Are you tired of sexist tropes in Hollywood blockbusters? You need to watch this feminist action blockbuster.
A woman rebels against a tyrannical ruler in postapocalyptic Australia in search for her home-land with the help of a group of female prisoners, a psychotic worshipper, and a drifter named Max.
I’m not the biggest fan of action movies so I had no intention of watching Mad Max. I honestly thought people were trolling me when they told me it was this super feminist movie. How wrong I was! Mad Max: Fury Road sublimely subverts movie sexism in a number of impressive ways. On the surface Fury Road looks like your stereotypical Hollywood film; big budget blockbuster with well known stars, but really it challenges everything Hollywood stands for.
It’s essentially a story about escaping sexual slavery and it has zero sex in it. Can we just take a minute to realise how rare this is? Most mainstream movies abuse women on screen for “entertainment”. In this movie, we don’t meet the wives until they are free from the clutches of Immortan Joe.
Director George Miller definitely opts for show over tell as all these ideologies surrounding gender are just crushed repeatedly. There’s no narration or voiceover and Miller trusts his audience enough to figure it out. The movie completely rejects the “macho manliness” stereotype of action blockbusters too. The strongest example of this how Max’s stereotypical “Lone Wolf” status nearly gets him killed. Action movies are the worst for overlooking the danger of being alone against the world. He’s does pretty well on his own at the beginning, but it’s not until he teams up with Furiosa (and later, the Vuvalini) that he really stands a chance for survival. He’s 100% on board with this too, he even hands a gun to Furiosa as he knows she is a better shot. Max is the title character, but he essentially plays a supporting role.
Everything about this movie allows characters to shed tired tropes and constrained gender stereotypes. Miller has changed the game and set the bar very high; all Hollywood blockbusters should be like this.
WHAT DID OTHERS THINK?
I went back to the theater a second time for Fury Road, and I was ready to grab the blu-ray the day it came out – so safe to say, I liked it.
I am not a connoisseur of action film the way I am horror, but when something in a genre hits every note, it is a brilliant thing to watch. If I was only reviewing this Mad Max entry based on its skillful mastery of action, violence, and ingenious car chases, this would still be 100%.
However, we’re here for Feminist Film Club, and this is really Imperator Furiosa’s movie – or maybe every woman in the cast.
I cannot think of another time I’ve seen women so clearly dominate an action film – especially one woman receiving double billing with a male star (I nearly teared up at that title card with Theron and Hardy on it). The film allows Theron’s Furiosa to go toe-to-toe with Max: in service of her own redemption and that of a bevy of mistreated and abused women. It also places Max in direct service of Furiosa’s mission – his hand-off of a rifle with one shot to her better aim is about the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen, so who says chivalry is dead?
In my opinion, this is as feminist a film you can get, let alone inside the action genre. Edited by Margaret Sixel (also his wife), George Miller’s incredibly deft directing is quite literally guided by a woman, and I do think you can see this in the cut. Best sequence of shots? It may be any number of chase scenes, but for me, it was the women hosing themselves off outside the rig – it’s the stereotypical “ogle” of the male gaze, but the shots shift that focus from their bodies, to their chains, to the pregnant belly of Splendid. The film’s purpose is represented here: women reclaim themselves for themselves, and deliver water (and life) to the rest of the world.
Some have criticized the way in which Furiosa is a ‘Strong Female Character’ because she takes on masculine values in the pursuit of her goal, but I still believe in her central feminism as a character. She’s a product of her world and her world sucks; in order to thrive, she has to be a kind of terrible person. She’s a total badass behind the wheel and a trigger, but she believes in a better world where she can stop being that terrible person. Everything she does is a direct response to the terror, in hope that there will be no more terror.
Everything about this movie’s message screams awareness of feminism, Immortan Joe’s masculinity is toxic to the point that he shuns water. What kind of insane nonsense is that? Instead he prefers real human milk, which doesn’t even begin to make dietary sense, and shows very concrete subjugation of women in the process. He abuses ignorance, craving of acceptance, and youth to achieve his goals. He harvests a seemingly endless supply of young boys whose entire identities rest on the acceptance of a single father figure. Everything about the guy is so toxic, he can’t even breathe regular air. Even the world which produced Immortan Joe is the result of that same toxic masculinity: an entire world depopulated by war, resource exploitation, and the certainty of human exploitation that goes with it.
The fact that the only people who can visualize what’s wrong with Immortan Joe, and verbalize it enough to do anything about it, is a small group of women is telling.
– Jesus H Montogomery
The message I took away from this film was: feminism comes in all shapes and sizes.
Most people point to Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as the key symbol of feminism in this film and I can see why; she aims better than Tom Hardy, she has an unrelenting self preservation and she’s all about protecting the women in her charge. Not to mention the fact that she was literally in the driver’s seat of the film. Another key symbol is the Vuvalini; women on their own rejecting gender stereotypes and surviving without men, they too fit a specific construct of feminism. However, this movie is feminist in far more ways than these two, perhaps ‘stereotypical’ examples.
Throughout, there is a clear undertone that women are in power and men do not challenge of doubt this. Women are responsible for some of the most satisfying kills, both Furiosa and Toast (Zoë Kravitz) take down the antagonist, Immortan Joe. The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), the favourite of the wives, uses her status as a coveted and beautiful object as an asset. All of these characters are feminists, simply because they treat, or learn to treat, each other as equals.
Amidst all the explosions, radiation, death and dehydration, there is a powerful undercurrent of teamwork. With everyone utilising their diverse skill sets and working together, gender doesn’t even come into the equation.
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