[WARNING: SPOILERS FOR MAD MAX FURY ROAD AND THE MAD MAX SERIES]
The Mad Max series always had a string of strong and interesting female characters, whether they were in the foreground or just supporting the main plot. From Max’s gun yielding neighbour in Mad Max to the warrior women in Road Warrior, and of course, Tina Turner in Beyond Thunderdome. However, in Fury Road, George Miller has introduced a story that not only features mainly women in the centre plot but also which is about the liberation of women and through that, the liberation of humanity.
“Men’s Rights Activists” aside, the world is in love with Fury Road. Its chase sequences, practical effects and stunted action has taken the world by storm and have indeed earned Miller the title of “mastermind” he is given in the trailers. But what is really impressive about this film is how the women are dealt with and how they are characterised. Especially our action hero, Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron.
Furiosa is Immortan Joe’s favourite lieutenant and, during a trip to gas town to get petrol for the Citadel, she goes off course and betrays her leader. It is an important moment, because it makes Furiosa the catalyst of the events of the film, while Max himself is just in the middle of the action almost by accident. In perfect Mad Max fashion, Max isn’t in the centre of the narrative, he simply aids whoever the film is about, and in this case, it is Furiosa and the “wives” of Joe — Toast the Knowing (Zoe Kravitz), The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley), Capable (Riley Keough), Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton), and The Dag (Abbey Lee) who want to be free. So Furiosa takes her chance and flees, taking the oil rig with her, and with the help of Max and Nux (Nicholas Hoult), she and the other women manage to leave the War Boys chasing them behind to find the green lands Furiosa remembers from her youth.
During the many, many action sequences, Furiosa constantly shows her prowess in combat. She has amazing aim and is brilliant with guns, she is by far the best driver between herself, Max and Nux, and she always puts herself in danger in order to save others. All that with a robot arm, which is nothing but another part of her. So not only we have a lead action hero who is a woman that is capable out of her own efforts and for her own reasons, who also is disabled and is never seeking respect or pity or revenge because of her disability, but rather who just lives with is as a matter of fact, which is how disabilities work in real life.
Besides all that, she is never sexualised in any way, or a punch line to an eventual romance between herself and the lead action man. That is not her mission or her purpose. Her character has shit to get gone, and boy does she do it! And she is never too proud or too stubborn to accept help — she can recognise when someone is going to be helpful in her mission and allows them to aid. Even though she and Max had a less than perfect first encounter, they both managed to put their differenced aside in order to help each other and work as a team. She doesn’t suddenly become his sidekick as soon as he joins them in the oil rig, instead, they communicate and exchange ideas and achieve goals.
Now to Toast, Angharad, Capable, Cheedo and Dag. At first glance they might seem like your average action flick vulnerable women, standing by the oil rig, bathing themselves. But soon we see that they all have distinct personalities, and are sweet girls who want to see peace in the world even though their lives have been filled with misery in the hands of Joe as his breeders. Angharad and Cheedo are both pregnant as well. And though Angharad doesn’t make it to the end of the journey — her apparent death causes a stir between the group at first, but then proceed because otherwise they would be captured — they all pull together and contribute to the action, providing as much help as Nux and Max. They all have their moments — Toast with the guns, Capable befriending Nux after she finds him hiding in the oil rig, Dag showing a want plant, and Cheedo in the final fight when she helps kill Joe by pretending to go willingly into his car.
But still, as representation at that point, the film still fell short. There wasn’t much diversity in the group of women, as they were all good-looking and young (on purpose, of course, since they were part of Joe’s harem), so when they reach their destination, where Furiosa thinks will lead them to the green lands she remembers from her youth, we meet another group of women, old fighters who have lost their land and are now living in the desert. They all belonged to the land Furiosa came from and are now homeless, so they join their quest to take back Citadel, and bring with them as much fierceness and action prowess as every younger fighter in there. You won’t see such a group of fighters in any other action film, most likely, and it is a breath of fresh air to see that older women can still be portrayed as just as much badass as men.
This film isn’t “feminist propaganda” as some people might accuse it to be. We as a film-viewing society have just forgotten that women can be leading action ladies and kick ass and be awesome, without any superfluous romantic subplots or gratuitous nudity moments. These women are portrayed as humans, saviours, sisters, mothers, friends and heroes, and they never have their femininity under threat because that isn’t an issue. The fact that they are women is just an uncompromisable fact that doesn’t deter their pursue of justice and freedom, and for that I salute George Miller because in the midst of all the pumped up, overly masculinised, masturbatory action films of the past many years, it is fantastic to see that this kind of story can still be get majorly released and be a success.
article by Mariana Duarte