by: Michael Shields
To conclude Across the Margin’s weeklong ode to the greatest films of 2015, rightful praise is bestowed upon George Miller’s masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road…
**Before I commence, a disclaimer is necessary as just yesterday I hailed in no uncertain terms, The Revenant as 2015’s Best Picture. I do not waiver from this assertion, but there was another film that stole my breath and opened my mind further to the limitless possibilities of cinema in this day and age. That film, Mad Max: Fury Road, is one that, within the midst of a celebration of the year’s best films, must be discussed at length. While The Revenant was the most affecting piece of art I came upon, Mad Max: Fury Road was easily the best time I had in the theater all year.**
In George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, the visionary director’s return to the franchise that marked his directorial debut over three decades ago, the world is enveloped in chaos. But that unhinged chaos somehow manifests itself as poetry in motion. Fury Road is an action film of course, one of the best since the genre’s conception, but it is unique in its pageantry and breadth. It’s cinematic Cirque du Soleil for the end of the world, with skirmishes packing as much punch as a grenade, while somehow exhibiting the grace of a well-choreographed ballet. A unique blend of pulse-quickening vivacity and aesthetic allurement, Fury Road is a feast for the senses, and one of those unique moments in film history when an action film must be considered as an authentic contender for a Best Picture Oscar.
Miller didn’t craft one of the more intoxicating looking films to ever grace the big screen by allowing the bewitching post-apocalyptic landscape and the well-vetted cast to simply captivate the viewer on their own, but rather by triumphantly revving up the throttle. Fury Road, propelled by a reported one hundred and fifty million dollar budget, barrels forward with a head of steam throughout nearly the entirety of its two hour (on the dot!) runtime. When we first meet Max (Tom Hardy), his introduction sets the stage to the apocalyptic hell the film inhabits. “My name is Max. My world is fire and blood,” he plainly grunts, and within moments of uttering those weighty words, he is immediately thrust firmly in the tightest of spots and on the run, and this is how we find Max – more or less – for the entirety of the film. True to his preface, Max’s world is fantastically perilous. Oil is at a premium. Water is scarce. Women are confined like cattle and nursed dry of their milk. Massive dust storms roam the barren expanse in potent waves. And those who wander this treacherous wasteland do so in the salvaged remains of 20th century mechanization, tricked-out doom-wagons that wreak havoc on all in their path. “As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken. It was hard to know who was more crazy…me…or everyone else,” Max explains, haunted by the loss of his dead wife and child, grappling incessantly not only for his sanity, but his very existence. “So I exist in this wasteland, reduced to one instinct: survive.”
While it is the embattled Max, kept alive by his captors due to the favorability of his blood type, who is the one who welcomes us into this toxic world ruled by a cruel and hideous overlord known as Immortan Joe, Fury Road emphatically takes off when we come face to face with the true heroine of the the film, Furiosa (played with terrific ferocity by Charlize Theron). Furiosa is an Imperator, a once trusted ally of Joe’s, adorned with a mechanical left arm, who turns out to be an oasis of righteousness in a far-reaching desert of immorality. Fleecing Joe of his precious crop of breeder wives, played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (The Splendid Angharad), Zoe Kravitz (Toast the Knowing), Abby Lee (The Dag), Courtney Eaton (Cheedo the Fragile) and Riley Keough (Capable), Furiosa’s plight is the heart and soul of Fury Road. Her altruistic odyssey, in tandem with the impassioned breeder wives and a reluctant yet ultimately compassionate Max, is an absolute thrill to root for, as Joe’s “War Boys,” and an eroding world, relentlessly close in on them.
Fury Road is a visual masterpiece. Remarkably, Miller has declared that ninety percent of the effects seen onscreen were practical, meaning that they were crafted without computer generated imagery. On top of that, the stunt work displayed was astonishing and tangible, where fire-breathing cars and painted bodies were propelled about in perfect choreographed synchronicity, a psychotic dance of in-sync mayhem. Imploring lengthy battle sequences filmed with wide-angle views, and set in Africa’s Namib Desert by the prolific cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient, Cold Mountain, and The Perfect Storm), whom Miller lured out of retirement for the project, Fury Road is one of the most mind-bending works of art in film history. But somehow, in vying for authenticity, Miller forged the outlandish, convincing, and trustworthy, even whilst a guitarist known as the Doof Warrior stood atop a fast-moving truck thrashing out power chords on a twin-neck guitar that breathed swords of fire into the air.
Accentuating the mood of Miller’s post-apocalyptic monsoon is the film’s score, created by Dutch music producer and multi-instrumentalist Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg). A long time Hans Zimmer collaborator, Junkie XL’s blustery soundscapes provoke and heighten Fury Road into a shocking, affective, and ill-boding thriller. Working tirelessly for eighteen months, Miller and Junkie XL composed what they refer to as an “over-the-top rock opera” which defined and amplified the on-screen chaos. Invoking inspiration from the films of the ‘40s and ‘50s, especially Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Junkie XL succeeded in conveying not only the unpredictability of the menacing landscapes and characters that populate Fury Road, but also of relating Max’s tortured psychotic state of mind. “He’s constantly having these really crazy flashbacks,” Junkie XL explains. “He doesn’t know where he is, where he’s going to.” It is this befuddled and hypnotic vibe that encapsulates Max throughout the film that truly exemplifies the Fury Road experience.
It is at this time every year, when the film community takes a moment to congratulate itself, that I can’t help but take a moment to contemplate why I find myself caught up – time and again – with film’s award season. In the scheme of all the problems in the world – from mass genocide, to famine and all out war literally destroying communities of human beings daily throughout the globe, why – I ask myself – do I spend so much time not only consuming the cinematic arts, but analyzing and comparing the artform? With real problems that need addressing, why do I ceaselessly turn to film to spend my time, not only as an admirer, but also a writer? The answer to this introspective question is two-fold. First off, films are important. The stories told through cinema are enlightening as to how others throughout the globe live. They are revealing, and allow for deep and scathing commentary on the ills of humankind. Secondly, film offers a much needed catharsis from this same very pain that abounds.
Mad Max: Fury Road authentically offers both of these. The slow decline of our species may be well under way, and the war over water (referred to as Aqua Cola in Fury Road) has surely begun. Dry, arid landscapes are already battlegrounds littered with the hopes of yesterday and the faulty promises of tomorrow. In this way, Mad Max: Fury Road acts as a cautionary tale. Not only of resource scarcity and the perils of allowing our planet to cook until well done, but of the corrupting powers that be. The governmental overlords who horde life’s necessities bequeathing mere scraps to the impecunious throngs. But also, Fury Road is a one hell of a romp, as lively an experience as any the theater is capable of offering. It is impossible to not get lost in its breathtaking extravagance and the unyielding whirlwind that embraces you wholly and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. For Mad Max: Fury Road is that rare film that is as thought-provoking and inspirational as it is a departure from rumination, an absolute classic work of cinema unlike anything that came before it.