What is Fury Road about?
At one point in the film, the villain called Father and sometimes Dad, tries to kill Charlize Theron’s character, but stays his hand when one of the underwear models he’s kept as sex slaves puts her pregnant body and his unborn child between the literal and figurative father, and Theron’s surrogate mother.
If you’re still wondering what Fury Road is about, you have come to the wrong blog.
Happy Feet 3
Mad Max: Fury Road should not exist. There was no script. Ever. Well, there was the bullshit script they wrote because Warner Bros. demanded it. But it wasn’t the shooting script. The shooting script was/were storyboards done in 1999.
The movie took 16 years to get into theaters. It’s development hell like you’ve never seen it. No movie that takes that long to shoot, no movie that spends three years inventing and building a whole new film technology. . .and then throwing it all out, should exist.
But Fury Road isn’t like other movies. When WB gave George Miller another several million dollars for “pickups,” they weren’t reshoots. WB didn’t demand a more commercial cut. It was after they’d seen the first 42 minutes of edited footage. . .and they wanted more. “What do you need to make this the movie you know it can be?”
They paid him to invent an entirely new kind of 3D camera technology and, after three years of engineering and experimenting, they threw it out and went back to 2D. And Warner Bros. continued to give him money!
They gave George Miller everything he asked for, and he put it all in the movie. Fury Road reeks of “I may never get another chance to make one of these, so fuck it, all-in. No compromises.”
Only George Miller could have directed this. In fact only post 2011 George Miller could have directed this. Only someone who’d done Babe: Pig In the City, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2 could have directed Fury Road.
George Miller is the director George Lucas was trying to be with the prequels. The difference? George Miller spent years working on CGI kids movies with tons of post-production. So when cameras finally, finally, rolled on Fury Road he knew exactly what CG could do, and how to use it.
There is so much CG work in this movie, it’s hard to fathom. Miller succeeds at what I would have considered an impossible task. He made a movie FOR people who worship practical effects. . .and he did it all with CGI. And the audience is going INSANE for the results. They believe. He told them “It’s all real,” he lied to them, and they believed it.
He knew he could lie to them, because he knew what his audience wants. They want to know; when that truck goes flying up in the air, it’s real. When that truck smashed into that rock, it’s real.
Well, that part is. They really built all those trucks, and they really launched them into the air and they really smashed them into each other. But that’s only about 30%-40% of the film. The launching and smashing. The rest is driving. And almost none of that is real.
The vehicles you see in the movie are almost never moving. They’re sitting still, propped up on what are essentially airbags. The airbags allow the crew to bounce the trucks around, they are so severely agitated, they can literally throw people off the truck with the force. But the truck is always sitting in one place.
You never notice it because they matted moving backgrounds in and they used CGI to make the wheels move. They used CGI to make the wheels move. 60% of the movie, those wheels weren’t moving on the set, that’s CGI.
I detected something was amiss, but in a strange place. I noticed that all, or nearly all, the dialog was looped. “Looping” is dubbing. It’s ADR, Additional Dialog Recording where they bring the actor back months later and stick them in a recording studio and play the film for them and they have to do their lines over again, lip synching to their own performance. Actors hate it, because they have to find a way to get back to where they were, emotionally, when they recorded the line in the first place and this is not easy to do.
And it never sounds right. To me at least, I can always tell when a line is looped. And man is this movie looped. But even knowing that, I was completely unaware of how much trickery was happening behind the scenes.
There are scenes where Charlize Theron is talking, and those are her lips moving, but they’re her lips from a different shot, a pickup months later, from a different angle and a different distance, matted together seamlessly using CGI.
There are angles, crazy angles you wonder “How did they get the camera there?” They didn’t. They filmed it at one angle and used the CGI to pan the camera around into a location it couldn’t be in.
Every vehicle in the movie had a radio-rig stuck on it with a huge antenna. But you don’t see any of them, because they were CG’ed out of the shot in post.
They shot all day. They could shoot in any order. They never worried about the light. Well, the DP worried about the light constantly, but Miller kept telling him “Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. We’ll fix it in post.” And they did. Shots filmed in the early morning desert, the sky white, the ground choked with fog, match the shots from the heat-blasted midday desert. You can’t tell.
When the DP worried they were racking up a huge computer graphics bill (which they were) Miller responded sagely “If they want a finished movie, they’ll pay for it.” He knew the worse it looked in-camera, the more certain it was Warner Bros. would pay for the CG.
Don’t believe me? Watch this. It’s only a 2-hour long presentation from the Director of Photography.
Miller knew exactly how to push the limits of what could be done on-set, and what the computers could do after. And the result is a movie that feels like you’re watching movies for the first time. No movie looks like Fury Road. No movie moves like it, is cut like it.
Miller is a master. He uses the 2.35 aspect ratio, but he keeps his subject in the center of the frame, always in the center of the frame, so he can cut around, forward, back, inside, out, and you always know what’s happening, you always know what you’re looking at, you always know where everything is in relation to everything else. Miller is doing all the work. “Just sit back,” he says, “and keep your eye on the ball.” As long as you’re watching the middle of the screen, you’re seeing what you need to see.
He uses the Namibian desert, the costumers, the makeup folks and an army of CG guys in post to create an entirely new kind of fantasy world.
Fury Road is more fantastical than its predecessors. Though with Beyond Thunderdome that’s a close-call.
All the previous Max movies were made during a time when Max’s world looked predictive. Fantastcial, yes, but also inevitable. We’re pumping all the oil out of the ground, eventually it will run out, we’ll fight, we have nukes, and we’ll turn this planet into a wasteland. We had THOUSANDS of real nuclear weapons in the 80s, for many of us it was literally impossible to imagine never using them. Of growing old. Ahem.
Now it seems clear that the future is going to be mostly like the past but with more computers and we’re probably not going to die in nuclear fire and we’re probably not going to “run out” of oil, we’ll just slowly replace it with Google Cars and Tesla Batteries.
But one of the reasons people loved the Max movies back in the day is that they didn’t really identify with the modern age. They felt like outsiders, there are always people who feel like the Real World or the Modern World is not for them and many of those people gravitate toward this fantasy. I am not one of those people, I’m perfectly happy here, but gosh I understand the appeal of the Desert Land.
More than once I thought, as I watched, “Man this is what a Dune movie should look like.” Fury Road does not look like it’s set on Earth. It looks like it’s set on Brom’s Dark Sun. A heatblasted world where a baleful red sun kills all life, and yet somehow there’s a whole army of really pale people running around. Because that makes sense. And many of these people’s pale form is dramatically cut across the eyes with coal black.
Sure, we can explain it if we need to. But why bother? It just looks fucking cool. That is reason enough to want to spend more time in this world.
What Does Max Want?
On the surface, Max wants to survive. Everything else he’s good at, fighting, driving, are all just tools that help him survive. But if you scratch the surface, there’s something underneath. The persistent, unbidden memory of death. Something Max can’t control. “If you can’t fix what’s broken,” Max says to Furiosa, “you’ll go insane.” He knows, because it’s happened to him. Is happening, and he doesn’t know how to fix it.
Someone died, and it’s very clearly Max’s fault. Who died? We don’t know. In Mad Max, his wife and son died, but his memory is of a young girl. Maybe it’s a retcon and we’re meant to think it’s Max’s daughter. Maybe they’re characters from a chapter we’ve missed. Whoever they are, they needed him, and he could have done something, but failed.
So what Max really wants is redemption. For him, redemption means “a selfless act that stops the unbidden memories.” He wants the dead to rest, to stop bothering him, and he suspects. . .he isn’t sure. . .he wonders if saving these people will give him that. But it’s something he wonders only fleetingly, and only at the end. Hope is not his stock in trade. He knows only survival.
Tom Hardy is a particular kind of actor. He has more in common with guys like Humphrey Bogart and William Holden than his contemporaries. He doesn’t consider acting a manly profession. He doesn’t like actors, he spends his time with the crew, with the stunt team. He fears an actor’s life is somehow not authentic.
That suspicion of acting is, I think, what allows him to give these fearless performances. Hardy spends much of the film bewildered. Unsure. He doesn’t talk, he mutters. He rarely looks anyone in the eye. He’s hiding from everyone, even the camera. This is not the performance of someone keen to make a name for himself as an action star. It’s the performance of someone who’s spending all his time thinking about his character. And his character is not a hero.
Max in Fury Road is not a heroic character. He saves the girls, but only when every other option is exhausted. He’s not the hero of the piece, he’s more like a pinball that came careening into this movie from somewhere else, bounces off several characters at different angles, then speeds away into the desert to wreck/save some other random people’s lives.
I am, by trade, a writer and so I often have to sort of pull back the curtain on movies people love and explain that the film they saw doesn’t work the way they think. They think of heroic characters as being active. They’re not. Not as a rule. They’re reactive. John McClane does everything he can to avoid acting. He calls the cops, several times, he throws a body on a cop car to get their attention, he cheers when the cops show up because all the time he’s hoping those guys will do their job. Even though his wife is in danger, even though he is a cop, the movie puts his back against the wall and takes every other option away from him, until he is forced to act. Then we see some shit. Then the movie starts.
Indiana Jones, famously, does nothing during the entire film Raiders of the Lost Ark, except delay the Nazis from melting their own faces. If I described a story to you like that, you’d think I was a bad writer. What a terrible idea, the hero has to be active! He has to save the day!
Max is not the hero I think a lot of people were expecting. All he wants to do is survive. There’s a moment where Max gives Furiosa and the others hope. “Let’s go back. Let’s go back and take the citadel. It’s undefended. We can do it.”
It is a simple statement, and it means two entirely different things. To everyone listening, it’s hope. Warboy Nux even says it, “Feels like hope,” he says.
But that’s not what Max said. Max didn’t say “well if you guys want a chance at a happy life. . ..” He said “This is our only chance.” There’s nothing out there, they have to go back. The only way Max can be a hero is here at the end when every other option has been exhausted.
He then goes on to say “maybe together we can come across some kind of redemption.” Why would he say that? What is redemption for Max?
It’s giving someone else life, just as he failed to do for the girl in his waking nightmares.
Max can’t have that life. He’s in the Waste Land. And just as it looks like Furiosa is about to join him, he stops her, and gives her hope. He can give that to Furiosa, against all odds, but he knows he can’t have that for himself. There’s no future for Max. Everyone else wants to change the world. Father and Furiosa both want to create Order from the Chaos, in different ways. Max thinks they’re both idiots. There is no order. There’s only the Waste Land.
Everyone remembers Eliot’s poem as being called The Wasteland, meaning the desert, the scrub, the land where nothing grows. But its The Waste Land. The land, a healthy land, wasted. The land made sick by the illness of the Grail King, by the inability of his knights to cure it. But a land that could be something, if cured.
The Wasteland is a land where nothing can grow. But the Waste Land is a land that could give life, but does not. Is being wasted, spent.
That’s what Max wants, in the end. He wants to help Furiosa turn the Waste Land into the paradise she’s been looking for. It has everything she’s ever wanted, green, water. Life. He can’t have that, he leaves in the end. Walks away. Because for him, there is no Waste Land to recover. There’s only the Wasteland, an internal landscape for Max. A psychological landscape.
What Does Furiosa Want?
Furiosa is intense, driven, capable. She has a plan. And to the extent that it was possible, she pulled it off. She got the girls to paradise. . .but paradise was gone. In the classic Wizard of Oz, “you were home the whole time” plot, the characters start at home, but have to leave home and come back to find home.
Furiosa wants what all mothers want. A safe home. She’s not out for revenge. She creates a family out of nothing, and takes her five children and soon to be grandchild, and flees into the desert to find a home for them all. And she’s an idealist. She believes in paradise. Her belief is a fantasy, but it’s the fantasy she needs, that drives her to rebel. To grab the five wives and run. Without that fantasy, she’d never have tried to take over the Citadel. Like all great action heroes, she had to be pushed to the limit, to the uttermost limit of desperation alone in the desert, screaming on her knees, before she could finally act to reclaim her home.
By the time we meet her, she has already sacrificed much. She lost her arm. To what? To the ritual raids and battles that proved to everyone around her that she was the real deal. She could be trusted. That’s what the loss of her arm means.
She is Imperator Joe, the Father’s, right arm. Max is her right arm.
I think Hardy’s choice to make Max a kind of wounded animal, is the perfect reaction to Theron’s Furiosa. She doesn’t want to survive, she wants to win. She’s running on NO2 the entire time and the more she dials up the intensity, the more Hardy pulls back. There is no chemistry between them, famously they didn’t get on, on-set, but together they make one whole person. Without Furiosa’s drive, her belief, Max would still be a blood bag attached to some guy’s hood. Without Max’s pragmatism, Furiosa would have gone off into the desert to die after failing to find paradise.
Mothers and Fathers
Max isn’t the star of Fury Road, Furiosa is. But he is not a sidekick, either. He’s a partner. He’s necessary. They both are. Neither can do it alone.
Her hope is necessary, his pragmatism is necessary. Furiosa hopes, then despairs, then leads them home. Max’s inability to either hope or despair keeps them alive, so they can get there.
Furiosa wins, she attains paradise, finds a home, but only because of Max. Max survives, but only because of Furiosa.
Fury Road is receiving a lot of buzz for being a feminist movie, which I think is code for “a film that doesn’t shit all over the entire idea of women.” Which we need a word for these days, and the fact that we need a word for that is probably why Miller made Furiosa the hero.
But if Fury Road elevates girls in film, it’s only so they can join the boys. It’s not at the expense of boys. Furiosa’s strength and drive doesn’t render Max redundant or irrelevant. It requires Max. The family, Miller is saying, needs both. The mother-figure and the father-figure. Even as someone from a single-parent home, that’s hard to argue with.
Immortan Joe is a twisted parody of a father. There is no mother-figure in the Citadel. His rule does not allow it. He’s tried to consume the entire idea of motherhood. Co-opt it. Be both father and mother to these people. He literally milks the slave-mothers and then provides metaphorical milk, water, sustenance, life, to the people.
He wants to control life. Living and dying, only on his command. Young women are used to make his children, old women to make his milk. All are property.
Like certain Old, Fat, Powerful, White, Men here in the real world, he doesn’t just want to control your life, he wants to control your ability to create life. For him, control over life means control over reproduction. He owns the women, he owns what the women do. Their wombs are his. There are no mothers in his world, there are only machines for making more of him.
Like Prometheus, we have another near-perfect Greimassian Square here. We have the Father (Max), the Anti-Father (Immortan Joe), and the Not-Father (Nux, fated to die). We have the Mother (Angharad) and the Not-Mother (Furiosa), but Miller couldn’t bring himself to give us an Anti-mother. All the women in the film are good guys. 😀
If you’re going to see a girl-power movie this year, you could do a lot worse than Fury Road.
A Golden Age
I think we’re living in a golden age of fantasy cinema. Dredd, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, Gravity, Pacific Rim, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, Under the Skin and now. . .Max.
Why is no one talking about this? Why do I still hear people complaining about reboots and remakes and sequels and prequels when every year we’re getting amazing new movies, of a ridiculously high caliber and MANY of these movies are completely original! Fury Road is a sequel/prequel/whatever, but who gives a shit!? LOOK AT IT! Goddamn!
Let’s have more! Stop fucking complaining, it’s cancerous. It’s a cancerous way to think, it eats away everything else inside you until you can’t see how amazing the world we’re living in is. I’m so fucking sick of people complaining about the movies we’re getting.
It is a glorious age, I think it will hold up when placed against the last Golden Age of Fantasy, 1982. In time, it may surpass it. It may prove to be more inclusive, more democratic.
We’re going to get a sequel to this, I’m certain. It will be a smash. And it may feature Charlize Theron again, if George Miller’s hints are accurate.
Imagine that! This impossible movie got made and is probably going to be a hit! And is probably going to get a sequel!
Rejoice therefore! Revel! It is a glorious age, an age of Max! An age of Fury!
The Age of FURIOSA!