Welcome back, one and all, to the world of Mad Max; a dystopian nightmare of oil, blood and twisted metal, where War Boys pray at the altars of the holy V8 and cruel gods rule over the wretched, unwashed masses. “As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken. It was hard to know who was more crazy…me…or everyone else.”
This is the playground of the insane, as created by the same man who won Oscars for Babe and Happy Feet, and to command such a varied catalogue of projects over a career speaks volumes about George Miller’s cinematic and cultural literacy. Perhaps more indicative of Miller’s achievement is the simple fact that 2015’s Fury Road was so well received by audiences, all of whom commended everything from the exquisitely cinematic action sequences to the performances of the cast. It would not be presumptive to expect the action genre to change dramatically in years to come, with practical stunts favoured over CGI, and Fury Road held up as the gold standard of action cinema. We will not see a film as mad or as accomplished as Miller’s creation for many years to come, but prospective directors are welcome to make the effort; the results are bound to be interesting at least.
What was a stagnant genre has been rejuvenated in a storm of colour and beating drums. The madness leaves us thirsty for more, but we mustn’t become addicted, lest it take hold of us, and we resent its absence.
As bizarre as the world Max occupies is, it takes a uniquely sane mind to create it. It took Miller 30 years to find a way to resurrect his mind opera, 30 years in which every character had a name and a backstory, every war rig and patrol vehicle a storied history and every motion steeped in chronicled superstition. There is a meticulous logic to Fury Road which roots the explosive, manic action in hyper-realistic gender politics, economics and perhaps most importantly, nuclear policy. The Mad Max universe is reminiscent more of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach than its archetypal predecessors in the genre, with its poignant remarks on existence and the human will to survive; as our protagonist somewhat ironically murmurs, “You know, hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll, uh… you’ll go insane.” Strange comments indeed, but perhaps Max knows something we don’t.
In short, the vicarious glimpse at wasteland life we see as audience members intimates only one perspective, but when viewed through the eyes of the characters in their own context, behaviours and mannerisms are inherently rational. Consequently the wasteland society, if it can be called that, manifests within a framework which conforms to ideas applicable to reality, albeit a warped version of our own. The obvious example is the three pillars of authority which emerged after the catastrophic collapse of society during the war for resources; The Citadel is the ideological centre, a foundation of credulity and mythology from which Joe emerges as Immortan, Gastown is the economic hub with unending oil resources and refining capabilities, and finally The Bullet Farm represents the seat of military power, providing ammunition to the War parties. These pillars help to control the population and maintain the status quo, but only if they remain intact. Enter Furiosa and Max, and the events of Fury Road.
Thus order comes from chaos, only to produce new manifestations of the chaotic; the mind of George Miller at work. It took 36 years to create a universe which audiences have only glimpsed on four occasions, yet we feel completely enveloped every time we engage with a new story. It is why Mad Max has achieved cult status, and why the genius of George Miller rightly makes him the true Immortan.
Image: Bago Games; Flickr.com