What We’re Watching: Mad Max: Fury Road
TDW: Mad Max: Fury Road is a lot of things. I could write about the feminist undertones and theme of literally smashing the patriarchy. I could talk about the extravagant set pieces and action scenes that make up the majority of the movie. I could even write about the colour tones and use of effects, both practical and digital. But for me the most standout aspect is the storytelling.
70-year-old George Miller presents the viewer with a masterclass in storytelling. There are no wasted scenes, there is no unneccesary dialogue, and characterisation is almost purely through action. We enter the story at precisely the right moment, and we exit at exactly the correct time. It is a movie of perspectives and for such a ‘thin’ plot (escape) there is a lot more under the hood of this hungry beast. If anything this movie firmly puts the theory of the Death of the Author to death, because there is not one frame without intention.
Plot moves forward via action, and given that this movie is entirely action, to say the plot is ‘weak’ or ‘thin’ does not do it justice. Cause and effect is in play the entire time, with few leaps of logic. Cliches are upended constantly, especially that of the damsel-in-distress.
But there is more than just the hectic plot involving car careening through the post-apocalyptic desert. The world-building is top-notch, with every character, car and steering wheel having a backstory which we do not need to be told – it is self-evident in the movements and imagery. Give me a supposed plothole and I will shoot it down. Fury Road expects the audience to catch up from the very beginning and to fill in the gaps. This is ‘show, don’t tell’ come to a glorious climax. And the narrative works efficiently, with the camera drawing us into various perspectives, whether the bad guy Immortan Joe grieving or Furiosa doing the same. Plot, story and narrative come together to refresh the viewer who is sick of superheroes, but there is one more element that knocks it out of the park. In fact, it does what superhero movies should do but rarely acheive. It provides legend.
The Mad Max series is positively mythic. Given the loose timeline each movie can be seen a fireside tale being told by witnesses or descendants of witnesses (certainly The Road Warrior holds up to this). The increasing craziness of the films is not just a result of a bigger budget. (Halfway through filming Fury Road a producer went to Namibia to see how production was going. They returned and the studio literally threw more money at Miller.) No, the storytelling gets more and more outlandish. Each teller gives their own account (‘So there was a guy playing a guitar, no, a flame-throwing guitar!’) and the story becomes more and more absurd, though probably more cohesive too. My favourite theory so far is that Fury Road is the film made of these dark times when civilisation returns and re-learns film making, with the quote at the end lending some credence to it (a new Herodotus). On the Greeks, the film is also hugely Homeric in stature. Like The Iliad it picks a precise moment of a longer tale. Like Greek myth the role of fate and destiny is a big part of events (‘manifest destiny’ is directly referenced). Max is our wandering hero who stumbles into other people’s stories. And finally these films are timeless (unlike, say, The Matrix) in that the aesthetics will never age, and nor will the story.
To me this is what we at Fantastica want to publish – in book form, of course. Short novels that don’t waste time, thrill us from the get-go, discuss important themes and most of all leave us deep in thought and excitement for a long time afterwards. If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, I urge you to do so without a moment’s pause. Or you could wait for the black-and-white version on the Blu Ray.
George Miller Interview I
George Miller Interview II