Mad Max: Fury Road
Christian Movie Review
I’ve lost track of how many critics have called “Mad Max: Fury Road” three things: A) a masterpiece, B) the best action movie of 2015 (some have said the best action movie ever), and C) one of the best movies ever made of any genre.
It is indeed a stunning, memorable movie. It sticks with you long after the credits have rolled.
[SIDEBAR: And it was also a blast for me personally because, by pure happenstance, I ended up sitting in the same row as a friend I hadn’t seen for many years, actor Dion Mucciacito — who, by the way, will have a recurring role in NBC’s new show THE PLAYER starring Wesley Snipes, which will air on Thursdays at 10pm beginning this Fall. I got to talk movies — and Mad Max awesomeness — with one of the best up-and-coming actors in Hollywood (in my ‘umble opinion). Awesome!]
Okay, so I will kick things off with some of the amusing quotes I found. (Sometimes it’s just as much fun reading reviews as it is seeing the film.)
After these quotes — and after the parent guidance section — I’ll explain why I agree with at least two of the letters I mentioned above (A, C) and maybe even letter B — strictly in terms of film craft and entertainment value. I’ll also explore some of the spiritual themes and nitrous-fueled symbolism that moviegoers might unearth from George Miller’s wasteland masterpiece.
Love these two quotes:
“The creator of the original Mad Max trilogy has whipped up a gargantuan grunge symphony of vehicular mayhem that makes Furious 7 look like Curious George.”-Michael Phillips
“If Francisco Goya painted Heavy Metal magazine, it’d look something like Fury Road…a far cry from its squarely-lit competition.” –Matt Patches
I especially love this one:
“Like a rocket shot out of another rocket fired from a cannon.”-Matt Pais [haha]
And this one:
“We live in an era in which the word ‘awesome’ can be used to describe a fast food sandwich, so perhaps we have either become immune to hyperbole, or perhaps our standards are far too low. In either case, into this jaded epoch power-slides Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that actively tries to be one of the greatest action movies ever made, and actually succeeds.” –William Bibbiani
Oh, and this one:
“…with its vibrant color palette, harrowing stunt work and show-don’t-tell style of yarn-spinning, it leaves every Marvel movie and every Fast & Furious in its irradiated dust.”-Chris Klimec
(Yep, believe it or not, it looks like Marvel, that mainstream, young, hip darling of the movies, just got schooled by the 70-year-old legend George Miller — at least, according to the critics.)
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance for this R-rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: No sex scenes. Scantily clad women wear thin clothing that makes breasts visible through the fabric. A naked woman stands on top of a tower. The camera lingers on her in the scene, but she covers herself, or things strategically block her body so that no detailed nudity is actually seen.
Violence/Gore: Not as much as a horror movie, and, frankly, it was less graphic than I expected, but it has some realistic gore in it. A man’s face is completely ripped off, and for a quick moment, we see the details of the gruesome carnage from a distance (not up close). Countless people are stabbed, shot, blown up, and driven over — though in most of these, the carnage is not up close, detailed gore (though a couple are). When Max has flashbacks, we see creepy images of people transforming into corpses. A man is blinded by an explosion, and we see his bloody, wounded eyes.
Language: Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot of talking in this movie. I don’t even recall there being an f-word in there. I’m not sure there were any swear words, come to think of it. It makes sense, however; that’s a part of the post-apocalyptic setting. This wasteland civilization is so far removed from our civilization, which it calls “the Old World” and is only a distant memory, that our obscenities didn’t survive the apocalypse. This gives the film more realism.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Some characters spray paint their mouths and teeth just before they die, and it’s implied that perhaps there’s some sort of drug in it that invigorates them to fight harder before they die. (It also is similar to “huffing,” perhaps.) Besides that, no one really has anything to drink, smoke, or ingest — at least not like anything we have.
Frightening/Emotionally Intense Content: Besides all of the gory violence, Max is haunted, in his mind only, by ghosts of people from the past that he couldn’t save — especially his child. These apparitions appear to him — delusions in his mind — and they can be frightening. Also, the post-apocalyptic society has a strange grittiness to it — like the novel “The Heart of Darkness” — that is meant to be unsettling and creepy.
Squeamish Content: Again, besides all the violence in the action scenes, the poor condition of society produces some gross visuals that might make some fol
ks squirm: close-ups of tumors growing all over people’s bodies (because of fallout from nuclear war), for example.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Night scenes shot under the stars with long-abandoned satellites still orbiting the post-apocalyptic earth and a desert slathered with undiluted midnight — a startling ultramarine blue that washes over you. Red rust skies. (Is it Mars or Australia?) Bulbous mushroom clouds from explosion after explosion. Flames spitting from the engines of junk hot rods and electric guitars — yes, the villain has his own “bugle and drummer boy” section for his road rage army: tympanists pounding on drums on the back of giant trucks and a heavy metal guitarist strapped to a wall of speakers sitting on top of a war machine big rig, hitting power chords as if he were dropping atomic bombs.
So what’s this movie about anyways?
Well, it takes place in post-apocalyptic Australia in the near future (or, if you actually study the chronology of the films, it’s more like an alternative history of the present). Max (Tom Hardy) was once a highway patrolman in an old life before the world blew up in nuclear warfare. At one point, he had joy: he had a wife, a home, and a new baby. Then he lost it all. And he is still haunted by his painful past. As he says in the opening scene (slightly paraphrasing from memory): “All of us have been broken in some way…I have been reduced to a single instinct: survive.”
The film’s plot doesn’t try to be over-complex. Max is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he gets captured by an evil warlord. He escapes with a woman named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who has stolen things (the word the warlord would use) that are — shall we say — precious, to the warlord. So he chases after Furiosa and Max.
And in the middle of this rumbling, angry KABOOM of red and orange and dust there is an eye — like the still, eerily calm place in the eye of a storm — that draws the viewer’s attention to some of the most tenderhearted scenes I’ve seen in any film this year.
That was what really shocked me. This movie is profoundly tender and sensitive. It’s disorienting, but somehow those quiet moments of very real, raw, lump-in-the-throat drama and character development — breathed to life by the world-class performances of the cast — somehow give more hefty umph to the action scenes. There are real people at stake. Real emotions.
And — geeze — as far as the action scenes, George Miller goes old school, avoids CGI, relies wholly on manic, are-you-flipping-kidding-me stunts and practical effects, and pulls off something…that…is…just…well, it’s insane how good it is. It makes me wonder if action movie fans have been cheated all these years since CGI took over. “Fury Road” makes all the blockbuster CGI epics of recent years look, well, kind of plastic and shiny in a bad corporate McDonald’s kind of way — not really as impressive as we had originally thought.
To summarize this in terms that all Americans will understand: “Fury Road” is that bad boy motorcycle kid with a mysterious past who shows up at school and makes all the “pretty boy” popular kids look lame. All of our flashy, beloved CGI action epics suddenly feel hollow, pale, and uncool in Fury Road’s behemoth shadow.
This quote from Matt Patches explains it quite well:
Computer graphics widened the scope of spectacle films while sacrificing odors, tastes, and skin-tingling aftershocks—leveling a city can be surprisingly vanilla. Fury Road is a corrective, a tribute to practical effects that scorch the hair off onlookers (or at least feel like they do). The film hides any CG trickery under vehicular shrapnel, erupting engines, and plumes of black smoke, achieved by actually smashing cars into one another.” (Matt Patches’s review )
And, speaking of “amens” and religious/spiritual/symbolic/social themes…
Worldviews, Subtext, Symbolism, Themes of Redemption, Social Commentary, Etc.
I will point out an obvious one: it is a powerful femi
nist statement that, frankly, desperately needs to be said. It is a war cry against one of our culture’s most tragic and loathsome habits: the objectification of women. That objectification has reached new heights with the mainstreaming of pornography. I would even go so far as to say that “Mad Max: Fury Road” could work as an anti-pornography piece — at least, in the loose sense that it is staunchly opposed to the mentality of people who use pornography to dehumanize women and transform them into things, slaves, robots — items that one uses and then discards. “Fury Road” takes this mass objectifying of women that has become a major cultural enterprise, and it rips its flipping face off — literally.
Okay, (I can hear some folks asking) does that mean it is also an “all-men-are-evil” tirade? This might be over-simplistic, but I’d say “no” because not all the men in this movie are portrayed as evil. A powerful interdependent partnership is depicted between Max and Furiosa, for example. There are instances when they both need each other. Both of them have moments of weakness and moments of strength. Maybe I’m wrong — maybe I’m overlooking some things — but the film doesn’t go into the extreme regions of feminism that harbor a deep-seeded, violent hatred for the male species.
Nihilism in the Background; Spiritual Redemption in the Foreground
But then there’s the religious aspect. I was sort of putting this one off until last. It’s a bit trickier with this film (and I might need some help in the comments if readers have thoughts on this). For one thing, no matter what kind of spiritual symbolism we find, it stills sits before a vast backdrop of nihilism, which is the underlying worldview behind post-apocalyptic stories in general. In any post-apocalyptic wasteland movie, the way the earth is killed off by nuclear warfare and left for dead — with no intervention by God in any way, shape, or form — runs in stark contrast to what the Bible teaches about God’s involvement in human history. Yes, the Bible prophesies that there will be an Apocalypse — a final, devastating war — but it will not end in a meaningless wasteland or extinction. Christ will intervene and put an end to the destruction, and Heaven will quite literally heal and fill the earth when Christ sets up His eternal kingdom. That is a much different narrative. It has a more hopeful tone, to say the least, not unlike the character Furiosa in this film.
Even though, on a macro level, a movie might posit a backdrop of meaninglessness — a “we-are-all-there-is, there-is-no-intelligent-design-or-divine plan” Stoic nihilism — on a micro-level, in the dramas playing out in the film’s foreground, we can find stories that symbolize spiritual truths — even religious truths that defy the film’s backdrop.
However, in my opinion, this film keeps any religious/spiritual symbolism on that micro-level vague and nebulous so that — at the end of the day — just about anybody could project their personal bias into it.
Is It a Subtle Critique of Patriarchal Religion? It Could Be. (Or Maybe Not.)
For example, the evil villain is essentially a religious leader. He has created a religion in which its warriors worship steering wheels (perhaps a motor god of some kind), and it advances a jihadi-like die-in-a-religious-war-and-you-get-to-go-to-Heaven ideology; but instead of Heaven it is Valhalla (from Norse mythology). (And they have this bizarre ritual of spray-painting their mouths with chrome paint just before they die in battle as martyrs.) They use the word “chrome” as the highest, most beautiful adjective. This religious leader, Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne who — fun fact — also played the main villain Toecutter in the first Mad Max in 1979), is a wicked, despicable human being who uses religious fervor to fuel his minions and deceive and oppress people.
People who dislike religion immensely can easily fit their worldview into this film and claim the story works as a critique of religion — maybe even a denouncement of the “patriarchal religions” (i.e. Judaism, Christianity).
Unearthing Powerful Spiritual Redemption in the Wasteland
But I don’t think it’s as simple as that because the heroes of the film use religious language, especially Furiosa (arguably the true protagonist of the film) and one of the girls traveling with her says she is “praying.” And when someone asks “to whom?” she says “to anyone who is listening.” That was a moment in which a character was genuinely reaching out to God. In their post-apocalyptic world, where no one has heard about the God of the Bible, that scene reminded me of the Greeks building an altar for the “Unknown God.”
Furiosa talks of hope, and in one of the most important scenes in the film, she declares that she is “looking for redemption.” She doesn’t mean it in the literal religious sense. But one could make a powerful argument for some profound Christian symbolism here (whether the filmmaker intended it or not).
Mad Max: Fury Road – An Allegory for “Living Water” and “Overcoming Faith” in Christian Theology
[Warning: Major Spoilers in this section — like, seriously, I describe the ending of the movie in great detail and spoil all of the twists; so maybe don’t read this section if you’re planning to see the film. Read it after you get back from the theater.]
Immortan Joe, the main villain, fits the profile of Lucifer (Satan) in the Bible to the tee. If there’s one thing that Satan always tries to do — as depicted in the Bible — it’s blocking access to true life and giving people a pale imitation of God’s perfection.
Immortan Joe controls the only source of clean water in the Wasteland. He has access to a pump system that draws massive volumes of water from aquifers deep beneath the earth. It’s essentially a gargantuan well.
Here’s something interesting: in the Bible, those who dug wells and controlled the water became the owners of the land. In Bibli
cal times, wells were deeds to the land. Whoever controlled the wells controlled everything. Jehovah is described as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All three men — as shown in Genesis 26 — were well-diggers.
Jesus, in John 4, spoke of a spiritual well and used Jacob’s well as symbolism for “living water,” which, according to Jesus, is the only place where we can find true life that will last into eternity, and — also according to Jesus — this living water can only be found in Him. But, unlike Satan (and any religious or non-religious leader controlled by Satan), Jesus pours out His living water freely without limit to anyone who believes in Him and asks for that water.
In the Bible, we see Satan — over and over again — finding ways to stop people from gaining access to God’s spiritual well of living water. Through idolatry, greed, fear — anything he could find — Satan trapped and enslaved people into depending on him for spiritual water and cutting people off from ever finding the true water of God.
Immortan Joe does the same thing. He keeps all of society enslaved to him, and he only gives them little tastes of water — never the whole volume of it, and never enough to bring any real health or freedom. He even creates a false religion around his persona. He lifts himself up as “their redeemer” and struts around as a messiah. But he is a false messiah who is unwilling to back up his grand promises of Valhallah, and in truth he despises the people.
That’s exactly how Lucifer is depicted in the Bible. His main interest is gaining as much power over humans as he can, and then establishing himself as a messiah, a false god worthy of worship — all the while enslaving and destroying those who worship him.
So, from that angle, “Fury Road” presents an archetype who closely resembles the traits of Lucifer in the Bible. The heroes of the film — and their ultimate goal — could probably fit some Biblical symbolism as well.
When Furiosa and Max team up they free the “wives” of Immortan Joe (whom Joe calls his “property”) — and make it out to the desert. They then search for the “green land,” the last remaining garden that hasn’t been devoured by the Wasteland. Furiosa, who has a painful past, wants to go there for one reason: “for redemption,” in her words, because she “has hope.” She believes the pain and darkness of her past can be washed away, if only she can reach the green land and be reborn into a new way of life.
Max at first abhors her “spiritual” goals of hope and redemption. He says, “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix something that is broken…you will go insane.”
Then they discover that the “green land” no longer exists. It had indeed succumbed to the Wasteland.
Then, through a series of events, Max has a change of heart about hope and redemption. Furiosa, after finding the green land gone, wants to travel deeper into the desert where there’s nothing but salt. Max, who has a new vision of hope and redemption, talks them out of that plan. He convinces them to do the unthinkable: go back to the Citadel, the stronghold from which they had just escaped, and take control of the water supply — take ownership of the well, thus take ownership of the land.
After a harrowing road war — one in which many heroes die saving the lives of others — they destroy Joe and re-claim the ownership of the well and the Citadel. They set the slaves free. They have access to an endless supply of water, and they give it without limit to all the people. There is, quite literally, a huge “outpouring” of living water.
This works as a powerful allegory for the liberation that Christ brought to earth when He poured His living water out at Pentecost. It also works as an allegory for the Christian journey. We face arduous desert seasons. We struggle with spiritual enemies. And, on a spiritual plane, God does not call us to flee our spiritual enemies and wander in the desert like the faithless Israelites did when they were too afraid to go into the Promised Land. He calls us to go back and “take the Citadel” and claim ownership over our wells — to press through until we defeat our spiritual enemies and gain access to an abundant supply of living water in our relationship with God. Once we do that, we become “owners” of the spiritual Promised Land.
We find our eternal inheritance — the true spiritual riches that will long outlast this tired, irradiated world — and we find the abundant life of God, even in the middle of a desert wasteland.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka [Valley of Dryness],
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion. -Psalm 84:5-7
Conclusion: “Mad Max: Fury Road” Will Go Down as One of the Great Masterpieces of Film
Whether or not we agree on the spiritual (or non-spiritual) subtext of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” one thing is certain: it will go down as one of the best movies ever made, and quite possibly the best action movie ever made (though I’m sure that claim will be up for debate among action movie fans).
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