Of Max and Monsters
Mad Max: Fury Road takes place in a world on the brink of death. Mindless consumption of natural resources has turned the world into an endless, virtually empty, toxic waste. The people left are deformed and dying, poisoned by the wars that killed the planet. And yet, even in a world such as this, a few have managed to seize power. Warlords have taken control of what little water, ammunition, fuel (which the movie calls guzzoline) and anything else they can get their hands on and use them to control what few people are left. One of these tyrants is Immortan Joe, who has taken control of not only a vast supply of fresh water, but also a group of healthy young woman he calls his wives. He treats these wives as he would any other resource, using them to produce children and milk, which he uses to feed his army. The actual story of the movie follows one Joe’s soldiers, Imperator Furiosa, and her companion Max Rockatansky, on her quest to liberate the wives, flee from Immortan Joe and eventually return to overthrow the tyrant. At first glance, it would appear that Joe is a monster and Furiosa is the hero that slays him. However, Immortan Joe is not the monster of this story, it’s the woman who frees his wives, and liberates the people who suffered under him. The monster of this story is Furiosa. In Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s essay, “Monster Culture”, he describes monsters as representing something desirable, something that we as a society secretly want. And Furiosa is just that. Furiosa, and really all of the women this film, are a representation of our desire to see the people who run our society and keep us suppressed toppled, and our need to be liberated from the forces that would keep us under their thumb because they have something we need. Furiosa is our need to see the status quo toppled and be set free.
Something we as a society value most is freedom, and we have a long history of fighting for that freedom and battling the forces that oppress us. There is something inside all of us that that makes us detest the idea of being kept down, a piece of us that says we, as a group and as individuals, will not be denied our freedom. One scene early in the movie demonstrates this perfectly. Furiosa, with the wives of Immortan Joe, has just veered off the road to gas town, and has started heading east. While the soldiers escorting her don’t question this move, as soon as the Immortan notices it, he panics, and runs to a giant vault door deep within his fortress, and swings it open. What lays behind it is not your typical vault that would hold gold, jewels or other treasures. Instead, we see a rather spacious room. This room is very important, because it is unlike any other space shown in the movie thus far. The room, unlike the barren desert surrounding the fortress,or the caves Max runs through earlier in the movie, or even the area Immortan Joe’s followers scrounge for water, actually looks like a pleasant place to stay. There is a small pool of clean, clear water at the center, a large, glass window through which you can see a few of the Immortan’s crops, and a side room, with a few beds, and a book shelf. And most importantly, freshly scrawled across one wall, are the words “We are not things”. We only see this room for less than a minute, and yet, it gives us a lot of information about Joe and his wives. This room tells us, that compared to Max and other inhabitants of the fortress, the wives lived in luxury. They had clean water to bathe in, beds to sleep in, and were able to be out of the sun, and away from the rest of the Immortan’s soldiers. But this luxury came at a cost: The vault door that kept them inside. They may have had one of the only comfortable spaces left in the world, but staying there cost them their freedom. They lived in comfort, and yet they chose to travel into an uninhabitable wasteland with Furiosa, because she offered them the one thing the Immortan never would: Liberation, the ability to choose and live their lives, without being at the beck and call of a man who treated them as possessions, resources, a means to an end, not like people. When push came to shove, they chose to be free in a dying world, rather than life in a gilded cage, especially one that a tyrant holds the keys too. This scene demonstrates how much freedom means to people, and how much we would be willing to give up to give up for it. The wives gave up much more than a room. They had food, water, relative safety, and they gave it up, for the chance to live life the way they wanted, and, for what little time they had left, not be under the thumb of a tyrant.
A value of freedom, and a hatred of oppression go hand in hand. And with a hatred of oppression, comes hatred of the oppressor. When we wish for freedom, we also wish to see the tyrants, and those who control us fall, and be punished for what they’ve done and how they’ve treated us. This is why, in the final scene of the movie, when Immortan Joe’s flagship car pulls up to the fortress, and Max steps out to reveal the corpse of Immortan Joe, there is only a split second of stunned silence before the car is swarmed by Joe’s former populace, who then, in a frenzy, rip their former leader’s body apart, cheering as they hold limbs aloft for their fellow rioters, And then, Furiosa and the other wives step out onto the hood of the car and there is another moment of silence. Then as the last son of Joe sputters in confusion, two of the child soldiers of the fortress pull him away and give the order to raise Furiosa and wives up into the stone tower, all while the people cheer for her. They cheer. We don’t see much interaction between Joe and his subjects, given the way they treat his body in this scene, it is clear that they bear no love for their former lord. Like the wives, his subjects were provided water and food. However, unlike the wives, his subjects were probably only ever given just barely enough to live on, if that. Even though Immortan Joe did share his resources with them, he did it in a way that let them know he had the power. He controlled the water, and thus, had control over them, and it is clear that he wanted to make sure he knew that. It is from this type of leadership and tyranny that hatred grows from. The immortan’s subjects cheered for him when he had water, and soldiers, and impenetrable fortress, but when it came to light that Furiosa had slain him, they cheered for her. She had freed them, the same way she freed the wives.
It is through her deeds in the film that the Imperator Furiosa becomes a representation of our suppressed desire for freedom from oppression, and to see bad things happen to those who would keep us down. This is important, because we think of America as a free and just country, despite its troubled past. After all, we have made great strides in the last century years with women gaining the right to vote, and people of color and other minorities gaining more rights and equal treatment. However, we are far from free of oppression. Gay people only gained the right to get married very recently, and there are senators and presidential candidates already trying to get that right taken away. Women’s health care clinics are constantly being shut down, making it hard for them to get the care they need. North Carolina passed a law that actually takes away trans people’s right to use the bathroom that matches their gender. And perhaps worst of all, people of color are being killed in the street, and their murderers often escape without punishment. These problems all have one thing in common. They’re caused by people in our government. And the people that are most affected are usually powerless to do anything about it. This is why Furiosa is so special. She gives people who have been discriminated against a power fantasy. She rises up and defeats her oppressor, when those of us in the real world can’t. That is why, according to Cohen’s sixth theses, Furiosa is a monster.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses).” Readings for Analytical Writing, Third Edition. Ed. Christine Farris, et al. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 68–86. Print
Mad Max: Fury Road. Dir. George Miller. Perf. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and Nicholas Hoult. Warner Bros., 2015. Film.