George Miller asks these questions in his new film, Mad Max: Fury Road, through non-stop, hair-bristling, aggressive action. But do not be fooled: this is not your typical summer popcorn and soda flick. While the surface consists of rust, dust, blood and gasoline, what lies beneath has a great deal of soul.
There is a place in the barren wasteland that is capable of sustaining life: The Citadel. The leader of this Citadel, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) calls himself a Redeemer. He has many followers and devotees and he even has pilfered a narrative, the myth of Valhalla. There, the victorious heroes that die noble deaths in service of their Redeemer may “live and die and live again.”
“Witness Me!” these youthful soldiers scream as they intentionally seek violent ends in service of their King. But what kind of king uses his young men up at such a furious rate? This feudal lord uses women to advance his kingdom. In order to procure an heir, his many wives are utilized like breeding cattle.And while the young lads run for their lord and the promise of eternal glory, these graceful daughters, his renegade wives, run for their lives.
Enter Max, who we meet as a tortured man. He runs not only from the scavengers who want his blood, but also from the soul-crushing guilt of his past. His primal will to survive is only surpassed by his longing to forget.
In the original Mad Max (1979), Max’s wife and child are brutally murdered on the road in a clash of fury and gasoline. We leave Max in the first film as a man who is now insane, overwhelmed with pain and the rage that accompanies it. But in Fury Road, Max is confronted by his past in the present. A new family finds him and this is the last thing he’s looking for. This family consists of a group of young vulnerable women, a strong and capable amputee (Charlize Theron) and a boy who has wholeheartedly believed the King’s false narrative of Valhalla (Nicholas Hoult). Now that these people need his help, what will Max do? Will he run away from those who so desperately need him? Or, will he give them his strength and run with them against the tide of evil men who avail themselves of nothing but the terrible will to power?
As metal, rust, dirt and grind abound in Fury Road; these scenes are accompanied by crunching guitar, pounding war drums and a grand variety of electronic chaos. But amidst this world of sonic fury, there are hints that something gracious exists through the haunting strings of the violin. Even the collaboration of strings hints at the possibility that if good men and women pull together, all hope will not end in blood and despair.
While the film is full of high-octane chases and spine-crushing explosions, they support the overarching narrative of the film, rather than detract from it. Fast cuts and erratic camera work effectively pull the viewer into the oil tanker, along with Max as they continue on their exodus away from the Citadel. As the film progresses, slower cuts accompany music that is so tender, one can palpably feel the losses that these desert dwellers have experienced. Max entreats Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to refrain from hoping, since hope unattained will inevitably lead to madness. In a world where pain is real and death is inevitable, what are we to do? Are we fools to hold fast hope?
Their desert king called himself a redeemer, and we, too, live in a world filled with many a false messiah. The ladies talked of a green place, where seeds found purchase in good earth, and all manner of fruit bearing tree flourished. Their longing is expressed in Roman’s 8: 22-28. While the young martyrs of the Citadel were mislead by their leader, their chant of, “Live, die, live again!” speaks to a universal longing. While many exploit this longing, we believe in and follow a messiah who sacrificed His body and blood to save others.
While Immortan Joe claims to be a redeemer, women are nothing more than mere property to him. Living in a Greco-Roman culture that viewed women similarly, the apostle Paul dared to call men to love their wives, “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water”(Ephesians 5: 25-27). Neither the charge to love nor the essential cleansing that comes with it will not be lost on those who watch Mad Max: Fury Road.
Love does not run because those who run are dead already. Love fights and knows what to fight for.