This movie is awesome. It is awe-inspiring. It is, very literally, spectacular.
If you like action movies, or you like the post-apocalyptic aesthetic, this movie is for you. If you normally turn up your nose at action movies because they are laden with troubling bullshit, you can still try this movie. Not because there aren’t troubling themes dealing with sex slavery and the subjugation of women, but because these things are dealt with well, with considerable respect and aplomb, in a movie that treats its female characters as real and very impressive people even when some of the movie’s characters do not. Fury Road may or may not be a feminist movie (more on that later) but I think it’s a movie that you can watch without feeling like someone snuck you a shit sandwich.
Plus, it’s a really well made action movie, period. I saw it on Saturday and would happily see it again RIGHT NOW. It isn’t the tightly-plotted / intricately arranged tapestry of Die Hard; it’s like a formidable piece of Brutalist architecture. It dominates the landscape with its physicality, its constant tension, and the relentless pace of its driving (heh) narrative. For more of my thoughts on the matter, read on.
So, about that “may or may not be” comment… let me quote Mattias’ paraphrase of one of his coworkers;
If your definition of a movie with a feminist message is one where the basic plot is “Hey, maybe people shouldn’t keep women as pregnancy slaves,” I’m thinking you probably have to rethink your decisions in life.
And as Jason put it when our conversation drifted further into the Men’s Rights Activists’ response to the movie:
The “propaganda” of the film was just having women acting as equals and refusing servitude.
Basically, if a feminist movie is one that has female characters with agency, personality, and lives beyond being a sex object, female characters who feel like real people instead of ciphers to be rewritten as the scene demands, then I guess Fury Road is a feminist movie. But if that’s the definition, I also think that every movie should be a feminist movie. I mean, obviously not every character in a movie always has agency, but internally consistent female characters with agency shouldn’t stick out like sore thumbs. They should be expected. It is telling that the women of Fury Road come as such a surprise in an action movie. They shouldn’t.
I don’t mean that every movie has to be all about women. But it would damn well be nice if a few more of them were, and / or included women in a wider variety of roles. Linda Holmes made an excellent point about this with regards to Black Widow on NPR’s pop-culture blog, noting that the scarcity of female roles leads to troubling distortion with the few that we do see.
On top of that, Mad Max includes implied rape and the associated trauma (see above mention of characters who don’t treat women as people) without belittling the women involved, and while still giving them all the things I just mentioned above. They are survivors, they are full of righteous anger, and they are willing and able to act. It’s really fucking refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t make light of or defend rape culture in the least.
Ok, enough about that, I could talk about that for hours. In case you couldn’t tell, I like what Mad Max Fury Road has done with all the above.
And I also like what Fury Road did as an action movie. That description that I wrote up above, of the movie as a piece of Brutalist architecture, sums up my experience of the film quite well. Even better, though I rarely watch action films in which I come to care about the characters, Fury Road does make me care. I want to see what happens not just because explosions and car chases are cool, but because I actually started to fall for the characters, started to feel for them and identify with them. There is so much there, under the surface of these people, shown only through bits and pieces and the briefest glimpses, and I simultaneously love it, and aspire to creating something like it, and despair of ever succeeding.
If you haven’t yet seen Fury Road, give it a try. Unless you don’t like action movies at all, ever, in which case I guess you’ll just have to resign yourself to missing one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen.
P.S. There’s an excellent piece by Chuck Wendig [trigger warning, it discusses rape in cinema and on tv] comparing Mad Max Fury Road’s inclusion of rape and trauma with Game of Thrones’ inclusion of rape and trauma. He also has a related post (which ends with additional relevant links) tearing apart defense of rape scenes in GoT.