Monday, May 25, 2015

Maddening Max: The Hollywood Heteropatriarchy Strikes Again!

Theron as the badass Furiosa.
Some reviews would have you believe that the new Mad Max film, Mad Max: Fury Road, is
somehow feminist due to its badass female character, “Furiosa,” played by Charlize Theron. In fact, some Men’s Rights groups have called for boycotts of the film, incensed as they are by Theron’s turn as a dirt-spattered, shaved-head, gun-slinging, ace truck driver determined to screw the postapocalyptic patriarchy.

This fact alone suggests that the film is doing something transgressive with its representation of women and women’s agency. Unfortunately, Furiosa’s fury is not nearly enough to deem this film “feminist.” If anything, the feminist buzz around the film is dangerous, as it blinds audiences to all the heteropatriarchal banalities we have gotten so used to in action films.

Additionally, the film is just bad. The original Mad Max movies (which I have only heard about, never seen) were mostly car chases with little to no plot set against the backdrop of a red-hazed postapocalyptic landscape populated by maniacs and murderers. In that sense, the new film is not really a re-boot of the original, but more a homage to it. Little has changed: the film has more car chases and less plot or character development than a “Fast and Furious” film (of which I have seen at least 3, so that’s saying something). This film dazzles the viewer with sped-up action sequences, frequent vehicular fires and explosions, and a flame-throwing electric guitar, all of which serve to make the film seem excessively “cool”—but ultimately degenerates into visual chaos and confusion that is nearly migrane-inducing.

"Immortan Joe"--is he creepy enough
for ya?
From what I could glean, “Max,” who is introduced in an initial sequence of explosions, lizard-eating, and foot-chases, is a survivor of the apocalypse and its now-vicious inhabitants. As in many postapocalyptic films, the future is now run by the worst kind of criminals who enjoy torture, death, and power. They run the world, including its natural (and unnatural) resources: water, oil, and bullets. Max is kidnapped by the “War Boys,” disciples of “Immortan Joe,” a ghastly, Beetlejuice-like weirdo who controls the water—and the sexiest women of the colony, forcing them to father his children. Wives past their sexiness in life are forced to pump breastmilk for Joe and his war boys like cows in a dairy farm.

Imperator Furiosa sets off the events of the film by taking the sexy wives and hiding them in a large tanker, pretending to be on a mission to Oil Town. When she veers off course in an attempt to get the girls to safety (all of whom look like models and are, naturally, scantily clad throughout the film), she sets off an insane, hour-long car chase/battle sequence during which she meets Max and they become allies. In the second half of the film, Furiosa reunites with her home colony, an all-female colony, only to learn that there are only about 10 survivors, most of whom are elderly, and that their home, “the green place,” is now despoiled and dried up. They have no choice but to go back, fight the gangsters of Water Town, Oil Town, and Bullet Town (very creative names), and take back Water Town for the people.

Throughout the film, I grant you, Furiosa is a total badass. Charlize Theron, despite starting out as a model, has shown over and over again that not only is she a versatile and convincing actress, but she likes a challenge. As Furiosa, she is probably one of the most interesting female characters in an action film, postapocalyptic or not, to get on screen. By contrast, Max, played by Tom Hardy, says about 10 lines in the film, and outshines Furiosa in no apparent way whatsoever.

On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore the fact, as a feminist viewer and critic, that the film centers around the fight over women’s bodies. What makes the bad guys “bad” is that they are nasty old men who want all the hot chicks for themselves. The film seems to suggest that this is a result of the postapocalyptic order, rather than acknowledging that this is happening RIGHT NOW. The girls who escape, the “wives,” have some agency, but overall they are dainty, in need of saving, and, as mentioned already, wear incredibly revealing outfits, as if Furiosa were capable of getting 50 guns for the trip to the green place, but it didn’t occur to her to get a couple of coats and pairs of pants for the girls.
I've dubbed them "the sexy wives" aka the breeders.
These women need saving.
Then there is the fact that none of the powerful compounds have any women warriors—aside from Furiosa. All the “towns” or compounds are run by degenerate men who cannot function without breathing prosthetics or who display other striking health conditions, such as missing noses or legs bloated with postapocalyptic edema. Their warrior army, who, throughout the film, call out the war cry “Valhalla!”, are all men. Meanwhile, the women of the former “green place,” a colony not expressly described but, it is hinted, was a peaceful place focused on cultivating the land and sisterhood, cannot survive.

Clearly, in the postapocalypse, peaceful people aren’t tough (or something). Why not make the colony strong and vital? Why not have 100 survivor women to take back to Water Town? Or even 50? Instead, we get a paltry handful (maybe 10?).  I’m always left wondering if the filmmakers consciously decided to keep the green colony survivor group small, or is it simply that the filmmakers could not envision an entire colony of tough, brutal women survivors to begin with?

Instead, on the journey back to Water Town, about half of the green place survivors are killed in brutal ways on the road back to redemption. Luckily, so is Joe, his bloated body presented to the remaining leadership of Water Town as proof that his reign is over. Furiosa and Max share a final, farewell glance that is, thankfully, devoid of any romantic overtones. The movie at least gets that right: there is no sexual tension between our two heroes. They are joined in their mutual quest, for as long as it lasts, and then they go their separate ways.

For myself, I wish I could have my $12 back, and I wouldn’t even need one more parting glance to know that a true postapocalyptic vision would be one where women are part of the power structure, actively molding it and controlling it. Instead, this film, like so many others, suggests that the new world order would simply be the one we have now.

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