It’s been nearly 24 hours since I saw Mad Max: Fury Road and I’m still processing the experience. I want to see it again. In fact, after walking out of the theater, I wanted to turn around, buy another ticket and watch it again. There have been few movies that have done this to me. They fall under the category “Greatest Movie Ever Made,” a qualifier I use to both illustrate the silliness of qualifying art (a pointless task) and to say, “Goddamn, I liked this a whole helluva lot.” Films such as The Usual Suspects, The Sting, Miller’s Crossing, Seven Samurai… when I discuss one of these films, I usually call it, “The Greatest Movie Ever Made.” So yes, there are multiples, and yes, I think Mad Max: Fury Road falls into that category. I’m putting it in the same constellation as films such as Fight Club, Fargo, Blade Runner and Pulp Fiction. At the risk of breaking my own rules of utilizing E-Prime when discussing films here, let me say this:
Fury Road is a fucking awesome film.
My friend Jesse Heinig (a Gentleman of Genius and Virtue) wrote his own thoughts on the film and I encourage you to seek them out. I have a slightly different tack on why you should see Fury Road. It isn’t the symbolism (which is so eloquent and elegant, it puts most “serious” movies to shame) and it isn’t the realization that Max’s world of tomorrow is really our world of today (although, again, director George Miller does such an amazing and subtle job of it that most audience members will only pick up on it with their lizard brains, providing an unconscious unease that provides the salt and pepper to this amazing dish), but it is something that’s so blatantly obvious and in-your-face that it may require someone to point it out.
After sitting in front of the screen for ten minutes, I realized I’d been holding my breath. Just the first ten minutes.
I turned to Jessica, my partner in this excursion and asked, “Just how long can (Miller) keep this up?”
Her answer was laughter.
The film had an answer to my question as well: “Until the last damn second, buddy.”
If forced to utilize a single word for this film, it would be relentless.
1. oppressively constant; incessant.
2. harsh or inflexible
As has been mentioned elsewhere, the film is one long chase sequence. And while that may sound mundane or even banal, I can assure you, it is not. Every single frame of this film shows you something new. Something that flash on the screen just long enough for you to catch it, then move on, leaving you to wonder, “Did I actually see that?”
Let me show you something. Just a brief glimpse of something.
Yes, that’s a man strapped to the top of a truck with a wall of amplifiers behind him, mask strapped to his face, playing a chrome guitar that breathes fire, giving the chasing army of bad guys a theme song as they race across the desert.
A chrome guitar that breathes fire.
Yeah, it isn’t a symbol of our present condition, it isn’t the chains we cast away so we can find the freedom to care about others, it isn’t any of those things.
IT’S A FUCKING CHROME GUITAR THAT BREATHES FIRE.
One of the crucial elements of this film, and the main reason I want to run back to the theater today and watch it again, is the design work. Miller said he wanted this film to communicate to everyone, regardless of what language they spoke. He succeeds. The dialogue is almost unnecessary. The cinematography, the set design, the costume design… all of these things communicate. So many people forget that film is a visual medium. Miller does not. He employs the medium, pushing it as far as it can go, with a constant rush of images that never cease. This film is merciless. Like Inception from many years before, it begins at a pace and never pauses a single moment for exposition. It starts off running and dares you to keep up. And if you can’t, that’s fine. There are plenty of other movies who will spend entire scenes expositing at you.
But Miller has faith in us. He believes in us. He doesn’t believe that the audience is stupid and pausing every once in a while to explain what’s going on is a necessary part of film. He ignores that and says, “No, they’ll keep up. They’re smarter than we think.”
Watching this movie made me think of that meme going around with Captain America lecturing Spider-Man. It’s nearly three pages long and it’s just Cap quoting from a book. Quoting from a book.
Not only did this bore me to tears, but it also stunk like a burned out writer looking to fill page count. Now look, I’m a huge Alan Moore fan, so I’m used to verbosity in comics, but Moore understands that comics is a visual medium. This kind of exposition doesn’t belong in a visual art like comics or films. Moore gets that. So does George Miller. Everything in this movie communicates in such a powerful way that dialogue is almost unnecessary. Cap is a man of action, not a man of lecture.
(A quick note to Vince McMahon of the WWE: go see this film. Maybe if you do, we can skip the 20 minute promos that start each of your shows.)
But I’m digressing.
There has been some talk about this being the “feminist Mad Max” film. Bullshit. Did nobody see Tina Turner in Thunderdome? A woman who clawed her way up from nothing to become queen of a city? Did nobody see Virginia Hey in The Road Warrior? All the Max films have women who are capable people living in an impossibly difficult world, who serve as more than just romantic interests for Max. If Fury Road is a feminist film, then all the Mad Max movies are feminist films.
So yeah, I want to see it again. Not for the symbolism of freedom, not for the political commentary of our current state and not for the feminist message… although those are all present and raise the film above nearly every other action film I’ve seen in years.
No, I want to see that fucking chrome guitar that breathes fire.