Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Tonight I'll be burning my guzzolene soaked bra!

I'm going to jump on this suped-up smoking bandwagon and play my flame throwing guitar and talk about Mad Max and, yes, feminism. For what it's worth I've avoided reading anyone else's opinion so far, I wanted (as mush as possible) for these to be my thoughts. I should say that I am a man this probably needs saying to give context to my opinions, and please note that they are just that, my opinions, and I welcome any intelligent debate on them.

Feminism has become a dirty word mostly because it's poorly understood. In very simple terms feminism is just the belief that women and men should be equal in everything, something that most reasonable people are (or should be) behind. Sadly we are still along way from achieving this and perhaps as a man in the developed West it's not that easy to spot the imbalance, or worse perhaps its easy to ignore. The bigger problem for the feminist agenda is phrases like "the feminist agenda", they just sound scary and are misunderstood by many (not just men) as meaning "we want to put women to the top and men to the bottom", when all it really means is "we want it to be ok for a woman to be at the top if she's better than her male counterpart and wants to be at the top".

Equality might be a better word than feminism because, for mankind, it's manifestly frightening to have to manage when you feel manipulated by so many maniacal mandates, manuscripts and manifestos that manoeuvre under a mantle manufactured to start with something that seems to exclude your gender in favour of the other! Manatees mango manganese, but that's a different story.

So why is Mad Max at the forefront of feminism right now? For 2 reasons an obvious one (which probably isn't really feminist at all and will feed the misconceptions) and a subtler and considerably more awesome one.

I will be avoiding proper spoilers but if you're concerned then this is the point to stop reading, I doubt I'll give anything away that the trailer didn't

Reason 1 (The Rubbish Reason)

The main villainous warlord has a harem of ladies that he is using firstly to give him children and then later to be milked like cattle. Now I'm going to go out on a terrible limb here and say he's not that bad a villain - sure those things he's doing are truly horrible and should not be allowed but in the context of the world of the film he is actually doing quite well for his people - they have a water source, they grow crops, and they have safety in a world which offers none, the harem in fact lives like princesses or as close as this horrible future allows. Amusingly one of the princesses (for want of a different word) is said to have all her own teeth at one point - a fact that points to a good life considering most people are wandering round with titanic boils and cists all over them. It's mediaeval and barbaric but when the world and it's population have been nearly annihilated then perhaps mediaeval and barbaric is the best you can do. So naturally the plot revolves around freeing this harem of mothers to be and getting them to safety - they are metaphorically and very literally the mother to our future in the story. And if this is feminism then yawn, seen it all before. Anyone who tells you that the plot if feminist is probably an idiot - the plot is an excuse for a prolonged and extremely awesome car chase and little more.

Yes, because of the plot there are some damsel in distress types, maidens who need rescuing and they have various levels of patheticness and practicalness but this is more about their sheltered protected lives than anything else. Yes all the villains are men. Yes women are portrayed as the seed bearers - in one case literally as one woman actually carries a bag of seeds, the metaphor is pretty thin here. So at surface level it's swings and roundabouts for feminism and ultimately is probably just a film with all the tropes we've come to know and suffer. But there's more here if you want it...

Reason 2 (The Real Reason)

Mad Max is a film where people drive vehicles, crash vehicles, kill, maim, injure, punch, spit, curse, try to survive and maybe look for redemption or a better life. People. Not men, people. That includes women. Gender does not get in the way of anything. Women are allowed to kill and be kill as though they were just as mortal and evil as men. This is a grim world and grim things happen without respect or concern for your gender - it's brutal and uncaring and has a pure equality to it that says "you are in may way and I will run you over".

One of my favourite scenes is the first meeting between our two lead protagonists - Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa and Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky. The driving force for both characters is survival, Furiosa has also charged herself with keeping the princesses alive too. Neither is inclined to explaining themselves to the other, nor should they (this is a film thing rather than a feminist thing). A number of things happen with little or no allowance given just because some of the people there are women.

Max doesn't give a fuck, Max's character motivation is stronger than any concern of gender (or even other people at all) so it just feels right that he is prepare to hold a gun to the back of someone's head, it also feels right that he has assessed the situation and has spotted that the others value the heavily pregnant women most and so it's her he chooses as his hostage. It feels right that he is prepared to drive off and leave them all for dead, he just doesn't care he's not a hero, he's just a double hard bastard with a talent for survival. 

Max is not the hero. Furiosa is the hero. Both clearly have troubled pasts, which we don't need to know about and thankfully don't get told about, and both are pushed to do good things by their pasts. Furiosa is hoping for some kind of redemption and Max is driven by ghosts of his past failures. Of the two Furiosa seems to be the one to have taken a moral choice where as Max is an unwilling hostage of his madness, doing the right thing against his instinct to run.

Max and Furiosa fight, they properly fight, like two people fighting for their lives, no apology is made for this. He hits her and he certainly doesn't pull his punches and she beats him to the ground with one hand tied behind her back (sorta). The only reason they don't kill each other is due to external factors and other people joining. Even pregnant women are shown to be violent in the fight for survival, throwing punches and shooting guns - as they should be, surely nothing fights more fiercely in nature than a mother protecting her young? And Furiosa has the upper hand at points (pun intended) she's not better than Max but she's definitely his equal. She's a better shot, he's smarter, she's more sane, he's better in a fist fight, who's a better driver is open to debate but that honour probably goes to Nux (Nicholas Hoult has come a long way from About a Boy)

Another arguable point is that she is the better character (ignoring previous films now). Max is very hard to empathise with and as a character boils down to two things which he details neatly for us at the beginning "My name is Max. My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive. As the world fell it was hard to know who was more crazy. Me... Or everyone else.". Good well, rounded, detailed female characters are in short supply - we could probably list them, sad to say to often female characters are lightweight, flimsy and two dimensional relying on stereotypes and resulting in forgettable roles. This is particularly true of action films as a genre and on the rare occasions where a woman rises above "love interest" it often feels very deliberate and forced

Max, Fury Road, Charlize Theron and George Miller don't seem to care that Furiosa is a woman, it's irrelevant to the story and the character could easily have been portrayed by a man. It seems to me that not caring is important. Women and man are different but most of the time in the modern world those differences are irrelevant and should be ignored. We shouldn't care and that should be really easy, so easy that even a man could do it!
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