Mad Max, the obligatory review

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It feels like everything that could be said about Mad Max: Fury Road has already been said, but I’m not going to let that stop me from trying anyway. I wasn’t even going to see it, initially. I remember that I watched one of the earlier films – it may have been Beyond the Thunderdome. It may have been the first Mad Max itself. I remembered it as a film in which there was a threatened or actual rape.

I bear grudges that way. A rape scene to me feels like the director chose to take me by the back of the head and rub my face in a pile of dogshit. I permanently resent any piece of media that does that to me. They didn’t have to. They presumably thought it would be entertaining, and that’s the part that I resent and loathe most. It’s not fun for me. I can’t imagine it’s fun for any other woman.

I see it in fact as part of a fear campaign designed to keep all women afraid – designed to control our actions by instilling in us a sense that we are perpetually threatened. And to remind us that men cannot be trusted, that they are our natural enemies, and that even the men we love are sitting there beside us and enjoying watching this.

So yes. I was not going to see this, despite being a big fan of Tom Hardy. Then of course I heard that Men’s Rights Activists were calling for a boycott of the film, and I thought Ohhh? Okay… Now I’m interested. Tom Hardy had already impressed me as someone capable of nuance and sensitivity, and now people were actually saying this was a feminist film? I kind of had to watch it after that, if only to see how a franchise I remembered as being all dicks on trucks could combine with feminism at all.

I still had low expectations, but OMG, I was blown away by what I saw.

There is not one sexual threat in this movie. That whole atmosphere in which women on film live their lives – that constant, unrelenting awareness that they exist to titillate the male gaze in one way or another, to be put in sexual danger so they can be rescued by a hero, or so their humiliation can be enjoyed by the male viewer – it was gone.

Right from the start, it was Max who was chased, threatened, had his bodily autonomy taken away, was used and traumatized. The disturbing scene where women were literally being milked for the sake of the warriors occurred in a context where we had already seen Max have his bodily fluids stolen for the sake of the same people. Shared objectification is not nice, but it is at least inclusive – we know we’re sharing a humiliation that the hero of the film has also been through.

And then it gets better, because here’s Furiosa, and she’s treated exactly like a male action hero. She’s never gawped at, she never has to do any stupid ‘girl power’ speech – she never has to do or say anything overtly feminist. She just is a hero the same way any hero is a hero. She does things, she’s good at them, she’s obviously overcome difficulties in the past, if she lost the arm whose bones are on her truck door. She decides her own fate, and commands troops, and she helps those who ask her for help, even if – like Max – they can only ask by looking at her in terror.

And you think the wives when they emerge, half naked in white muslin, are going to be the damsels in distress and the male gaze eye-candy of the film. Then they’re not. It’s awesome, and you can practically taste the way the camera is respecting them – treating their half naked bodies as just that, as bodies that are being bodies. Not bodies that are being sex objects. There’s no oggling, no leering. I’m not made complicit in treating them like they are my wank fodder. As it turns out, they have names, and characters. They are brave and resourceful, and they are people in a way women are not allowed to be on film.

That’s probably it, really. This film allows women to be people.

And there are so many of them! Heroic warrior women, clever, brave, capable non-warrior women. Rifle wielding, motorcycle riding old women who keep seeds in their bags to regenerate the world. Fat women whose first act on being freed is to give everyone as much water as they need.

There’s no expressing the revelation you feel on watching a scene in which there are two men and everyone else on screen is a woman. Because that happens all the time, the other way around, but never this way. One or two token women is the rule, and you get so used to it, you start celebrating when there are two women to six men. You stop even thinking of it ever being another way.

But Mad Max has taken the blinders off. What a strange world we live in, where it was Mad Max that raised the bar of actually treating women as people. But I certainly don’t intend to settle for less again.

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