Sufficient Scruples

Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.

May 24, 2015

Fury Unabated

by @ 3:57 PM. Filed under Autonomy, BioFlix, General, Women's Issues

On a whim, I stumbled into the new Mad Max installment – Fury Road – on what happened to be its opening night. I just wanted diversion, and got it in spades. The film is an utterly unapologetic festival of vehicles and violence, spending virtually no time on backstory, plot, character development, or even plausibility; it is essentially a two-hour running gun battle/car chase shot for spectacle and speed, and with almost no breaks in the action. If you don’t know the story of the previous three “Mad Max” films you might not even understand why any of it is happening, though that won’t detract from your ability to enjoy (or, be assaulted by) its impact – it has that little content, and that much power.

The film has already generated a lot of commentary, and I don’t have much to say about it as a movie as such, or as an episode of the Mad Max franchise. One focus of the attention, however, is the role played by Charlize Theron’s character, “Furiosa”. As the title implies, Fury Road is very much Furiosa’s movie – she leads the hero contingent on their mad chase for life across the desert, twice (this movie is so epic, even the Namib desert isn’t big enough to contain it – at one point they turn around and fight their way back through the same horde of mechanized thugs they had just fought to get away from, and the movie ends exactly where it began). She fights a hostile Mad Max to a draw and later saves him from death, drives the biggest “war rig” in the entire fleet of insane weaponized cars, and shoots, stabs, punches, and runs down the army of barely-human male psychotics who are chasing her, by the dozens. All this is embodied by a small and famously beautiful woman made up in this film with a shaved head, amputated arm stump, branding scars, and motor-oil war paint. There is never a moment in the film when she wants a man, and barely a moment when she trusts or relies on one, even after Max throws in his lot with her and later rescues her from bleeding to death; their final moment of triumph is a bare nod of recognition as they turn away from each other and pursue their separate destinies, her as savior and leader of her people, him as damaged and haunted loner.

Unsurprisingly, Theron’s character – a strong, self-reliant, and effective woman who stands up to vile and vicious men, in the company of other self-regarding and assertive women – is driving misogynist right-wingers absolutely nuts. There is even an organized boycott of the movie by “men’s rights activists” who are terrified that it will be popular and thus encourage more action films featuring “some damn political lecture or moray [sic] about feminism, SJW-ing, and socialism”. (NB: it’s very hard to find any hint of socialism in Mad Max, especially inasmuch as it centers on a society where there is essentially no government or economy at all. But that’s no different from almost everything right-wingers call “socialist” these days.) Even more notoriously, Eve Ensler, the feminist author and activist, was consulted for some of the female characterization in the film – another point the “men’s rights” community finds so crazy-making they just can’t stand it. (Feminists? Having input into Mad Max?)

There are in fact feminist themes that run through the movie, somewhat more complexly than much of the commentary (superficially focused on Theron as a “strong woman”) has noticed. Though that is not all there is to be said about the movie, it is that I wanted to comment on here.

[SPOILER WARNING: SOME PLOT SPOILERS BELOW THE JUMP, NOT THAT THERE’S REALLY MUCH OF A PLOT]

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