Liss and Ana Talk About Mad Max

[Content Note: Loads of spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road. Discussion of rape culture.]

As you know, I was very excited for Mad Max: Fury Road, even more so after MRAs went apeshit about how it's a feminist film, so naturally I saw it this past weekend on opening day with Iain and Deeky AND I LOVED IT SO MUCH! Ana Mardoll also saw it and LOVED IT SO MUCH, and we spent a considerable amount of time excitedly texting about it, so we decided to revive "Liss and Ana Talk About" so we could share our MAXIMUM ENTHUSIASM with y'all. Enjoy!

Ana: Okay, so we have to talk about Mad Max: Feminist Road. Can we talk about Mad Max: Feminist Road?


Ana: I am just so happy over here. I hadn't even known about this movie until the last minute! I'd actually re-watched Road Warrior a few weeks ago out of the blue, then suddenly MRAs were boycotting this new thing, and also Tom Hardy was in it! Somehow it all flew under my radar, but we hadn't seen a movie in theaters in awhile so I figured anything that pissed off MRAs had to be good, right? And then...magic happened.

Liss: When I first saw the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road, I tweeted at Deeks: "I find it unlikely George Miller would write an anti-patriarchy piece about a dystopian warlord who thinks women are his things......but it kind of looks like it? WEIRD." I did not believe it was possible! And then OMFG THIS MOVIE!!!

Especially because I was like: Eve Ensler? Not, ahh, my first choice for an advisor for reasons (and let's be honest, that was definitely reflected in the relative lack of representation of women of color and variations in gender presentation). But there was SO MUCH UNEXPECTEDLY AND PLEASANTLY RIGHT WITH THIS MOVIE.

Ana: Liss, I think I held my breath a full two hours in that theater. I have never been so invested in a movie in my life. There were, what? Eleven female characters? Twelve? Twenty? Let's count: Five wives and Furiosa and six Vuvalini (I THINK YOU MEAN VULVALINI, AMIRIGHT?) and the nursemaid for the wives and the three fat ladies and how many women is that? There were so many women! They all had distinct personalities and flaws and strengths and they were normal people and it was so amazing.

And because there wasn't just ONE chick (who has to survive until the end, or at least die in meaningful slow motion), I was so much more invested in their deaths, if that makes any sense? Joss Whedon has that reputation of "anyone can die," but you sorta know that probably the Smurfette isn't going to die because then who will be the chick, amiright? But, amazingly, when you have twelve women on-screen, anyone can die and I was so gut-wrenched (in the best of ways) whenever one did. It was amazing.

I actually saw someone on twitter call it the "rare dodecabechdel test" and I just. Yes. This.

Liss: That's PERFECT. And, yes, I was so invested in each of the (many!) female characters for the very reason you say: The lack of tokenism meant that everyone was at risk. I loved that. I loved SO MUCH, though, because there was SO MUCH to love!

The scene where she puts the gun on his shoulder! The enslaved fat women releasing the water! The women already having been secreted away at the beginning of the film without 20 minutes of graphic scenes of their torture and abuse! (Take a note, George R.R. Martin!) So many explicit symbols of the Patriarchy!

And, at first, I was like oh shit we're using fat and disability as markers of evil noooooo, which is such a typical apocalypse trope, but then Furiosa has a disability and the fat women are heroes! WHAT! WHAAAAAAAAAAT!

And not just the story and characters, but as an action movie, it was so inventive! There were so many things I haven't seen a million times. The bendy sticks! The exploding spears! The grenades being tossed by motorcyclists!


Ana: The gun on the shoulder. My god, that scene. Toast the Capable telling Max how many bullets he has left, and him grudgingly recognizing (with one shot left!) that Furiosa is a better shot than him, and her using him to aim. "Don't breathe." Every fibre in my body wanted to burst into applause at that!

Liss: I admit it: I got all choked up at that scene, and I actually breathed out loud: "Fuck yesssss."

Ana: Omg, the "Pole Cats" i.e. BENDY STICKS YES. Apparently those were inspired by Cirque du Soleil? (I perversely hope that detail will extra-special-upset the MRAs. IS NO MAN-MOVIE SAFE ANYMORE?) Really, I was just stunned and amazed at how this is an action movie that never stops moving, but in ways where I never felt bored or over-saturated. Like, we've all sat through a car chase where it feels like the scene has gone on too long? That never once happened for me in this film!

Can I riff off that "Don't Breathe" scene for something that meant a lot to me? I've been saying on twitter (and @Lexica made a Storify) that I don't personally agree with the argument that this shouldn't have been a Mad Max film and that it should have been an all-woman cast. Because, to me, the context that George Miller directed all four of these movies is really important. Best I can tell, he didn't wake up one day and think "I really want to make a feminist movie, but it'll never sell; better crowbar in a man to draw the crowds."

Instead, if I understand correctly(?), he wanted to make a Mad Max movie and then made lady-characters who feel like real people and he let his male character not outshine them in every way and was even okay with Max taking a backseat role at times. To me, that's incredibly powerful. I've seen lots of movies where men save women, and I've seen a few movies where women save themselves, but I'm hurting for movies where men and women work together and where a badass man (especially one who has a franchise of badassness behind him and is practically the poster boy for Loner Apocalypse Cowboy fantasies) acknowledges that a woman is better than him. And is in no way emasculated by it.

He's still badass. She's just better. And that's okay. It just...I wept, I'm not going to lie. And while I totally sympathize with wanting more women and all-female cast movie (HOLLYWOOD GET ON THIS, PLEASE), I also think there's space for having men in non-leadership roles in these movies. Because socially we model behavior and I really think it's incredibly powerful to see someone like Max admitting that, you know what? Furiosa is flat-out a better shot than him, and there is more at stake here than his male ego.

Liss: YESSSSSS. The movement. It felt like the movement of time, rather than movement through space. Which totally underscored the story as a metaphor for social change—which is not, in fact, always straightforward progress, but sometimes doubles back and moves sideways and stalls and and and.

Relatedly, Iain made a great point about returning to the Citadel—how it's a message about taking over institutions instead of self-segregating in "lesser" spaces. That was a very powerful observation for me, and I think it's also related to your point about what space Max occupies in the film, because it's Max who says they should go back and reclaim it.

But he doesn't lead that charge. He rolls with them. In support of them. And then, upon their victory and only then, does he tell Furiosa his name, before disappearing into the crowd. Self-interest giving way to self.

Ana: YES YES YES, when they first decided to go back to the citadel, I had so many powerful mixed feelings. Because I knew a lot of them wouldn't survive. But...that was also a sort of weird, fucked-up home for them? Food and people and the things that they knew. I love Iain's point about it being a reversal of the idea that if feminists don't like things, we should all go live on an island somewhere.

God. I just. The women, though. THE WOMEN. The bit where Immortan Joe is aiming at Furiosa, and Splendid swings out? I nearly screamed, I had so many emotions about that scene. I saw some guy on twitter complaining that if these are "strong female characters," then "how much can they lift, huh?" and I just laughed so hard because Splendid can hold herself off the side of a speeding rig while eleventy months pregnant. I'm guessing most of us can't do that, bro. Ha.

Liss: Haha! For real. And can I just take a moment here to appreciate how Max's thumbs-up to Splendid was perfection? *a moment*

image of Tom Hardy as Mad Max, stoicly giving a thumbs-up

Ana: *a moment* Can we talk about Furiosa being disabled? I didn't even realize until she was wrestling with Max! And the movie never slows down to comment on it. There's no "how'd that happen?" or otherwise singling her out as being unusual (and the movie being inclusive). I loved how perfectly normal she was treated, like, that was incredibly powerful to me. Especially when apocalypse fiction often acts like any kind of disability is a death sentence because only Randian heroes survive without pop-tarts or whatever. Nope!

Liss: Nope! Haha! I thought they did a solid job of choreographing Furiosa's fight scenes (during which her prosthetic was AWOL) in a way that respected her disability. By which I mean: In a way that did not call undue attention to it, but also didn't pretend as though it wouldn't matter at all.

Ana: Yes! Just so much about the movie was so powerful, even in the little touches. There's an image on The Mary Sue of Toast the Capable using the bolt cutters to cut off her chastity belt, and it's just so powerful to me that she's cutting them off by herself. There's not a cluster of women around her helping because lady-arms are just so weak, you know. (Even when she was "failing" to cut Max's chains, it seemed like she was failing on purpose and I loved that.)

Which, speaking of! How much did I love that when they feel threatened by him, they fight, they try to kill him, and then they negotiate with him. Like people do. There wasn't any pouting lips or fake seduction attempts like we've seen in literally every movie ever. Those scenes that are fan-service while confirming that women are lying bitches who use your boners like a weapon. Instead, they reacted the way most women would react to a clear and present danger: trying to squish him like a cockroach.

Liss: Yessity yes yes. These were women—people—fighting for their survival, and they responded to and interacted with Max (another person fighting for his survival) in a way that made sense. Is he a threat to our survival? Fight back! Is he an asset to our survival? Find a way to work with him! LIKE YA WOULD.

Ana: Right! OH SPEAKING OF "FAILINGS." My heart stopped when Cheedo the Fragile was up on that rig saying "Richter, take me back!", and you know? Earlier she'd wanted to give up? And, I mean, this is a direct transcript of my thoughts in the theater, I swear: "Oh, that's disappointing. Still, I can't expect all the women to be perfect, I wish they were, but real people have real failings. And I'm not going to blame a woman for being so entrenched in abuse that she can't— OH MY GOD IT WAS A CLEVER TRICK I LOVE HER I LOVE THIS MOVIE I LOVE EVERYTHING FOREVER YESSSS." Like, I just...I loved how these women knew their own temptations and used those weaknesses in order to be strong.

And that was powerful for me, too. Because I'll never be able to drive a war rig, and I can't rappel down buildings, and I've never staked a vampire, and despite being a bisexual wiccan I can't actually do the things that Joss Whedon thinks that means. But, my god, I could play helpless and backstab patriarchy like a boss, you know? *laughs*

Liss: Uh-huh lol. Speaking of the patriarchy! I loved how the three groups converging on them were essentially: The oligarchic politician, the fuel magnate, and the war machine. The three prongs of the military-industrial-corporate patriarchy. Amazing.

Ana: Omg I didn't even notice that symbolism. Perfection.

Liss: And I really need to express my UNRELENTING JOY about the existence of the double-necked flamethrower guitar who played them into war like some dystopian bagpiper from hell! The guitarist and the drummers—such a terrific apocalyptic riff on pipers and drummers from traditional field warfare. LOVE. I nearly came out of my seat every time I saw that fucking guitarist!

image of a guitarist strapped atop a huge truck covered in towering speakers, riding alongside a bunch of war cars

Ana: Also, can we talk about the themes of bodily rights? I have seen so many movies where Apocalypse = Rape Land, and I was so thrilled to see that idea expanded on that trope while at the same time fixing a lot of the problems with it. Because, first of all, this isn't Rape Land; Furiosa is a woman who drives a rig and she's respected by her community (and by the men who ride with her). But for the women who are being denied agency, it's so much more nuanced than the trope usually is. There are "breeders," yes. There are also the women who are exploited for milk. And then that was expanded, beautifully, into Max being exploited for blood.

I love that. It's a "the patriarchy hurts you men, too!" message with such a great punch-up. Because Max is the iconic manly loner protagonist of these things and here the movie is saying that even he is not strong enough or fast enough or awesome enough to escape exploitation. He's being used for his body, just like all the other marginalized members of society are being used. To me, he essentially is a male version of the "breeders," and Furiosa is carrying them all to safety (even as all six of her passengers help her and themselves along the way). It's a tremendous look at the ownership of own bodies and labor.

And then? At the end? He saves his tubing. He uses it to save her life. I was stunned to see he saved his tubing—didn't he never want to give blood again after all that?—and then it hit me right there in the theaters that ohmigosh it's a consent metaphor because of course it is. What was done to him wasn't wrong because people shouldn't give blood, but rather it was wrong because people shouldn't take blood. It was subtle and powerful and amazing.

Liss: Maude, yes, the autonomy commentary was brilliant. I kept thinking about how one of the arguments pro-choice advocates always make is that we don't compel anyone else to use their bodies to support the life of another human being, AND THAT WAS THE EXACT SCENARIO IN WHICH OUR HERO FOUND HIMSELF AT THE HANDS OF THE PATRIARCHY. It was a literal translation of that ubiquitous pro-choice hypothetical. Fucking amazing.

How the hell did that end up in a Mad Max movie, for fuck's sake?!

I hardly even know how to convey how surprised and delighted and genuinely moved I was by this film. But I think the fact that I have barely even mentioned Tom Hardy is probably indicative of the fact that there is A LOT TO LOVE ABOUT IT!

Ana: LOL! Fact.

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