“I'm a white male aged 18 to 49! Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are.” – Homer Simpson.
Vocal sections of the Men’s Rights activism community have been bleating about the heroic central roles that women play in George Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road (no, I won’t provide links). As a director, Miller has always favoured strong female characters and attracted top-tier actresses to his all-to-rare projects (Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer in The Witches of Eastwick; Sarandon again, in Lorenzo’s Oil). Most importantly, what the MRA knuckle-draggers fail to realise is that powerful female characters have always been central to his Aussie action franchise. (WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD)
Pictured, above; Star Charlize Theron with Mad Max Fury Road director, George Miller.
Joanne Samuel (Jessie; pictured, right, with Gibson).
Mel Gibson’s Max Rockatansky barely raised an eyebrow when Charlie copped a saucepan in the throat. When his best mate Goose got cooked, he had a hospital freak-out but began coping by taking some time off work (“Any longer out on that road and I'm one of them, you know?” Max says to his burly boss, Fifi.) But Max only went full-tilt ‘mad’ when they took his Jessie. The epitome of 70’s feminism strength and hippy loveliness, Joanne Samuel’s Jessie was the all-powerful feminine yin to Max’s borderline psychopathic yang. The ‘Mad Max’ we know today only exists because he was denied a strong woman counterpoint. As the clip below suggests, nor would you want to mess with the great Sheila Florence's gun-toting May Swaisey. So convincingly did Gibson embody the ‘unhinged widower’, he adapted the character into all his other career-defining roles – Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon series, William Wallace in Braveheart, and Reverend Hess in Signs.
MAD MAX 2
Virginia Hey (Warrior Woman); Arkie Whitley (The Captain’s Girl; pictured, right).
The decimated wasteland of Miller’s amped-up sequel is ruled by leather-clad boy-gangs, lead by The Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). Women walk amongst them, but exist only to serve their crude, misogynistic lustings; the sole, sordid glimpse offered of a woman’s lot amongst the marauders is when a captured envoy is gang-raped. But when Max enters the more civilised realm of the refinery community, women characters emerge as strong, intelligent leadership types. Most notably, Virginia Hey’s towering action-heroine presence as Warrior Woman (clearly a foreshadowing of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Fury Road); and, Arkie Whitley’s nurturing, hopeful earth-mother, The Captain’s Girl.
MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME
Tina Turner (Aunty Entity; pictured, below); Helen Buday (Savannah Nix); Justin Clarke (Anna Goanna); Tushka Bergen, Emily Stocker, Sandie Lillingston (Guardians).
In Miller’s third instalment, a woman not only takes a central role for the first time in the franchise but is also afforded the coveted ‘villain’ part. As the overseer of Bartertown, Tina Turner’s Aunty Entity is to the post-apocalyptic enclave as Gordon Geeko was to Wall Street – a decadent, ungrateful wallower in trappings of wealth manufactured by the hardship of the those below her (As she says, “I’m up to my armpits in blood and shit.”) The director adorns Turner with an MTV-noirish ambience; just as the biker bad-boys of Mad Max 2 were manifestations of base male urgings, Aunty Entity is female sexuality at its most alluringly dangerous. Post Bartertown, Max is escorted to a place of social and spiritual rebirth, aka ‘The Green Gorge,’ by Helen Buday’s Savannah Nix; borne of dreams and perpetuated by mythology, it is populated by the innocent and nurtured by Justine Clarke’s angelic Anna Goanna. This is the New World, a place fresh in formation, yet forging a new dialect steeped in tradition (“We knows now finding the trick of what's been and lost ain't no easy ride. But that's our trek, we gotta' travel it”). For Max, this is as close to the future that a life with Jessie once promised; though unclear to his damaged self at first, he has already chosen this path. Fittingly, Gibson’s tenure as the character ended amongst women and children, whom he both saves and who save him.
MAD MAX FURY ROAD (again, spoilers)
Charlize Theron (Imperator Furiosa; pictured, below); Zoe Kravitz (Toast the Knowing); Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (The Splendid Angharad); Riley Keough (Capable); Abbey Lee (The Dag); Courtney Eaton (Cheedo the Fragile); Megan Gale (The Valkyrie); Melita Jurisic, Gillian Jones, Joy Smithers, Antoinette Kellermann, Christina Koch (The Vuvalini).
The world promised by The Keepers of The Green Gorge did not pan out, yet the pseudo-English language seems to have stuck. Could the descendants of Anna Goanna’s tribe have survived as The Vuvalini? Is the fabled land sought by Theron’s Imperator Furiosa conjured from memories of The Green Gorge? The mythology reinforces a narrative arc that brings Tom Hardy’s incarnation of Max back under life-reaffirming feminine ideals and fulfils his messianic role as ‘Captain Walker.’ It also ensures his righteous passage through the carnage of Fury Road and strengthens Miller’s thematic positioning of women as the keepers of the future world. Is it just a coincidence that the stillborn child of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s The Splendid Angharad is a son, or does his passing suggest a patriarchal future is already doomed? One wonders how the MR whiners might react to such a notion…