Mad Max Fury Road: Feminist or Humanist?
By Andy Frisk
June 17, 2015 - 22:04
There's been much said about the feminist aspects of this summer's best action film. Some deride the film because they expected it to be pure action flick escapism (I'm guessing they never saw the previous Mad Max films), and some praised it because they believe it makes Imperator Furiosa out to be the film's real hero/protagonist. They are all wrong. Mad Max Fury Road isn't a feminist film as much as it isn't a mindless action one. It is a humanist film.
Basically, the world (and Australia) in particular has gone to hell and petty despots and grotesque caricatures rule what's left of the world, while the ne-er do wells struggle for a few drops of water released from tyrant Immortan Joe's gushing supply. He and his War Boys dominate their little settlement, and have reduced the squalor locked masses into water junkies and the attractive (and physically productive) women into breeders and milk producers. Thusly, a patriarchal society dominates. Enter Imperator Furiosa and her plans to rescue Immortan Joe's breeders and re-establish contact with a near mythical matriarchy which exists somewhere in the desert wastes of the Australian outback. Mad Max, a hapless bystander for most of the story, doomed to lead a life as a "blood bag" (he's a universal donor) ends up allying with Furiosa to form an uneasy team that ends up, not finding and establishing a matriarchal society, but instead overthrowing Immortan Joe's society and establishing a more (dare I say it) communistic, if not humanistic one.
Whoa, wait a minute here, you might be saying. Furiosa leads a band of women to the top (literally) of the tower and ends up being the leader, overthrowing the evil patriarch and establishing herself as the matriarch. Well, maybe the events of the film can be seen that way, but we're overlooking a very vital part of the story. She actually isn't the one who comes up with the plan, and leads the charge, to overthrow Immortan Joe. Furiosa is content to travel 160 days across "the salt" (the Australian desert) in flight from Joe and his War Boys. Max is the one who actually convinces her to try to take the citadel and overthrow Joe and form an alternative society where everything is shared on a more egalitarian principle. The final shot of the film shows Furiosa and the liberated breeders ascending to the top of Immortan Joe's former stronghold while the misbegotten poor cling to the ramp, symbolically elevated above their previous status as well. This upending of Immortan Joe's reality is only, and can only, be accomplished by Max and Furiosa (metaphorically representing men AND women) working together to form a more perfect union, so to speak.
The argument that Mad Max Fury Road is a humanist film above and beyond all other labels might be easily dismissed in one's mind as invalid because of the simplicity of the argument presented above. Another criticism of the film though, the criticism that it is too simplistic a story to buoy so many heady philosophical themes, adds credence to the theory. We need each other to survive, and more importantly, to thrive. Battles of the sexes, feminist theory arguments, etc etc are pointless when the basic need to form a sustainable society is threatened. Men and women will do what they can do individually to contribute to the common good, which is the case of this film is survival and sustainability. The human race, be it the one that we are all currently a part of, or the one that exists in the post apocalyptic vision of George Miller's, needs the equal contribution of both the sexes. One dominant over the other will not lead to sustainability. Only cooperation can lead to this. Perhaps it's more an indictment of our society that so many see the egalitarian bent of the film as a erroneously regarded feminist one. That doesn't say much for the progress, let alone sustainability of our society does it?
Mad Max Fury Road: Feminist or Humanist?