Optimism in Mad Max: Fury Road
Among the many conflicts in Mad Max: Fury Road, the optimistic belief in the possibility of a future is the underlying source of tension between the most active characters: Furiosa and Immortan Joe.
There will be spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road.
There are a number of characters who don’t believe there will be a future. For instance, during the chase to capture the escaped War Rig, the Bullet Farmer says, “all this over a family squabble. Healthy babies” and spits his contempt for the whole situation. Similarly, the People Eater only thinks about costs, calling Immortan Joe’s runaway wives “assets” without much regard for their identity or ability to secure any kind of future. He’s a grotesque bean counter who literally steps on others, prioritizing his own comfort and keeping his ledgers more than anything else.
Max introduces himself by saying “I exist in this wasteland. A man reduced to a single instinct: survive.” The diction suggests there is nothing beyond day-to-day living, which precludes a rich or developing life in the future. While he does eventually work and sacrifice to secure a future for others, he walks away from it, likely believing himself to be too damaged to rejoin a society striving for a future that is more than seeing the next sunrise.
While all different, what each of these characters share is the sense that there is no future. They and the world are so battered and degraded there can be no hope for anything better over the next horizon. They all seek to endure while a tacitly accepting that their struggle against entropy is futile.
The Future Belongs to the Mad
Furiosa reaches for better life, risking everything to help Immortan Joe’s wives to search for the Green Place where they can raise their children with a future of less destruction. They ask “who killed the world?” and run away, claiming their “babies will not be warlords” because they see no future for themselves or their children other than violent death. Furiosa not only believes she can help them achieve this goal but also states she hopes to find redemption, which is a moral and optimistic possibility in a post-apocalyptic world of murderous scavengers. She has reached a point where the ethical cost of being in Immortan Joe’s society is untenable while believing there can be a better, less debasing alternative. This belief in a positive future is what give her the strength to act, throwing away her glory and station in the Citadel to help others and then putting herself at risk again to fight for a better life. Her hope can appear to others as verging on delusional just like the Many Mothers toting around a bag of seeds for the dim and still unrealized possibility that they can find soil and water to support them.
Rev It Up for The Immortan Joe
Immortan Joe is, perhaps surprisingly, another optimistic character. He believes is there will be a future. While other characters are content to endure the status quo, Immortan Joe demands to triumph over the horrific setting. To that end, he enslaves everyone he possibly can to work toward his vision of the future. This situation is absolutely vile in that he intentionally scrapes away the humanity and dignity of others, hoarding it for himself. He even says, “That’s my child. My property.” His wives—who are sexual slaves, branded with his mark—are the means by which he will find a way to have healthy sons. What he believes in isn’t “a future” but “his future.” His egomania leads him to paranoia and an unquenchable thirst to crush and consume anyone to make his vision a reality. He sacrifices others for his vision of a future for a healthy son to continue his work, whereas Furiosa sacrifices of herself for a future for others.
Therein lies the thematic drive of the film because the two characters who are optimistic enough to work for a future are diametrically opposed in their vision of what that future looks like. While most characters appear to be in a holding pattern, waiting out the end time, Furiosa and Immortan Joe are ambitiously optimistic about trying to create a future. It is the difference in their imagined futures that leads them into conflict.
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