Mad Max (2015)

I’m trying to think of a way to tell you that Mad Max is probably most of the things you think it is, thereby constituting several reasons for your not wanting to see it, but that you should see it anyway.  A review Will had me read from EW affectionately called it a punch in the face, an assault to the senses, and it is that.  Which, I realize, is not something most people would submit to out of context.  It’s also violent, 98 percent action-filled, and more than a bit disturbing.  And you should see it while it is in theatres, not after.

You’ve never seen this movie before.  That perhaps should be a good reason to see it.  But it’s not always a good enough reason.  It’s really well made.  That’s another good reason to see it, but perhaps that’s not good enough either.  It is exactly a brand of feminism that will be healing in the long-run, even if assaulting in the short-term.  This is probably the best reason for you to see it.

No, no, I know.  I didn’t want to see it either.  The first trailer I saw for it marketed it as a Transformers meets LA news car chase and listen, I’ve seen enough of those.  You’re glued, that’s not the problem, the problem is that even while you’re glued, you are bored out of your mind.  No more movies made my men who wanted to blow cars up and dress women as scantily-clad eye-candy.  The second trailer I saw for it made it look significantly better, but I still knew I wasn’t going to see it because it still looked like a movie about men who own women as property.  And I knew it was rated R, and rape scenes or women being tortured or humiliated are no-brainer no-go’s for me, so it was pretty clear I just wasn’t going to bother with this movie.

Then one day a co-worker mentioned a review she’d read about a bunch of men who had gone to see the movie and been annoyed and frustrated by its feminist bull-shit.

That got me interested.

Actually, if we’re being honest, that was all I needed in order to change my mind and I told Will I was interested and why, and he suggested we ask that co-worker if she also wanted to see it with us and we made a date, and we went to see it.

I think everyone should see it.  I think eventually your daughters should see it (even if they are as of yet unborn).  I think you should see it, and your spouse, and your children, when they/if they are ever old enough to appreciate what this movie did.

It portrayed women as equals.

"What?  Equals?"

No, no, you misunderstand me. It’s not one of those movies where a women dominates a man and beats him into submission.  She doesn’t show she can carry her own by humiliating a man.  She doesn’t prove she’s as strong as a man by effectively keeping him off of her.  She doesn’t even habitually save a man in an inherently masculine way to prove she can do it as good as a man can do it.  She doesn’t even do it by proving femininity to be superior to masculinity.  Though, the women are feminine, and the men are masculine.  The women are also fierce, and the men compassionate.  Women do not have to prove themselves equal in this movie, they just are.  I can guarantee that you have never seen this movie before.

This movie makes women equal statistically.  While at large there may be more men than women (background characters are more male than they are female) all main and side characters with story-lines are fairly equal.  Imperator Furiosa is matched by Mad Max.  Each girl in the back of Furiosa’s war machine has her own story line, so that’s five more women.  There is a tribe of women they meet with 3/4ths through the movie, most of whom are very specifically cast and defined as characters, that’s another 4 or 5 women (I’m not fact-checking at the moment, sorry).  Then there are the principal villains, all men, let's say about five.  The war boys, are all men, but only one in particular has his own story arch, and only one or two others are identifiable from each other.  Of all the characters you’re following and are interested in and who do something useful in the story, the male-female ratio is on point.  No mere “token female character” here.

The women are written as human, not women.  I mentioned that the equality of women depicted in this movie isn’t the kind where women prove themselves as masculine in order to prove they are equal to a man.  In fact all of the women have equal amounts feminine and masculine traits (as our world would define them).  Take the most masculine of the female characters, Furiosa.  What she embodies best is that she is a person, above all else.  She does not disown her femininity, despite her masculinity.  All the women remain decidedly their own characters with their own sense of justice, right and wrong and their own way of responding to the actions of others, independent of their gender.  When they make decisions to be kind, compassionate, or fair it is not because they are women and so inherently kind, compassionate and fair, it is because they are people, reacting to their cruel, inconsiderate, horrific and unfair world in an unprecedented way.  Furthermore, their decisions to throw “healing” out into the world is not female.  Instead, it’s a logical, and disciplined reaction to the cruelty they’ve always experienced, and it changes the people around them.  Though they are masculine in some ways, they retain femininity, and the movie makes it relatively clear that masculine nor feminine traits are inherently superior.  Women are depicted as they are, as people, and that’s equal to the men, as they are, as people.

These women, as strong and capable and fierce as they are, and depicted to be, don’t have to prove their strength and capability by dominating men: beating them, humiliating them, killing them, torturing them, or scaring them.  As it’s a story, I want to step back from the characters being “good people” and instead recognize the good writing--or else, the good preparation made for these characters to exist.  The women are written as women, not as men with slight changes based on how the men writing them think women might behave.  But it’s more than that.

It’s not just how the women are written that changes this film, it’s how the men are written, too.  Men and women are made equal in this movie not so much because women prove they are stronger than men, but because men prove they are strong enough to be their best selves, no matter how damaged, no matter their pasts, no matter their insecurities.  There is no need for a women to prove her strength by keeping a man off of her; the men don’t attempt to get on the women to begin with.  (I refer to the protagonists of this story, by the way, not the villains).  There is no need for a women to prove she is smarter than the men, the men don’t attempt to humiliate or demean them.  There is no need for women to prove how useful they are, their usefulness is inherent in the people they’ve become, in their capabilities, and their world outlook; the men don’t ever try to push them out of the way, or tell them they aren’t needed, or belittle them.  This is writing that makes you believe there are people in this world who actually believe in equality and know how to write it, rather than fall back on the medieval tropes we’ve been using for centuries.

Take for example my sister’s favorite scene where Max follows after the women after he and they have parted ways to suggest a plan to them.  He follows after them in the first place, because he pulls on the compassion he has reacquainted himself with and believes that he can be of some help.  When he presents his plan, it is apparent that it may be the best chance the group has, but he doesn’t grab anyone, use force, he doesn’t yell or scream to convince them, he doesn’t speak down to the women as if they are ridiculously incapable of seeing the logic of his plan.  Instead, he makes his case calmly, logically, and as an equal.  He knows better than anyone perhaps that in this crazy post-apocalyptic world, if nothing else, everyone has the right to decide how they die.

The war boy who joins the party his a significant story arch of his own, where he is almost immediately and infinitely changed by the kindness one of the women in the movie shows him.  It isn’t just kindness she shows him, but understanding and compassion.  The way this female character responds to the world she lives in and how she treats the war boy, elicits a similar response of kindness and compassion from the male character who is now responding to the new world he lives in, where kindness and compassion exist for the first time.  He acts as a human might act in these horrific circumstances.

Furthermore, Max is written as a character who does not distinguish the forms of strength as masculine or feminine.  Strength is strength.  Intelligence is intelligence.  Usefulness is usefulness.  And writing a male character or performing a male character as such gives time to the female characters as they are written to also be strong, intelligent, and ultimately useful.  My co-worker who I saw the movie with said something to the effect of, “Max wasn’t interested in saving anyone.  He had no use for a character--male or female--who wasn’t useful.”  Perhaps that is what I liked most about Mad Max.  The women were useful.  They were real people, real characters, with real motives, and real skills, and real relationships, and really really useful.  And they didn’t have to demean any men to get there.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s not just the female characters who are written well--and by well I don’t mean like badasses, I mean like real women who are capable of fierceness, strength, usefulness, kindness, and compassion alike--it’s also the male characters who are written well--like real human beings who don’t see women merely as objects, but as people to respond and react to, who can be helpful to their lives not as objects, but as equal partners.  The men that were in this film were ones I’d like to see more often in my movies.  Ones who treat women as equals from the get-go so women don’t have to waste their screen time fighting men to be on equal footing and can instead use their screen time to promote a useful idea, move the story and plot forward, and develop meaningful connections across the themes, characters and meaning of the film.  At the end of the day, what I want is a movie I’ve never seen before.

Do I like my female badasses?  Yeah, I guess I do.  But you know what I’d like more?  A woman who acted like me.