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Mad Max, Feminist? Are You All Nuts?

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I’m late to the party on this one, I realise. But having recently caught the reviewing bug, I thought I’d share some observations about the new Mad Max movie, subtitled Fury Road. Actually, I just want to express utter befuddlement that some parts of the right-wing press and most of the “manosphere” has branded this movie “feminist.”

Ugh? To read you guys, you’d think Mad Max: Fury Road depicted a Sapphic utopia in which gun-toting Jolie-esque heroines out-shoot, out-punch and outsmart their male counterparts, who are kept in cages and used annually for procreation until the ladies get the synthetic sperm generators back online. (Gasoline is scarce, you know.)

But that’s not the movie I just saw, at all. Sorry to burst your bubble, bros, but let me run you through the major plot points again. A load of women are chained up and made to wear floaty revealing outfits, impregnated by a megalomaniacal blonde villain (I heard that!) until they finally snap and make a run for it.

Their dash to freedom ultimately fails and they charge right back to where they came from, probably to resume the same sort of life they had previously.

The female lead, played by Charlize Theron, almost dies after whimpering in pain for 20 minutes. Her life is saved by — you guessed it — the male lead, without whom her triumph would have been impossible. For those of you paying attention to the feminist blogosphere, that’s known as a “damsel in distress” storyline and it’s pretty much the sine qua non of heteropatriarchal action movie tropes.

Oh, and the whole point of the female exodus? That fabled “green place” they were all racing toward? It doesn’t exist, because the dappy cow leading the charge genuinely believed that a matriarchy would survive for the twenty years she’s been away.

In fact, Fury Road merely repeats dissident feminist Camille Paglia’s dictum that if society were run by women, we’d all be living in mud huts — because that’s precisely what has happened to the “many mothers” community in this movie. By the time Theron rocks up, mother Gaia’s feminine heaven on earth is no longer a verdant paradise of rug-munching and male subjugation: it’s a few wrinkly old grannies huddled together in the desert because their soil went bad so they just gave up on it and starved to death.

Gone are the days of female empowerment and the inevitable ritual humiliation of men: They’ve been replaced by a vacant look in the eyes of every old bird on screen that says: “We’ve had a good run, girls, but if I’m completely honest what I could really go for is a few hours rolling around in the dunes with that chiseled hottie in the war rig.”

As for the famous scene in which Theron’s character, the self-consciously parodic Imperator Furiosa (don’t tell me that’s not a send-up of self-important feminazi lunatics), is a better shot than the bloke… Well! The only reason she hits the target at all is because she’s resting on Tom Hardy’s shapely shoulders. If there’s a better metaphor in cinema this year for female dependence, I’m yet to see it.

At the end of the movie, the fleeing damsels return to the sheltered privilege from which they came. Hardy, meanwhile — as the titular Max — returns to toil and obscurity. How else to read this than as a proxy for the hard-working but tragically unrecognised labours of the much-maligned straight white male, who saves the life of the leading lady but doesn’t even get a shag out of it?

Seriously, guys: What am I missing? Is there some clever subtext my Neanderthal XY brain has failed to tease out of this elegant social satire? Or is it in fact the case that a few over-excited male commentators have seen a female lead and flipped out? Because it seems to me that Fury Road is big-budget confirmation of everything we “misogynists” have known for years: that women can’t even survive, let alone win battles, without the help of men.

(I say female lead, but Theron is hardly the picture of feminine virtue: she looks, acts, thinks and talks like a man. Is that the best Hollywood can do? It’s not like there aren’t brilliant templates for female heroes out there, if you care to look: the great triumph of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that Sarah Michelle Gellar’s strength is derived from quintessentially feminine character traits: sensitivity, vulnerability and otherworldly conviction.)

I liked Fury Road, but that’s because I like anything with explosions, car chases, guns and a bit of eye candy. That’s all the movie is. But if you’re desperate to read something more into it, perhaps reconsider the current party line on it being a feminist triumph. Actually, it’s just the opposite. Hooray for Mad Max!


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