Of Feminism and Mad Max: Fury Road

While I spent a few paragraphs in my review of Fury Road discussing feminism, I want to delve deeper into it. It’s been a huge talking point, and it’s a beautiful flaw. The misinterpartation of feminism is so gross and overdone in this film, we have a lot to learn from it.

Feminism is the promotion of women’s equal rights so they’ll be equal to men. The key words here are ‘equality’ and ‘women’. While feminism is concerned only with women, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically against equality. It just highlights how females experience discrimination. There are people who say feminism is another word for female supremacy. While this is an obvious straw men, Fury Road would make you think it’s right. It’s ironic that Sarkeesian, the feminist you love to hate also saw the film as not feminist at all.

In Fury Road, all the female characters are on the good side. There is not a single female character among the bad guys. There plenty of faceless mooks, and none of them are female. It’s not a co-incidence. There are around 7 females around this film, so this is not just a case of a few characters slipping through. There are only two male good guys. One of them is a bad guy who does a 180. The other one, Max, who remains morally gray until he fully joins the girls.

Already, we have a very unequal representation of the genders. One gender represents goodness and badassary. The other one represents vileness, cruelty and tyranny. The film makes sure you’ll know gender has a lot to do with it.

The bad guys are defined by masculinity and represent the patriarchy. One of the bad guys is called Rictus Erectus. Immortan Joe’s most terrible crime is keeping these breeders and forcing them to bear him children. We see that male children are valued much more (Erectus being sad that he lost a baby brother). There are only war boys, and they deserve to get to Valhalla.

There isn’t an attempt to explore the patriarchy, to ask maybe they’re right. We do not get an oppurtunity to see things from the bad guys’ point of view, or a chance to see whether they did some good. We just see how vile they are. They wear skulls. They’re all mascular. They’re obsessed with violence. They view women as things. Even Gizmo makes an appearance as the fat, rich patriarch.

It is not a coherent system that just happens to be terrible. It’s just showing us how terrible a system is. There plenty of questionable ideologies out there, but that’s not because Hitler wanted to be ‘evil’. ‘Evil people’ just act out of a different system of values. The film doesn’t show this.

There is not even an attempt to make them charismatic in the villainous way. George Miller’s previous villains were odd, and pretty funny in their unique way. Even when they were cruel, they had a certain style that made them fun to see on screen. In Fury Road, Miller wants you to hate them so much you’d tatto “If I had a hammer I’d smash the patiarchy”.

Yet what is the alternative to this cartoon misogyny? Furiosa does not have a character. She’s an action heroine. She wants to do some good because it drives the plot, but that’s it. She asks for redemption, but the why is never made clear. It’s just a piece dialogue that was tacked on. She’s a pretty good action heroine – charismatic, devoid of sexuality and looks great with guns – but she’s not an engaging characters.

The wives tend to sit in the back and they all talk the same. They do help around the car a bit, but they don’t have an individual personality. The closest they come to showing some humanity is the kind-of-love relationship the redhead has with Nux, and the one who wants go back to the safety. None of these things are explored, but the format of the story won’t let them anyway.

Finally we have, among the female angels the old women. Their main role in the story is to tell our heroes to go back, and thus instigate the final scene. The final scene is great, so they do a great service to humanity. They also shove themselves in it. They have no charisma, no personality and we already have two action heroes that are good enough. Adding them is just adding more fighting women, but that’s it.

Immortan Joe is pure evil, so his alternative can only be goodness. Since the females are all on the good side, that’s their defining feature. This is not a clash of two ideologies. There isn’t even the cheap method of painting one philosophy as an evil straw men. Men are evil. Women are good.

This is not even a straw men of misogyny. There is no subversion of any norm. Misogyny was never about painting men as righteous with the moral high ground and women as evil demons. The ‘tempting women’ is a common trope, but it’s hardly the only color misogyny wears. Misogyny is often dismissing women as stupid, uncapable and thus inferior. More often than not, misogyny strips women of the ability to be good or evil. Women are just ‘things’ to fucked and then thrown away. Your average gangsta rap song will inform about how bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks.

There are red pillers who’ll try to paint women as evil conspirators, but if Fury Road is a respond to them, it’s just as pathetic. Swinging from one extreme to the next only brings you closer to the ones you hate. So you switched the genders of the Red Pill narrative, but the story is just as sexist.

As for the sexual object norm, it’s so insidious that even female heroines fall to it. Eve is a silly women that was easily conned by a snake. Black Widow’s main role is to be eye candy. There is no challenging this norm, with Furiosa being just a generic action hero and the old women completely unnecessary. Anita called this ‘cartoon misogyny’, but it’s not even that. ‘Shallow’ implies that there is minimal depth, but it’s as barren as the wasteland the film takes place in.

More importantly, the film doesn’t question the big premise misogyny relies on. Before dismissing women, misogyny assumes that sex is a factor that’s meaningful enough. Fury Road doesn’t question the importance of gender roles. It encourages it.

There is no meaningful difference between putting wome in the kitchen or in the factory. You’re still assigning them roles based on their gender and deny them their individuality. Men have been allowed to exist outside their gender for years. Even in characters where the sex is important, it’s not their whole character, like Bellow’s Herzog or Roth’s Portnoy. Get rid of the gender, and what do the wives, or the old women have?

Fury Road assigns a role to women and that is to be Jesus. That’s why there’s no room for them to develop. Developing them would mean they could be wrong, or be flawed, or think bad thoughts. These would make them seem less ‘good’. It would also make them more human and more realistic. I do not believe women are angels, and I find them to be equal to me in strength and in weakness. By turning them into angels, the film denies them the oppurtunity to be human.

Ironically, the two male characters that get some sort of character development are male. Mad Max is a fantastic hero. Despite being presented as a rugged action hero, there are plenty of moments where we see through the cracks. The distrust and paranoia he expresses at first, his jerky movements, his awkward way of speaking that points at an antisocial personality – these are small details that help establish who Max is. Max is a person who’s a family man at heart, but has been wrecked by the wasteland and turned into an antisocial animal who only cares about surviving and can’t even communicate. Nux gets a less interesting arc of waking up from the patriarchy and redeeming himself by joining the women.

George Miller was aware of this ‘feminism’ when he made the film. He says he’s now surrounded by wonderful women so he ‘can’t help being a feminist’. I wonder if in an alternative universe where Miller is not a director with groupies, he’s still a feminist. It’s easy to side with women when they’re attracted to you, but women deserve rights not because they give you sex or affection. You should be a feminist even if all women will find you so physically repulsive they will never get close to you. It seems as if Miller cares less about women as fellow people, and just rewards them for their affection. That’s nice of him, but next time he should reward them with a more honest portrayal.

So, we have another film where women are confined to a role and none of them are allowed to be fully human. It’s not even a unique role. It’s just an oversized Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Instead of rescuing a single man from his boring, they rescue a whole civilization thanks to their femininity. Maybe we overdid it. We spent so much time praising women, hoping it’ll make up for past mistakes but we kept refusing to let them share their experience. Women do need to be praised further. They need to be portrayed as the humans they are.

There are no angels and no demons, just people with different ideas.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

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So, Anita Sarkeesian managed to piss a lot of people off (again). That’s not surprising. There’s that famous quote about how people love you for making them feel like they’re thinking, and hate you for actually make them think. Anita is an expert in fiction analysis, which is why no one managed to defeat the behemoth of her video game series. Just like she did to video games, she saw through Fury Road‘s pathetic catering to feminism.

If you hear anyone praising the film for ‘strong female characters’ and subverting the norm with the old women, you can be sure the person has little understanding of fiction. Feminism means promotion of women’s rights with hopes they’ll be equal to men. It seeks not to fuel the dichotomy of the patriarchy but to end it. It seeks to erase differences and question norms. Fury Road doesn’t question any norms but fuels existing ones that are more politically correct.

A world that challenges gender roles will challenge the concept of gender roles. It’ll put men and women in the same position, and ask us whether it’s possible or not for gender to mean nothing. In Fury Road, gender tells you who’s evil and who’s not. All of the guys are bad. There is not a single bad female. There are only two male characters who aren’t villains, and a character expresses mistrust towards them because of their sex. This is more than enough to tell us that males are pretty awful, but women are good-natured and also badasses.

You even get an action heroine, who’s defining feature is that she looks like the singer from Skunk Anansie. This is also the most interesting thing about her. She has no personality beyond doing what’s right because she’s a protagonist. That’s fine. That’s how action heroes work. Luckily she has enough charisma and a gritty look that emphasizes badassery instead of sexiness. She’s a great action heroine that ticks all the right boxes, but her character is as shallow as a damsel in distress.

It gets worse in the climax, where a bunch of old women push into the final scene despite the film not wanting them there. There’s no reason to focus on them so much. They’re a plot device that tells the characters to go back and instigate the final chase. They contribute nothing to the scene. They have no personality and no charisma. We have no reason to cheer for them other than that they’re good, and they’re only good because they’re women. They just take up precious time that could be better spent on Max and Furiosa.

Amidst all this, the only character with a personality is Max himself. Tom Hardy destroys Mel Gibson with his performance. Gibson made Max a charismatic but shallow action hero. Hardy and the script turn the ‘mad’ into ‘mentally ill’. The looks on his face, his jerky behavior – all points to a broken, damaged man. We also get some ‘visions’ to let us know Max has a troubled past, but they must’ve written that before they knew how brilliant Hardy is.

So, Fury Road has one of the most sexist worlds ever. It’s a world where all males are bad and disposable. Females are either angels or badasses. Thankfully, feminists couldn’t ruin George Miller’s vision. There’s a brilliant moment of symbolism in the final scene where some of the old women die a beautiful death, which is a metaphore for how the film doesn’t let social justice stops its brilliance.

At its best, Fury Road betters the ideas in the previous films. The world is weird, mentally ill and unstable. There are plenty of odd design choices to emphasize this, but the the car with the guitarist is the most telling one. It may seem impractical to have a guitarist in the middle of a car chase, but this is how this world works.

Humanity couldn’t stay the same after an apocalypse. There’s no reason that the cultures that will rise up will be like ours. Memories of the old world should be erased. New symbols take their place. In this world it’s cars and weapons. It’s a culture that worships cars. That’s why they run with their designs, and you get a sports car with wheels of a tank and the guitarist. This is what makes the world seem so real and alive. If only George Martin could think of such odd details.

It’s less weird than before. In the previous films, the world was desexualized and truly insane. George Miller took a few cues from Martin and added some very out-of-place grimdarkness. In the previous films, the villains were cruel but also weird. It was a unique way to give them humanity. There’s no antagonist as charming as Master Blaster. They dress weird, but their behavior isn’t very different than whatever Marvel is churning. Fury Road should have looked to its followers – Fallout and Borderlands, who borrowed this weirdness and created their own spin of a mentally ill world.

At least they kept the aestheticization of violence, which is the heart and soul of the series. It still feels like a respond to John Woo. If Woo is the master of gunfights, then Miller will be the master of car chases.

Action scenes aren’t measured by how well the effects are. Good action scenes are like a dance. The movements need to connect. There needs to be good pacing, tension and release, make it visually appealing and let it flow. Good action is not realistic. It is indulgence in visual fantasies.

Fury Road is full of this. Each car has an eye-popping design. Even cars whose drivers aren’t seen have a unique design. It’s still filmed to let you feel the speed. The blurry roads remain the defining feature. There’s also variety. Spiky cars, people hanging on poles, a guy with a chainsaw – the action relies more on memorable set pieces than effects.

It’s also completely heartless, but it’s part of its beauty. The film asks you to cheer for every death, every explosion and every wound. Even when the good guys are wounded it’s shot as if it’s another cool addition to the scene. It may seem too much for some people, but violence can’t be aestheticized properly if it’s censored. It’s not that Fury Road uses extreme violence to cover up creativity. It just knows you can’t be too creative with the PG-13 rating.

Whether it’s better than Road Warrior, time will tell. Miller compromises his vision a bit for silly grimdarkness and feminists, but in the end he runs over them. They put enough holes in his wheels, which means Fallout and Borderlands are ahead. There’s plenty of fuel left in this franchise though. If they keep Hardy and ignore the social justice warriors, then the action genre will come back to life. If not, then maybe this will motivate someone to make a Borderlands or Fallout film.

By the way, Gizmo from Fallout 1 appears in a pretty cool car. Apperantly, fat guys are okay to kill. So much for social justice.

3.5 cars out of 5