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Film Review: Mad Max: Fury Road
Enuja, Inkscape
Mad Max: Fury Road. 2015. George Miller, director

I loved this film! Which was a little bit of a surprise, because going in to films with high expectations is often the best way for me to leave a theater disappointed. The first time I heard of it was that a bunch of MRAs were upset about the new Mad Max film, which of course, suggested that it might be doing something right. Then, on opening night, I got this text from Wobbegong "You must see Fury Road very soon. First great feminist action film.", and, shortly thereafter, I read this very positive review by a college friend who has superb taste in film. And everything I was seeing and hearing about the film was all about how fantastic it is.

On the other hand, I knew that Fury Road was an all out action film, and, although I enjoyed action films while I was in college, they haven't appealed to me for a long time. Growing up, I was very sheltered from violence, and in college I got that all out: I hit people with padded plastic swords, I practiced martial arts, and I watched action flicks. But I'm more of a pacifist now, and thought that my love of action films had expired. Apparently not.

I got to the theater late, missed the opening monologue, and so was plunged into the film in the middle of a chase scene. The action and the world were over the top. Each visual was more extreme than the last, and a world with all this craziness was just not believable.

Then the film seduced me. After another big chase scene, the screen fades to black, and opens on what looks like a mountain of sand. Which starts to move. This mountain is a character, covered in sand. The cinematography had been beautiful up to that point, but with a momentary pause in the action, and this shift in perspective, the beauty began to really effect me. Then, characters who had seemed to be tropes developed individuality. The crazy over the top world starts to have a certain logic, and every character starts to make sense. Minions who had seemed disposable develop individuality, and every death matters. There are a lot of deaths, but no one is disposable, and only the powerful people, using their power at the expense of others, are evil.

Fury Road is essentially nonstop action, but, with characterization and beautiful cinematography in that action, I still love action! If absolute fidelity to the world as we know it is important to you, or if high adrenaline action exhausts you, this film is not for you. But if fantastic symbolism, meaning, action, and cinematography are your thing, you will love this film.

Some people have called this a feminist film, and I, who identify as a feminist, loved it. But people who don't identify as feminists, for both good and bad reasons, will also love this film. I had read in some places that anthropologists had never found a matriarchal society, and in other places that anthropologists had found many. It turns out that anthropologists haven't found a society where women rule everything and men are property, but there are plenty of societies where property is matrilineal and women have equal power to that of men. The same definitional problem crops up here. Does Fury Road name check feminism? No. Are the only important characters female? No. It's much better than that. Everyone's agency and individuality matters. Men and women are important. "We are not things." Men and women are good, and not good, in physical contests. So, yes, absolutely, this is a feminist film. It's also much more than that. It's tense, suspenseful action with themes of redemption, learning, the importance of individuality, and the importance of using what you've learned in order to fix your broken society. This is the kind of film I want to see, and the kind of film I wish Hollywood made more of.

For some really good analysis, here is another article by the same college friend.


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