The two original Mad Max films had a certain intelligence behind them, extrapolating an apocalyptic future from the present. And at minimal cost. They were, like the original Star Wars films, game changers. Post-nuclear holocaust could never be the same. The third in the series Beyond Thunderdome, was a mixed bag of misspent money and confused scripting that was little more than an apocalyptic exploitation film and parody of itself. Perhaps that should have been warning enough. But the fourth film in this franchise, Fury Road, the beautifully staged and very expensive reimagining taken from those earlier films by the same writer-director, George Miller, alters the field once again, by taking itself seriously and yet, ironically, suffers all the ills of our present world—technologically sophisticated filmmaking that is morally incoherent. And therein lies a tale that reflects the deepest weakness of modern society, our dependence on technology without moral purpose.
No one of the psychological mutants who populate this nasty future have a palpable share of our sympathies—with the possible exception of young Nux, whose aims in life as a member of his tribe are almost comprehensible. “Witness me!” he says. (Or, perhaps that is just the excellence of the actor that warrants attention). The warring tribes themselves are nonsensical—employing technologies they are clearly unable to reproduce, and abusing their citizenry in ways that fit no known anthropological standard. ‘Logical’ is the crucial suffix there—or the lack thereof. The sort of post-feminism’ envisioned by the self-proclaimed ‘feminist’ Miller ranges from asexual to anti-sexual. The sadistically tortured protagonist, Max Rockatansky, exists on the same level as most comic book heroes, that is, in-human and two-dimensional. Mr. Miller, originally a medical doctor by education, seems unaware of such petty digressions as infection, the need for regular food consumption, and clean water, to name a few. What gives the Mad Max films any poignancy, and any reason for us to care at all, is that what improvements to human life do still exist are the remnants of a past that is quickly being forgotten; a lost age of civilization, against which, by comparison, this future is at best barbaric and more accurately bestial. This loss is the underlying element that makes what the characters do and do not do, meaningful. But like his ignored medical training, Miller uses his brilliance to depict a world that is more anti-human than inhuman. The obvious subtext is that we human beings do not deserve any better—we must be punished in good old medieval Dantesque fashion—never mind that such a judgment could only be made by someone graced by a little Classical education.
Unfortunately, the post-apocalyptic world George Miller imagines holds about as much water as The Miller’s Tale from Chaucer. That is a bawdy and unlikely tale of village life in which a young wife is unfaithful for the sake of carnal pleasure and the eponymous cuckold must believe not only that there is a flood coming but that the only thing to do is sleep in wooden tubs suspended from the ceiling. The circumstance of Fury Road is a willing disbelief sustained not by tubs and rope but more it seems by an audience that wants to see human beings suffer an apocalypse—one that is, in and of itself, unlikely—for our collective sins (while assuming, I suppose that they themselves will be spared due to their enlighten awareness). In that this particular nightmare involves an inordinate amount of self-denial and an acceptance of such inhuman behavior as entertaining, the sustained pretense that any one of these caricatures of human beings would act and react in the ways depicted speaks its volumes about the director as well as the audience that loves his work. Isis could only hope for such a nihilistic philosophy.
Certainly human beings are capable of such savagery, but not thus sustained. Even the Soviet Union only lasted 75 years. Because the horror is inhuman, it begs for its own elimination. Human beings will always find a way to act humanly if given the chance. Given more than that they will do more. That is the message of history, not this Miller’s aberrations.
Certainly recent filmmaking, through CGI and other digital manipulations, can depict wonders—or horrors. And the technology of the past may enhance our stupidity for a time. But invention, and a world that makes creation possible, can only be sustained by mothers—