What a day. Oh what a lovely day.
My fellow Tor.com contributor Leah Schnelbach has already had a lot to say about the sheer amazingness that is Mad Max: Fury Road. I am come, friends, to add my two cents in a paean of praise. Because I liked it. I really, really liked it. I cannot ever remember liking a film this much, to the extent where I went back to the cinema to see it twice more in the space of a week, and I still want to see it again. I have never fallen this hard, this fast for any film—any televisual work at all.
It is not just that, as an action film, it is a very good action film, balancing its tensions and its narrative drive and turning what’s essentially a two-hour car chase into a story of personal struggle, desperate defiance, and the hope of redemption in a dying world; or the fact that it chooses to use visual detail and implication to fill in background, backstory, and world without ever slowing down, relying on its viewer to catch up and keep running. It is not merely that the stunts are mind-boggling and the cuts smooth and practically balletic. No. I liked it—loved it—for more than these things: I loved it for its characters. For the fact that for the first time I can remember, I have seen an action film with a plurality of speaking female characters of all ages and personalities, and one which moreover rejects the male gaze so ubiquitous in film.
All that, and its theme includes ripping the face off the patriarchy as well.
Seriously. The woman in this film are never objects to the camera. This is a thing so bloody rare that I even understand why people are arguing the opposite, regarding that scene of water and women and Max: how often does a film show beautiful female people without framing them as consumable? We’re socialised into seeing skin as sex, into seeing women as objects for sex—and there’s a layer in the film that’s happy to use that cultural training against us, if we fail to see how the camera dwells on their personalities and reactions in this scene, on the water in the wasteland. There’s a layer of the film that challenges you to see these women as objects, that puts you directly in the shoes of the film’s villain, Immortan Joe, if you do: if you don’t heed the words the characters themselves speak: WE ARE NOT THINGS.
Skin, by the way, isn’t sex. Nakedness isn’t—and shouldn’t automatically be read as—sex. Women aren’t objects.
The camera respects the subjectivity of the characters, I think, and so does the narrative. And there are so many women, most of them standing out as individuals, from Furiosa—played by Charlize Theron, who shares the star billing with Tom Hardy as Mad Max and delivers an intense performance—a woman who’s perfectly willing to pull the trigger of a shotgun on a disarmed man, to the Splendid Angharad, who insists on No unnecessary killing! and from Cheedo the Fragile to the biker-warrior-woman of the Vuvalini (who are so very easy to read as a lesbian separatist commune and who rejoice in names like “The Seed Keeper” and “The Valkyrie”) that finally, finally, I feel…
I don’t know how I feel, actually. I feel too full of feelings. Old women being competent and important. Young women claiming their humanity, fully and explicitly. Men whose heroism comes from rejecting the narratives of toxic masculinity, whose heroism is shown in terms of helping. Death car stunts. Beautiful stylised violence. Character shown through action. FLAMETHROWING GUITAR.
Women, working together to protect each other.
Finally, there’s an action film whose arc isn’t some superhero problem-of-power, or Cops or Soldiers, or Man-Messiah, or Revenge. I like action films—but this is the first one where the arc really resonated, where it worked for me on a mythic level. Because escaping a system that reduces you to a productive object, that tries to reduce you to a thing?
It resonates for a lot of people.
So I’ll probably go back to watch it again, and I’ll probably cry again, because the third time I watched it was on Friday, 22nd May 2015, and now Mad Max: Fury Road is forever entangled with Yes we said yes we will YES in my mind.
I feel this is really where it belongs.