2nd Thots On MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Let me explain the circumstances behind my re-watching Mad Max: Fury Road so as to better explain my additional thoughts on the film.

Along the way we will eventually drag in Stephen King and The Horror Of Party Beach.

Soon-ok is a light sleeper, so if the volume on the TV downstairs is above a whisper -- particularly for an action film -- I run the risk of waking her when I watch movies late at night.

To compensate for the volume being waaaay down, I turn on the closed caption subtitles. This actually makes it a lot easier to track most modern films.

I re-watched Mad Max: Fury Road the night after the last GOP debate. Reading the dialog as opposed to hearing it thunderously shouted at me on a theater sound system sparked a couple of thoughts.

First off, it’s lousy pretentious dialog. George Miller & co get away with it by keeping the pace and spectacle so huge and over-the-top that you only catch a few phrases and ideas tossed out here and there.

Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t do a lot to develop those ideas, and a lot of them (like the entire premise of the movie) would collapse under their own weight if examined too closely, but they go ripping by so fast that when you do catch them they sound Really Important and, like much of the rest of the movie, we fill in vast blank spots on the mental canvas with our own imaginations.

Which is okay: Mad Max: Fury Road is a popcorn movie and is meant to be enjoyed as a visceral experience.

And as a visceral experience, it is enjoyable.

So call this a post-apocalypse motor-fantasy, not an actual bonafide sci-fi movie, and have a good time.

But reading the dialog made me recognize how much the language of the GOP debates parallels it.

I’m not talking about the weasely obfuscation found in standard issue political / diplomatic discourse, but rather the very specific ways the bulk of the GOP candidates use language. [1]

A fast pulp writer could turn this whole election cycle into a Mad Max pastiche with no real difficulty.[2]

In the film, Immortan Joe uses language not so much to convey information as to trigger responses in his followers.

They literally hear what they want to hear, and a catch phrase tossed out at the right moment will trigger a reaction that Immortan Joe can exploit.

The war boys can not explain their reactions, they can not analyze why they do the things they do. They have been conditioned to respond and respond they will, even when it’s painfully obvious it’s against their own self-preservation, much less self-interest.

In fact, only when Nux thinks of himself as cast out of Immortan Joe’s blessed circle does he take even the most rudimentary steps towards analyzing his own personal situation.

So how does this tie in to big Steve King and The Horror Of Party Beach?

Well, in his book Danse Macabre[3], King writes about how the lowest forms of pop culture can tap into the cultural gestalt at a basic, more intrinsic, more primal level than high brow art.

Case in point: When the makers of The Horror Of Party Beach wanted to make a movie about hideous monsters attacking slumber parties full of teenage girls, their explanation of where the monsters came from was a short sequence showing leaky drums labeled “Radioactive Waste” being dumped into the ocean.

An A-production from a major studio on the topic of handling nuclear waste would have taken years to get produced; it would have faced both political and business pressure not to denigrate such an important industry so vital to America’s future. It would have required A Major Star or three as well as Some Very Important Writers and it would be all yak-yak-yak and in the end not a single person would have had their mind changed because by the time said film actually reached said eyeballs, their audience would have predetermined if they believed those liberal Hollywood types or not.

But The Horror Of Party Beach just chucks a couple of cans into the water, shows a couple of monsters evolving from the muck, and bingo! -- next thing ya know they’re attempting to devour and/or mate with teen girls in negligees.[4]

Stephen King’s point was that instead of rationalizing it, the makers of The Horror Of Party Beach just tapped in on something they instinctively knew everybody else instinctively knew: It was not a good idea to dump radioactive waste into the ocean, yet if there was a buck to be made doing so, somebody or some business would do so.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a film about the end of civilization as we know it.

And, no, not in the obvious manner you think: On that level it’s just another mindless action movie, and you could change the costumes and the location and the handwaveum and turn it into a Bond film or a Star Wars movie or a Harry Potter adventure and get pretty much the same superficial story / spectacle.

No, it’s not about blowing things up and then people ride really cool junk cars out in the middle of the desert: It’s about the triumvirate of religion / business / defense finally collapsing. It’s about white boys, the staunchest supporters of that triumvirate, finding themselves replaced and superseded and ultimately ignored by a new non-white boy culture.

“It’s the end of  the world as we know it,” sang R.E.M., “but I feel fine.”

What Miller & co have done, in their brilliantly brainless fashion, is to cut through all the obfuscating bullshit of talking head TV pundits and show what all of us instinctively know: Established organized religion is empty; big business can not even recognize its own self-interest if it doesn’t mean an immediate profit; defense is never about protecting anyone.

There is, like it or not, a new world being born around us. It is a world that, for ill or for good, is going to be much more responsive to the needs and objectives of the non-whites and the non-boys.

Mad Max: Fury Road calls its white boys “half-lifes”. They are recognized even by themselves as being a dying breed, kept alive only by the machinations of Immortan Joe and The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer; kept alive to serve them in exchange for a promise dangled in front of the white boys, a promise neither Immortan Joe nor his ”brothers”[5] intend to keep -- in fact, that none of them are actually capable of keeping.

That’s the old world we have let the greedheads build, the one that can no longer be sustained, the one that’s unraveling and in that process terrifying those who bought into the false promises and now live in abject horror that the powerball lottery will be closed before they have their chance to become multi-millionaires.

That is what Mad Max: Fury Road is all about.

It’s not a hopeless message, and it does show a way out for those who have invested heavily in the old system (such as Nux): White boys can recognize that change is upon them and help birth that new world, but instead of trying to dominate it, be prepared to step back and serve it.[6]

So in retrospect, I have somewhat modified my opinion of Mad Max: Fury Road.

It’s a good movie, but not a great film.[7]

And that’s a good thing, because if it had been any better, if it had been any smarter, it could have never said what needed to be said.

The Faces Of

MMFR Mad-Max-Fury-02

 Religion

MMFR People-eater-3

Business

MMFR Bullet_farmer03

Defense

.

 

[1] And I’m focusing very specifically on language use as opposed to the topics purportedly being talked about.

[2] Anybody out there who wants to take that idea and run with it, be my guest.

[3]  Highly recommended, BTW.

[4] The teen (ha! Twenty-somethings!) girls are in the negligees, not the monsters; we had to wait for The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the latter.

[5] Literally? Figuratively?

[6] A lesson audiences seem more than willing to embrace; viz. Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

[7] However, it would make one helluva double-feature with The Hateful Eight.

 

The Words Of The Prophets...

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