Good Shots: Discussing Warrior Grannies, Blood Bags and Furious Feminism in “Mad Max”

This post contains spoilers.

George Miller’s latest chrome-shiny installment of the Mad Max franchise packs a lot of excitement into a movie whose plot is basically just… they drive down a road. They drive back. Somehow, though, this bare-bones plot sequence had me gripping the armrests and gasping in my seat. Below, three Acro Collective movie buffs sit down to discuss their favorite brands of huffable chrome paint, Furiosa’s makeup routine and what kind of snacks Nux brought along on his first war ride.

Just kidding.


mad-max

E: Did you guys have high expectations going in to see this movie? I feel like it’s been kind of polarizing, but I don’t know enough about the older Mad Max movies to compare.

B: I did, mostly because of the hype surrounding the film both with its critical acclaim and its overtly feminist notions, which were drawing a lot of attention. I generally have little to no interest in seeing action flicks (the action paradigm bores me), and had admittedly never heard of the Mad Max franchise, but was curious after reading some reviews sans spoilers and hearing people talk about it.

A: While I was excited about hype that I’d seen on Tumblr and various articles making fun of MRAs, I didn’t have very high expectations. I had already been burned by one action movie this month, which shall remain nameless, and I was still pretty wary. However, I figured anything that caused that much talk would probably be worth seeing, but not really having much else to do played a large part in going to see it.  All that aside, I really enjoyed it!

E: What were your guys’ favorite parts? I’m still a little hype from seeing it — I went in with REALLY low expectations, think-piece praise aside.

B: I really liked when the clan, which is a matriarchal society just as badass as Furiosa and her gang, was introduced. I appreciated the elderly women being portrayed as powerful and capable. With ageism being just as bad of a problem as sexism in the film industry, especially for women, it was refreshing and perhaps surprising to see this. Also, Furiosa’s cry to the earth was predictable (and even cheesy) to me, but I really commiserated with her there. Like damnit, really?!

A: I think at that point I was ready to scream with Furiosa too. The Vuvalani (an amazing name if you ask me) were definitely my favourite part. By the time we meet them we’re already pretty far in and have witnessed the capabilities of not only Furiosa but also the wives. Then we get even more awesome women?!? (Yes!) I really loved the kind of generational familial structure they represent post-apocalypse. This is something that we don’t get at the Citadel where Immortan Joe is, for all intents and purposes, the beginning and ending of familial hierarchy. The war boys are an unclaimed mass and his heir, Rictus is (often literally) just an echo of Joe.

The older actresses also brought out one of my other favorite things about the movie which was its aesthetic, especially with regards to texture. As viewers, we are prompted to look, see, and survey not only the landscape but also the pure spectacle of the war party. (I think I could stare at the spikey cars and built-up war tanks forever.) For me, the Vuvalini were especially beautiful because set against the always already deteriorating War Boy, their wrinkles were a beautiful and hard-won testament to their bad-assery.

Photo from thepandorasociety.com
The Vuvalini with The Dag | Photo from thepandorasociety.com

E: Yes! But really the whole world of the movie was pretty captivating and well-built for me. I feel like they were able to pack in a lot of detail without a lot of exposition (although Max’s hallucinations felt like a bit of overkill…) — from the strong religious/cultish overtones of Joe’s Citadel to the impact of the short declarations throughout the movie: “Our children will not be warlords”… “Who killed the world?” etc. This movie clearly blends feminist critique and ecocritique together under the umbrella of patriarchal exploitation, which I was not expecting going in. Another thing it does well is to show how everyone, men included, suffers under a rigid system of exploitation. Like I think we feel for Nux just as much as for some of the brides.

Did anyone else feel like Tom Hardy’s character, Max, took on a traditional sort of…hot-female sidekick role in this movie? Lol. So many close-up shots of his face!

Pretty, gritty Tom Hardy | Photo @MadMaxMovieUK/Twitter
Pretty, gritty Tom Hardy | Photo @MadMaxMovieUK/Twitter

And of course, not a lot of dialogue…

B: Yeah, I take it all back, actually… the aesthetics, from the vehicles to the makeup and costuming to the entire universe they created, were actually my favorite part. I even somehow liked the unsettling motif of running fluids – the water being poured out of the Citadel, the women being milked, blood supplying, running gasoline, tears. It was very visceral for me. In addition to the ecocritique, I can see a nod to the hazards of commercial farming, especially with the milking of the women and the breeders, but that could just be my reading.

I totally think Max was akin to a traditionally hot female sidekick character. Funny that you say that! I was cracking up when you were like, “I don’t think he got that. He doesn’t seem smart enough,” when Furiosa explains the rig’s starting kill-switch sequence (while we were watching the movie). He’s eye candy, but more importantly, I think he represents solidarity… an ally for feminists and women in general. He’s a physically strong male who does not in any way subjugate the female-driven dynamic; he enforces it and works alongside the women (almost bowing down to Furiosa… an “aww” moment for me was when he finally revealed his name to her and WILLINGLY supplied his blood to her) to collectively reach their end goal. And when Furiosa and the women are lifted up to power in the end, he steps aside.

A: I agree, Max definitely is riding shotgun on this one. And his position as atypical protagonist permeates everything he does and every position in which he is placed. Here, I’m thinking about his position as a figurehead mounted on the prow of Nux’s car. Which I found really telling given all of the Norse mythology (the War Boys are vikings with cars instead of boats)  floating around. While Max is the eponymous character and we see him first as narrator, he’s an unnamed body (blood bag) for an incredibly long time. He fights with Furiosa as a partner and their chemistry is that of comrades (even though she’s a much better warrior). Like Belinda said, the solidarity, especially in those scenes, was super refreshing.

E: As a blood bag, he’s placed in line with the escaping brides too — as a body who is first and foremost a physical resource.

Directors love putting Tom Hardy in a mask... | Photo @MadMaxMovieUK/Twitter
Directors love putting Tom Hardy in a mask… | Photo @MadMaxMovieUK/Twitter

B: That, again, speaks to how that particular patriarchal system is oppressive to both men and women of all ages, looking at the War Boys and someone like Max.

A: Max is possibly the most vulnerable in these situations, because while he fights and survives, he is a universal donor and potential blood bag to any and everyone.

Which seems an interesting way of configuring your “hero” especially if there’s another version of the story in which the because we’ve seen the fierceness of Furiosa and the wives (Toast, Splendid, Capable, The Dag, and Cheedo) we could easily imagine them overtaking him? He just feels more vulnerable to me because of his “blood status.”

B: He is surprisingly strong for having so much blood drained out of him, though. I think the oppressed are similarly vulnerable, just in different ways. It’s with the fluids again — some like Max are sought after for their blood, some for their milk, some for their fertility/child-bearing. That all seems horribly abusive to me. (I keep feeling like this has a pro-vegan message, but that could just be me.)

E: [Aside: Tom Hardy’s character is just like his character in Lawless…lol. Has most of his blood drained out, still able to walk and fight and stuff. A+]

B: I read an article that claims that Mad Mex isn’t feminist or even good for that matter. One of the reasons stated is the use of the beautiful “Maxim Hotlist” models as breeders. I initially thought the women seemed almost too perfect as well — but then I realized they were purposely selected for their beauty by Immortan Joe, and beautiful women can be marginalized (especially in the sex trade industry) and conversely powerful. How did you two feel about the use of those actresses?

A: There is that for all intents and purposes “wet t-shirt” scene” but its purpose felt more about exposition than exhibition. We need to see Splendid (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and her huge baby bump so that we can know what has happened to these women and why Furiosa is helping them escape. Her body a symbol of the broken system and instantaneous backstory insert.

E: It’s so funny that the article you linked would claim Mad Max is “overdone.” It is the B-movie to end all B-movies, lol. Its mode of existence is hamminess.

B: LOL, in some ways, that’s kinda true. But it doesn’t make it bad. B-movies rock.

E: And yeah, I have a problem with constructing beauty and feminism as mutually exclusive. There’s nothing that says we audiences can’t enjoy a good model-like lineup in a movie that’s excessive in almost every other way.

B: You’re so right. If the universe was entirely realistic and mirrored society to a fault, then the women would seem out of place. But c’mon. It’s B-movie status and, in that universe, those women are hardly the most overdone aspect.

A: I think it would have been different if they were just “The Wives” but they have names and distinct personalities. We even know their names before Max’s.

Photo @MadMaxMovieUK/Twitter
Photo @MadMaxMovieUK/Twitter

E: There is the fact too that the two most obviously/conventionally attractive women get killed in the most gruesome ways… Rosie Huntington Whiteley’s character dies early on, as does Megan Gale’s character, The Valkyrie. It’s hard to argue that RHW was there just for her beauty, too, because her final scene was so gruesome and we didn’t see her face then — just the reactions of those around her. She’s literally treated like a piece of meat on the cutting block, which is the extreme logical end of beauty in the world of the movie. With that kind of ending, it’s hard to see beauty as a particularly desirable trait by the movie’s standards.

B: Ooof, yeah, so brutal. I had to avert my eyes. Beauty and feminism shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, like you said, E. I appreciated that the women do not subscribe to more traditionally masculine forms of strength and power; they instead maintain their femininity. Furiosa kind of reminded me of a grittier Khaleesi from Game of Thrones. She’s just and a liberator, and isn’t afraid to show emotion, but ruthless to those who threaten the safety of the women she is trying to protect.

E: In any case, I feel like there are holes in the logic that argues that beautiful models preclude this film from being “truly feminist,” especially because the movie is pretty brutal and un-naive about the endings available to women so prized for their beauty in the movie’s world. We, as audience members, can appreciate their beauty extra-diegetically, but I think in the world of the film I’d rather not look like RWH…

I’m thinking too about the scene in which RWH puts her beautiful pregnant body as a shield between Joe’s gun and Furiosa driving the truck…

That scene points to some kind of understanding of beauty as not merely ornamental but like… a bargaining chip? Something of value in the economy of the movie? It’s a scene where a woman uses her beauty not in the “traditional” way of attracting, but as a way of strengthening and protecting another woman.

A: Yeah, that’s almost a weaponized beautiful body. A literal shield.

B: It’s a weaponized female body at its most explicitly female, with the pregnancy.

E: The female body reduced to its most biologically “female” moments? Like breastfeeding and giving birth.

A: But these are the places the world building breaks for me. The bodily functions almost have to become allegorical because, while the moments like the milking build atmosphere, I kept wondering how much milk they were producing and why?

B: I think for food, perhaps? Because there wasn’t enough water? For crops or anything else. Could be why they ate bugs and lizards.

A: I guess. It just seems that these are point where bodies as they operate now (where mothers have healthy babies, create milk for those babies milk, or we have voluntary blood donors), and as they are being exploited to operate in the movie (Joe’s inability to produce healthy heirs, breastfeeding for who knows what reason, and a collection of captive blood-bags), actually can’t work well after the apocalypse?

E: Yeah, I’m not sure why the milk. But in any case, those are images that will stick with me for a long time, regardless of how well they mesh with the logic of the world.

B: Yeah, I can see it being allegorical. Because Joe is hoarding the water, so the resources technically exist somewhat (unbeknownst to everyone else), but most others in the society are nonetheless exploited and have no access to the water (aka wealth, maybe?).

Immortan Joe and his
Immortan Joe and his “family” | Photo @MadMaxMovieUK/Twitter

A: I really think that the film could be in quiet moments asking us to consider the way bodies operate or will be able to operate once the world effectively ends. It seems like certain types of production that seem valuable (breast milk) might not be anymore. Just like the way Joe wants to build his empire with through traditional childbirth but can’t.

B: What do you mean by the way bodies operate?

A: For me I wonder why the numerous War Boys,who are functional despite their half-life status, as considered less desirable human “products” in this fairly established post-apocalyptic world that renders what viewers might consider “able” bodies “dis-abled”. I guess I just wonder how much the film wants to question this paradigm of ability. It seems especially interesting to think about, when we consider the way that Furioso can kick ass with or without her prosthetic.

B: Ohhhh, that’s a good point about her prosthetic. Really fast diversion: there’s a theory that Furiosa was taken to be a breeder but her mother protected her by severing her arm so she wouldn’t be *perfect* and wouldn’t be a good fit in that role; that is why she has the prosthetic arm. But Joe still cared for her and took her in and she is treated better than the other workers, i.e. she looks cleaner and healthier than the others.

A: That’s really interesting to think about Belinda, especially when we think about the interchange with Furiosa and Splendid (RWH) after she get’s shot or “damaged.” Also, we might think about how bodies operate in a post anthropocentric space? I think that those questions are definitely lingering in the background.

E: I think that’s definitely something the film is asking us to think about — especially because Joe’s War Boys are being born with only a half-life. Everything in Joe’s empire is designed to be in short supply, and therefore more controllable… he and his fellow exploiters use fairly short-sighted modes of production that spoil things long-term, like the Green Place (hence the line “Who killed the world?”) while unnaturally extending bodily production that is meant to be more short-term, like the breast milk.

Production is also a question because it simultaneously moves the movie forward (need for gasoline), yet it’s not really clear how the economy of the world really works — like what do the poor people at the base of the cliff do for a living? Who produces anything — even the vehicles that drive the plot?

Most of the humans in this movie are dependent (or forced to be dependent) on machinery in a very visual, literal way… or treated as machinery themselves… it’s definitely bringing up questions of the posthuman but not in a sexy, sleek cyborg fashion.

B: Yes, treated as machines. That’s a great point, and ties in with Furiosa’s prosthetic arm. But it’s a juxtaposition because she becomes more empowered in being able to drive the rigs and do work that the men in that society would do with her physical beauty being “endangered” (and her thus not being a breeder). The pregnant woman becomes a literal piece of meat that is butchered and portrayed as commodity.

E: I guess that’s where it meshes with ecocriticism, because these dependent humans are grotesque — like the People Eater, or Joe.

A:  And I think that question of production cycles back to the Vuvalini. They are farmers or producers with seeds, but they must sharpshoot because their environment is destroyed.

B: Yeah they are forced to integrate machinery into what is inherently natural and earthly in order to survive.

E: In a way I’m glad that Furiosa’s mission didn’t succeed. I feel like if she were to actually return to the Green Place, some feminist utopia, it would feel very… escapist.

A: You mean you didn’t want them to live with the crow people?

E: 

B: LOL. Yeah, the idea of a feminist utopia would undermine the eventual integration of these women back into society. There is no real utopia. There should just be something close to egalitarianism.

E: But really, it’s interesting to me that this “feminist” movie (or… no scare quotes, lol) doesn’t say the answer is to escape somewhere, even in fantasy, or to totally smash everything and rebuild from scratch.

E: The movie further undercuts the idea of escapist utopia with the failure of Nux’s “Valhalla” dreams, right?

A: Which is why Max’s lines about about “hope” and trying to scrape together some “redemption” (a regurgitation of Furiosa’s earlier comments) seems like such a perfect answer.

B: Like, women’s crisis centers and refuges are important (in our real-life societies), but the key is to always reintegrate them back into society so they can thrive… in reality. And not in some falsely secure, sequestered environment.

E: I think this movie would have been much easier to dismiss if it had gone the escapist route, too. Because where do you go from there, having watched them go to the Green Place? You come back to our world and that line of logic just closes itself off from real life.

B: There’s a need to work toward redemption for everyone and not just the women.

E: Yes.

B: With Furiosa at the helm, she can perhaps fix both the men and women who suffer under the oppressive regime, not just the few women she had with her.

A: Definitely.

B: Hence redemption?

E: Yeah, maybe. Or at least a chance. I guess we won’t ever know.

A: We won’t know, but she seems to have a good shot. Those War Boys were certainly willing.

B: SEQUEL.

Originally written for Acro Collective: CLICK HERE FOR THE STORY.

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