Even though the Oscars are largely bigoted bullshit, I’m still really excited about Mad Max: Fury Road getting the second-largest amount of nominations. I’m really excited about the fact that people took this movie seriously and the fact that people are continuing, apparently, to take it seriously.
And in a sad way, that’s almost funny: in most contexts, a movie about a woman helping other women escape sex slavery would at least look like “Oscar bait.” So serious, so dark. But the fact that this was a movie about a woman helping other women escape sex slavery that contained highly saturated colors and flaming car chases made it look like, well, an action movie. It is an action movie. And it’s a lot of fun, even with the heavy themes. But part of the fun comes from the fact that it’s a triumphant movie that never shies away from what it is and never tries to condescend and while there may be a cartoonish element to some of the situations and characters, it’s one of the most relatable films I’ve seen in years. Not in the sense of I’ve experienced analogous situations, but in the sense of
we are not things.
This is the film’s message, ultimately. It’s about Furiosa (Charlize Theron), taken from her matriarchal, powerful tribe of women who nurture and fight back and brought unwillingly into a world defined by, as so many others have said before, “toxic masculinity,” by the deification of false machismo that rather literally kills, brought into this world and seen to have risen up through it in spite of her femaleness, her disability (I know I’ve geeked out over Furiosa’s robot arm before, because robot arms are seriously cool, but let’s also not forget that it makes her badass on a whole other level), who’s now using her position to do something important, “steal away” these damaged young girls living a life so far from their choosing. And – herm, unhh – Max (Tom Hardy) is along for the ride, because toxic masculinity is also dangerous to men.
It’s about The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), favored among Immortan Joe’s human menagerie, who’s heavy with child and bears the most obvious physical marks of her suffering (the spiderwebby scars on her face), who inspires a revolution and preaches agency to the other sister-wives, who may not see the dream realized but is nonetheless pivotal to its realization.
It’s about Capable (Riley Keough), who fixes and thinks and helps, who offers a shoulder to lean on and calm, thoughtful words, who holds her sisters together even when they’re breaking and she wants nothing more who preaches Angharad’s words devotedly, who believes in the ultimate potential for goodness in even someone she oughtn’t to trust.
(That is to say Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who also exists because toxic masculinity is also dangerous to men and achieves the glory he’s been chasing because he casts off the pursuit of it.)
It’s about Toast the Knowing (Zoe Kravitz), quiet and solemn, who hardly cracks a smile, who can handle a gun and drive a car and fight to survive this hellish world, who’s been worn down but refuses to let herself diminish, who sticks close to Furiosa and does what’s needed of her to achieve the best thing for all of them.
It’s about Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton), young and pure and showing the clearest signs of psychological damage, who runs and cries and hides and clings (to one of her sister wives especially, but more to that in a moment), who seems willing to give up and in the end plays her weakness as a strength, who represents an innocence lost, who represents a tragedy that refuses to end unhappily.
It’s about the Dag (Abbey Lee), wild-eyed and a bit off, hence the nickname, but intuitive and gutsy and even abrasive when she needs to be, who lets Cheedo cling to her and clings in equal measure, who provides strength to Cheedo and to the others but to Cheedo the very most (theirs, one of the most softly intimate subtle physical relationships between women in film that I can recall in recent years), who carries something horrible inside her but learns how to grow something more beautiful, too.
(It’s about the interesting thing I realized, that one of Charlize Theron’s biggest critical successes was for playing a rape victim, that she and every single one of the wives are at least to some extent fashion models as well as being actresses, several of them even being Victoria’s Secret models, which is to say models of a type notorious for being under the male gaze, that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Zoe Kravitz have both taken part in male fantasy film franchises that did them wrong, that hell, Riley Keough was in Magic Mike and it did her character no favors, that hell, Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult have even participated in male fantasy film franchises. Casting them all was either intentional or a very happy accidental coincidence.)
It’s about all of these women and their couple of decent men and the way they intertwine. It’s about the way that Immortan Joe looks like a cartoon villain, but how many women can say they’ve been made at some point in their lives to feel at least some part a thing like he tried to make his wives feel? It’s about the way that important stories don’t have to end badly or be cast in grimdark greys or revel in horrors, but how they can be triumphant and uplifting and, yes, fun and sometimes a bit ridiculous, but in the end reach countless people in a way that other stories cannot.
–your fangirl heroine.