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Nerd's Eye View – Mad Max: Religion, feminism and the craziest guitarist you will ever see (June 3, 2015 issue)

Welcome back, readers and friends. The topic of this installment of Nerd’s Eye View is the recently released – film, “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
“Fury Road” is the fourth installment of the “Mad Max” series directed by George Miller. The first installment, “Mad Max,” premiered in 1979 and was followed by “The Road Warrior” in 1981 and “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” in 1985.
The first three films starred a young Mel Gibson as Max and is set in a dystopian future where fuel is running out, global war occurs and humanity is forever changed. It is not a future I would want to live in. With each of the first three films of the series we see the world become more and more of a wasteland. By the time we get to “Fury Road” the world has completely fallen.
When thinking of the franchise, it seems to me that most people think of “Thunderdome” thanks, in part, to Tina Turner’s role as the villain of that film and for singing the song “We Don’t Need Another Hero.”
If you ask me, “Road Warrior” is the best of those first three films. It was my favorite “Mad Max” movie until I saw “Fury Road” a few weeks ago.
Tom Hardy, who is probably best known for playing Bane in the “Dark Knight Rises,” plays Max in “Fury Road.” Charlize Theron plays the new character Imperator Furiosa, who may be the best female action hero to appear in a movie since Sigourney Weaver played Ellen Ripley in “Alien.” Also joining the cast is Hugh Keays-Byrne playing the villain Immortan Joe. “Mad Max” fans will remember Keays-Byrne for playing the villain Toecutter in the original “Mad Max” film.
The plot of “Fury Road” is very simple. I have read reviews where others find this to be a negative. I disagree. Yes, the plot is straightforward, but it is enough to drive the action.
The plot is this: Furiosa smuggles five wives of Immortan Joe who are held against their will out of the Citadel, which is, for lack of a better world, a city ruled by Immortan Joe. Furiosa hides the wives in her “war rig” – think of an 18-wheeler made of spare parts and tricked out to go into battle in the desert – as she leaves the Citadel on a supply run to the nearby Gas Town, another settlement.
On the road to Gas Town, Furiosa leads her convoy off the road in the direction of her home, which she calls the Green Place, where she and the brides will be safe from Joe. Unfortunately for Furiosa and the brides, Immortan Joe finds out about the detour and their escape. Joe then leaves the Citadel to pursue Furiosa and “his property” – the wives. Joe calls in help from Gas Town and another settlement known as the Bullet Farm.
The pursuing force from the Citadel includes Nux, one of Immortan Joe’s War Boys. The War Boys are the bald, chalk-colored and sickly boys who make up Joe’s army and worship him as a god. We don’t know how, when or why, Immortan Joe has convinced the War Boys to worship him. What you can gather from the movie is that the War Boys believe that when they die in service of Immortan Joe they will live again in Valhalla.
“I live, I die. I live again!” Nux exclaims during a chase.
Immortan Joe also presents himself to the people living destitute in the desert around the Citadel as their redeemer, the god they should worship. He hoards water for himself and his chosen circle and only shares it with the people when it benefits him to do so and then only in limited amounts. He is in no way a benevolent, loving leader.
Because of his sickness, Nux is connected to Max, whom he refers to as his “blood bag” for sustenance. In order to continue to get blood from Max during the chase, Nux straps Max to the front of his car with the IV joining them still connected.
Max soon meets Furiosa and the wives and the group flees from Immortan Joe and his pursuing force together.
That’s pretty much the plot. But it is all you need for this film.
Frankly, a more complicated plot would have been a distraction from what Miller brings to the screen. This is a very visual film; it had the feel of a comic book brought to life. “Fury Road” relies on its visuals to tell its story. In a time where most films – particularly action films – feel the need to explain and explain and explain every detail, this approach by Miller is refreshing. Another knock against the film posed by some is this lack of exposition. Again, I disagree with this criticism. There is very little exposition in “Fury Road,” but in a film that is essentially a two-hour long car chase, too much exposition would be equivalent to traveling at 100 miles per hour and suddenly slamming on the brakes.
We get enough exposition to explain the next chase. You have enough information to enjoy the ride that is this movie.
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“Mad Max: Fury Road” is a film with much to say – despite the lack of dialogue.
Even in a world fallen into a desert wasteland, human nature remains, at least mostly, as it is in the world we know. Basic needs continue – the need to survive, to eat, etc. I think another of those needs is to understand our place in the world, regardless of how messed up that world might be, and to give meaning to our lives as part of that world.
Immortan Joe chooses to take advantage of this part of human nature and sets himself up as a god. (This is not explicitly stated in the movie, but it is obvious) “It is by my hand you will rise from the ashes of this world,” he says.
His self-deification allows those around him – at least those who believe him to be a god, particularly the War Boys who make up his army – give meaning to their lives and their deaths. The War Boys die willingly for Joe because they believe, as Nux said, they will live on in the land of Valhalla, which I assume is how they perceive heaven. Not only that, they believe it will be Joe who will usher them into the next world. Immortan Joe tells Nux, who is going on what amounts to a suicide mission: “I myself will carry you to the gates of Valhalla … you will ride eternal, shiny and chrome!”
Choosing Valhalla as the heaven, or next world, for the War Boys is an interesting choice by the filmmakers. In Norse mythology, Valhalla, or the “Hall of the Slain,” is watched over by Odin. Odin is to Norse mythology what Zeus is to greek mythology. He is the main deity in the Norse pantheon. Norse mythology claims that some of the warriors slain in battle are taken to Valhalla.
I’m sure the characters of “Mad Max: Fury Road” know nothing of Norse mythology. Why Joe chooses Valhalla as the “heaven” for his War Boys is never explained because it is not necessary to the plot. We know the War Boys are willing to die for their Immortan Joe thanks, in part, to the promise of riding eternal in Valhalla. That’s all we need.
I do think we can look at the film as a cautionary tale for the dangers of blind religious faith. The War Boys don’t die explicitly for their religion, but that can be inferred because they die for their “deity.” They are willing to kill for Joe because of their misplaced faith in that despot.
Religious extremism is a problem in our world. It is a danger for every religion, from Christianity to Islam. When we place blind faith in an ideal or a pastor we are in danger of becoming like the War Boys – dying for a cause that is not just or righteous, but the will of a mad man. Those like Immortan Joe, be they fictional or real, prey on those seeking to believe in something, give meaning to their lives and find their places in the world. They manipulate religion for their own devices and are dangerous because of that.
People of faith, regardless of that faith, must take religion back from those who prostitute it for their own gain. Religion should not be used as a tool to control others. Religion is for connecting with what we understand to be the divine.
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Another important theme in “Mad Max: Fury Road” is feminism.
This is a film where the females kick some serious butt. Furiosa often overshadows Max as the hero of this film and that is fine with me. Max has an important role to play in the film and it being a “Mad Max” film is justified, but Miller allows the women of the film, who range in ages from probably early 20s to late 70s, to be action heroes.
Women are often the victims in films waiting to be saved by the male hero. That is not the case here and it is inspiring to see.
The best comparison I can think of for Furiosa are the previously-mentioned Ellen Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver and Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton in the “Terminator” movies. Those characters also kicked some serious butt.
I’m not saying that I want all women portrayed in movies to be like Furiosa, Ripley or Connor. It is just nice to see that women are being portrayed as being able to be the hero, not the victim.
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And now for the craziest guitarist you will ever see.
The moment it became abundantly clear to me that I was watching a film unlike any other I had seen in a long while was the reveal of a blind guitar player, whose name is the “Doof Warrior,” riding atop one of Joe’s war machines.
This vehicle is huge with numerous amps, and even drummers, attached as the Doof Warrior provides the score for Joe’s forces going into battle. Think of this as the most extreme possible example of the drummers once used to keep marching forces in step. This guy is really rocking out. He’s wearing this red outfit that stands out against the desert landscape and the vehicle.
Oh, and the end of the guitar is a flamethrower. I have never seen anything like it.
No written explanation can do the visual of the Doof Warrior justice. Just go see the movie. Or, at the very least Google a photo of this guy.
I saw “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 3D and I would recommend seeing it that way. Trust me, you’ll want to see the Doof Warrior in 3D.
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Until next time, “I live, I die. I live again to write this column in Valhalla.” Have a great week, whether you’re a nerd or not.
Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr: @keeli12.