with the same implication – but that would be a different story. There’s also the scene where one of The Wives, the Dag, challenges one of the Vuvalini about shooting people “I thought you girls were above all that?” and is put in her place somewhat by the older lady. Nope, the women have to be violent to survive here, just like everyone else. Miller also, through the character arc of Nux, makes it clear that the dying, brainwashed War Boys aren’t simply evil or crazy, they’re just as much Joe’s victims as his Wives are. This is emphasised again at the end when the War Pups back at the Citadel see that Joe is dead and begin to turn on his remaining son, Corpus Collossus. It’s also worth considering Fury Road within the series, not just in isolation. Other Mad Max films (not sure if you’ve seen them) show nasty female characters, female antagonists, females with power. It’s something Miller wasn’t interested in depicting again and didn’t fit this story.

      • In addition, if I remember my Mad Max Mythology, at this point in the post-apocalypse many more women have died than men, and there just aren’t nearly as many women in the world as there are men, mostly because the quick rise of absolute nut-jobs like the war-boys.

    • Feminism doesn’t mean misandry. It really does not.

      It’s a pretty simple equation: when you are in a society that favors dominance over equality, many men have a distinct physical advantage over many women and can use that to gain dominance. Even in our society, some men use physical violence to dominate women, or threats of physical violence to try to scare women that they don’t like (even if the women are doing something as ultimately harmless as discussing cultural ideas relating to video games, for example). Dudes are usually more aggressive (testosterone promotes aggression) and usually stronger, if not individually than definitely as a group. That’s why you don’t really see, historically, a lot of societies where women were the nutjobs fucking everything up and men were just cowed slaves.

      The leaders at the Citadel clearly favor dominance over equality; they use tactics like withholding water and resources to cow and control the population. These leaders happen to be dudes; they use their dominance to force the “best” women to be breeders and to brainwash people into being warriors. Many of these warriors are men, possibly for practical reasons: the citizens would be doing their own breeding and the women might be pregnant or breastfeeding, which is how the whole idea of “women’s work” came to evolve in the first place: women did work that allowed them to stay close to home so they could care for children. It wasn’t until later that the idea of social hierarchies made being a woman a lesser thing.

      But very likely, most or all of the people who lived in the Citadel were nutjobs. I’m sure the women were just as brainwashed as the men, but because humans take years to develop into self-sufficiency as opposed to weeks in other parts of the animal kingdom, they were probably stuck at home breastfeeding and wishing they could be Warboys.

      We also don’t see “all men” in this movie, so it’s curious to think that it’s a metaphor for “all dudes” vs. dudes who live in this very specific society that promotes aggression and dominance, or “all women” vs. “these are the women that we are seeing in this specific instance.”

    • It’s annoying, isn’t it? To go to a movie and realize your gender has been whittled down to nothing but furniture for the other gender to sit upon. That your entire gender, your way of being, the who that you are is nothing to the overall importance of the ultimate ending of the film you watched. You are chattel. You are nothing but the thing that drives women to the crazy town. That drives them to do crazy things like go nutso killing or binging on alcohol and partying. Damn those crazy men and how they just drive me crazy. Men, am I right?

      Amirite?

      Jeremy, I want to officially welcome you to womanhood. Only, bless your heart, you got to feel it just this once. You didn’t like it. The men served the will of the women. The women were the heart of the film. It was their story. They weren’t just co-stars and/or villains who never took the lead. Refusing to be just the paint on the wall.

      It’s amazing, utterly amazing, that when men see a film that turns the tables on them, they suddenly realize how bonkers it is. But when they go to see the umpteen hundred other action movies where the women are eye candy or villainesses and the men save the day, they won’t see that same principle applied. Because gosh darn it, ain’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

      Since some cocksucker decided that all that was wrong with the world was due to some bitch (Eve) stepping out of line, we women have had to deal with the exact bullshit from every corner of the earth that you suddenly feel all heartbroken over in this one little film. How dare he make Max the one who has to pony up and join the women’s brigade?! This must make him less of a person! You just don’t have to deal with that very often in movies that aren’t Terminator 2, Aliens or The Hunger Games.

      Fucking hell, can someone give me George Miller’s phone number? I want to thank that man from the bottom of my heart.

      I know. You must be reeling that I’d want to thank a man. Misandry, after all. Misandry!

      You’ll live. You’ll be okay. God knows we have.

  • Fury Road came out on my birthday. BEST. BIRTHDAY. PRESENT. EVER! I’ve seen all the other Mad Max movies and liked each one of them for different reasons. Although they are “about” the same character, I really believe they each stand alone. I think Gareth Skarka is right, that these are tales about a legendary character, and that each tale has its own moral, its own point to make, and are not necessarily about the “real person” or Max Rockatansky. I also agree that it was Max’s interaction with the characters in each that changed their world. He is there as a catalyst, not a real person, despite what is happening in his own life at the time. I think that this movie is more on the order of a reboot for the series, too.
    One of the things that always appealed to me about the series is the unexpected insight into the cultures, the attention to details that make things real for me. Like the subtle way the language changed for the children in Thunderdome — “listen, and ‘member,” and the “tell of us all.” And the way the kids watched the fire in the TV set and told stories — because that was the closest thing they had to the technology that had brought them together when they were even younger, sitting around the set. (I also wonder why there was a TV set on the plane? Just a wonder question. Like “Why is that watermelon over there?” in Buckaroo Banzai…)
    The biggest thing for me about the Mad Max movies is that they aren’t *just* action movies. We aren’t there just to watch the big booms, pretty colors, and daredevil — no, tell it right, downright PSYCHOTIC driving sequences! There is thought given to characterization and motivation in each one of them. It may be subtle or it may be blatant, but it is always there. I really appreciated Max’s flashes of memory, watching the things that triggered him. The things that kept him from being able to reach out and touch people, because he wasn’t always certain that they were real and he wasn’t always certain they had his interests in mind. THAT is what makes this movie for me. The subtle, slow character growth arc that keeps him afraid to reach out in the beginning, but has him helping the women throughout, and finally sacrificing himself both literally and figuratively at the end. Giving his blood to save Furiosa, giving up his chance at safety (equated with being on his own and alone so he can’t be hurt again) by going back to her and the others and showing them how they can make their dream come true by going back to their beginning. Showing them how they will be safe, and can make others safe, now that Immortan Joe and his crazies are all dead.
    I’d have enjoyed the movie without it, but it would have been a “that was fun!” and that would be the end of it. But because of the characterization, because of that growth, this will be one I want to own. Because with that, they make me care, and *that* is why this was the BEST. BIRTHDAY. PRESENT. EVER!

  • I really enjoyed this film, but I don’t think it got away with it’s lack of context. I think this meant for very shallow characters and zero world building. While rules can (and often should) be broken, I still felt I need a little more meat in Mad Max:Fury Road.

    Having said that, it was still a lot of fun. But I do think it could have been *EVEN BETTER* if it had given us just a few nods to world-building context and characterization/backstory.

    I wrote a whole piece about this, actually: http://pop-verse.com/2015/05/27/characterization-in-film-star-wars-vs-mad-max-fury-road/

  • I loved the world in the movie, but I think the characters are soo overrated. I’ve seen so many people say how good the characters are, but none compare to John McClane or Darth Vader or the Terminator or Alex Murphy imo.

    Also, i wouldn’t taint Feminism by calling the movie Feminist. Its Misandrist. Nux is blamed by the breeders for the end of the world, not because he personally was at all responsible for it, but because he is a man so he is to be held accountable for the actions of other men. The Utopian society is distrustful not of the breeders despite the breeders not being from their society, but are solely distrustful of the men. The remnants of the Utopian society lacks any men. Max leaves the new Utopian society they are going to start at the end, with no insistence by the others for him to stay because it is implied that there is no place for him in it. Bad guy thinks women are property. Bad guy wants baby to be boy. Neither of which really fit into the story in any ways, its just to compare conservatives to this super bad guy, like in Avatar where the evil general used a term that George Bush was known for using frequently, to connect the two.

  • I can think of at least one comic company (Avatar) that would be willing to print a Jay-Zeus BatBond series.

  • As usual, Chuck, I love every goddamn word of your post. It’s poetry, dammit.

    That said, I would debate only one point you made. You wrote:

    “Regardless — separating your protagonist and your main character is a tricky maneuver.”

    I would argue it’s not only common in cinema but de rigeur — though not for the reasons one might think. In essence, the function of the protagonist in most action cinema is fulfilled by the villain. For instance, in Die Hard, which you mentioned, John McClane is an entirely reactive hero, contending with the scheme set in motion by the film’s protagonist, Hans Gruber.

    I go on at some length about this in my own (quite lengthy) blog post about Mad Max: Fury Road, “Imperator Furiosa: The Hero We Need”. If you have the time and inclination, I invite you to give it a look.

  • And I don’t share your obsession with this movie.
    At the end of the day “Mad Max ” is a quite mediocre picture that stands out among all the blockbusters of the last five-year period probably only with desert scenery and road movie charisma.

  • May 28, 2015 at 12:33 PM // Reply

    They broke so many rules it’s criminal. Maybe that’s why Mad Max will go to Valhalla all shiny and chrome.

  • Furiosa drives the objective, over-all physical story, but Max drives the emotional, personal one. At every turn, at the end of each Act, Max makes a personal decision about what he is willing to do for others that Furiosa observes and it has the effect of earning her increasing trust. He goes from pure survival for himself, to agreeing to share the war truck to escape, to facing antagonists alone while Furiosa and the women escape (and he tells her if he doesn’t come back soon enough to drive off without him). That relationship then in turn allows Max to catalyze Furiosa to make the choice at the end of the second Act to return to the citadel to fix things instead of fleeing it. He in turn agrees to fight for them. Therefore Max is the main character of the subjective story. Main characters are always the one with the most change in their personal story and from whom eyes we see the story. Furiosa is both the protagonist of the objective story, and impact / influence character of the relationship story. And finally her own story as the impact character is to seek out the Green Place and learn it no longer exists, but also catalyze Max to change personally. Max ironically becomes a blood donor to her like the blood bag he was named, sacrificing to heal her because she is the leader that is needed for the people at the citadel to reform and survive. He only does that because of the relationship of mutual respect and trust they developed. The death of Immortan Joe is the climax of the objective story, but Max healing Furiosa is the climax of both their relationship story and his personal subjective story.

    The relationship story is one of the most important aspects of this film. It was all about establishing trust and mutual respect between Max and Furiosa. One might say that’s the point of the feminism angle.

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