On May 26, 2015 Jacobin published an article by Stephen Maher titled Mad Max and the End of the World. As I read the piece I noticed that I disagreed with the author on a number of issues. That’s not a problem; it is reasonable for people to have different interpretations of art. Then I noticed numerous issues that are not simply matters of interpretation but are issues of the author using a term improperly, making three claims that are false, and leaving out important aspects of the film that run counter to the author’s claims.
Before continuing I will point out that I agree with the author’s claims that Max is a Christ figure and that the film is a Western.
A paragraph in the article begins with “But by the third film, 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome, society has completely descended into anarchy.” This is a misuse of a term. The author used anarchy as a synonym for chaos. Maher is a writer for Jacobin, a socialist magazine. He should therefore have the knowledge that anarchy has been a goal by the over 150 year old anarchist movement which aims for a world absent of unnecessary hierarchies and not chaos. He should not be using the term in the way that the corporate media run by the 0.1% use it.
For the first false claim in the article reads “In Fury Road, Max and Imperator Furiosa endeavor to rescue the Five Wives of Immortan Joe.” This is an only partly true claim that leaves out an important detail. The Five Wives has sought out Imperator Furiosa asking for her assistance in their escape. They were already working towards rescuing themselves and throughout the film actively participated in their rescuing. This is an example of why this is a feminist film; the women of the film did not relay on men to save them but sought out a fellow woman for help and actively participated in their freeing.
The second false claim in the article reads “In Fury Road “we” is defined as those steeped in the uniquely rational culture of the West.” The author gives no examples as to prove that the protagonists have attributes of the West. They are seeking out a matriarchal society something not Western at all, in fact something that terrifies reactionaries in the West who label themselves as “Male Rights Activists.”
The third false claim in the article when shown to be false also further shows falsity in the second false claim, it reads “we are not things… They are declaring their freedom from tradition and culture.” The Five Wives are in fact declaring freedom from being property. This can be shown when Immortan Joe refers to them as his property, things. This further disapproves the second claim, that the protagonists are the West, because the West is the society that created the massive in scale chattel slavery of Africans that they kidnapped from Africa. The protagonists are rejecting slavery.
Interpreting Mad Max: Fury Road as an Orientalist film is and not as a critique of capitalism is a major part of the article. To give this thesis backing important aspects of the film had to not be mentioned by the author. One important aspect of the film that runs counter to this claim is the existence of two characters, The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer.
The People Eater is in control of a large portion of the fuel left in this region of the post-apocalyptic world. He looks like the famous fat-cat capitalist caricature donning a black and white suit similar to the Monopoly Man and is a grotesquely overweight, notably the only character in the film who is overweight. A sign that because he is at the top of the post-apocalyptic capitalist hierarchy he can be fat just as the fat-cat caricature was and is used in our capitalist society. This character is a personification of the capitalist corporate CEO, something that does not fit the author’s claim that the film is an Orientalist film and not an anti-capitalist film.
The Bullet Farmer is a character who is in control of a large amount of weaponry. He is the personification of the present day military industrial complex. Immortan Joe is in control of the water, the resources needed to sustain life as well as the military. These three form the capitalist ruling class. They are in control of the means of production and the protagonists defeat them in combat and return to the society once ruled by Immortan Joe with their vehicles having red and black flags (a symbol of anarchist communism). This is a detail the author also left out.
Once they have returned there is not some change of traditional culture into a Western culture imposed on by the protagonists that would fit into the original article’s thesis. Instead the water is allowed to flow freely thus giving control of the means of production to the masses. Also at the end Max leaves. This runs counter to how the West has behaved to other cultures when they have disposed of the leadership. Either colonialism or nation building is used as a means to extract natural resources. This is another example of the protagonists acting in a non-Western manner.
Stephen Maher puts forth a different interpretation of Mad Max: Fury Road than what many interpreted it as. This is fine as long as terms not misused, false claims are not made, and important aspects of the film are included.