I returned to the theater to rewatch Mad Max: Fury Road twice in the same week before it was brought to my attention that I was being selfish and hadn’t shown it to some of the folks who might be most interested in George Miller’s post-apocalyptic vision: the characters from Empty Cradle. After all, my characters are living after their own end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. Perhaps they’d have some interesting things to say.
So, after an ill-advised attempt to explain what a movie theater was (Ivy archly informed me that they have cinemas in Strip City, so she and Swan are familiar with the concept, thank you very much) I returned for yet another showing with the scavenger Ivy Aniram (IA), shooters-for-hire Swan Dallara (SD) and Kroni, former circus headliner Shiloh (SG), and mariners Razor Witt (RW) and Dilly Henderson (DH) in tow. They went on quite a lot and I’ll have to split this up, but here’s some of what they had to say:
SHILOH: I liked that the lizard was like foreshadowing.
RAZOR: Oh, absolutely.
IVY: How do you mean?
SG: It was minding its own business, and thought it was keeping itself safe, but it got stomped and eaten because it wasn’t paying attention. Same thing happens to that scav not even a minute later. Bigger group comes along, he gets stomped and eaten.
RW: This is all about the big stuff eating the smaller stuff, just like the real world. They take his rig, they take his gear, they’re even making use of his body.
KRONI: Which works well in the animal kingdom, but not so much with social systems. For predators, in a stable system there’s a supply of prey that replenishes itself. In this, with humans…it’s not the same. Eventually there are no small prey left because they’ve all been crushed. The large ones have to consume other large ones.
R: Until eventually there aren’t any big ones left to eat, or the big ones are too evenly matched. And what happens to the system then?
K: As I said. This is a world that’s not stable.
SWAN: You are thinking about this way too much. Also, that fellow just ate a lizard raw, and I think someone needs to point out how nasty that is.
SG: I’m with you.
IA: He’s obviously starving.
SD: That’s no excuse for not doing it and your stomach the favor of cooking it first.
DILLY: I don’t see that he really had time to make a—
SD: THEN HE COULD PUT IT IN HIS POCKET FOR LATER. Sheezus. I’m just saying, it’s already dead, and there are lots of much more palatable options for transportation and consumption of one wee bitty lizard. Fuck, stomp on five or six of them and make soup or something. Lizards taste bad enough when they’re cooked, I don’t even want to imagine scarfing one tartare. Look, why are we arguing about this, the guy already got hisself locked in a cage with all his stuff stolen and more bald muscleboys than he can fight back against, I think he’s pretty much done.
RW: Well, see, if he’d saved the lizard for later, they’d probably have taken that too.
SD: You are not helping.
SD: I love the combat-crazy warboys. I want some of my own.
IA: You would.
DH: I see what you guys were saying about this world falling apart. Any sane person would leave this place and go somewheres else, but there’s nowheres else to go. What happened to the world?
RW: Someone killed it. Didn’t you see the question writ on the wall?
DH: Thumbnail smartass.
RW: I know, you wish you were me. But look, it’s a part of the narrative, as well as a metaphor. Yes, any sane person would hop in his car and drive away, but there’s nowhere to go, and the crazy people have taken his car besides. The world’s like a funnel, driving everyone into this situation, and what they do with it once they’re there is what this story’s about.
K: Do you fold yourself into the system, or push back? They have done a good job of creating a system that is clearly broken, but it is also believable enough to think that the majority would adjust to it.
IA: But broken enough that it’s good to see someone who disagrees with it.
K: Exactly. We see enough to know that this is not someplace we want to be, and that makes us interested in Furiosa and later the wives, because they’re actively trying to leave.
IA: Got a special fear of bad places that won’t let you leave. Imagine if the whole world was Little Rock.
SD: Fuck, I feel like I’d prefer this place to Little Rock.
K: They’re not all that different. Who’s the current authority in Little Rock? Deacon Patrick?
K: He’s not that different from Immortan Joe. Take away the costumes, change the religion, and the means of control over the masses is very much the same. There’s a bit more abundance in Little Rock–
RW: And less radiation sickness.
K: And that. But the use of religion and ritual as a means to indoctrinate the masses and get them to do your bidding? It’s a well-known method of seizing control in uncertain times. The same thing happened in Savannah. You have to admit that the Mansonites are a religion whose showmanship is integral to the experience. Though they are considerably more benign than this one, in terms of their treatment of outsiders.
SD: I love it when you use big words. And I love the little purring noise the Travelmaster made when that rig rolled out.
IA: I did not!
SD: You did too, I was right next to you and I heard it. And this part was familiar too, wasn’t it Kroni? Riding shooter on a big caravan.
K: That caravan’s not that big. But yes, I am indeed familiar.
SD: We need a rig like that, Travelmaster.
IA: (laughs) I wonder how they keep it fed?
RW: They said they were off to trade water for fuel. This is just like it is in North America, isn’t it?
SG: Um…not really, Razor.
IA: It used to be, maybe fifty, sixty years ago.
RW: What changed?
IA: The walled cities got bigger, more self-sufficient. They still trade, but they all have the basics. North America’s not a giant desert though.
RW: It isn’t? I’ve been outside Strip City, and all I saw was desert.
SD: You shoulda kept going! Plenty of forests and farms and stuff once you get past all the sand and salt. It’s a big place.
RW: I’ll defer to your expertise then.
SD: You do that.
SG: I did like that the Warboys riding along acted like people, instead of drones. They were very real, the way they asked questions and talked among themselves when they discovered they weren’t going where they’d thought.
SD: Yeah, they sounded just like any mooks riding shooter for a caravan, keeping up with what’s going on.
SG: Exactly. Their speaking up gave them a bit of depth though. Not much. Just enough to show that all the guys riding along weren’t just faceless ciphers; they were having their own thoughts and this was just a day in their lives as well, even though they aren’t the headliners.
IA: There’s a really nice moment, that’s easy to miss, when Furiosa sees that the Buzzards are about to attack, where it’s clear on her face that she is thinking of her Warboy escort, and of the fact that a bunch of them are about to get killed without even realizing it’s in support of her cause and not Immortan Joe’s. And she’s resigned to this having to happen, because it’s the only way for her to get what she wants, but she’s not happy about it. That made me like her a lot.
SD: I liked watching them work together to defend the rig. That’s what that shit is like.
RW: They were trying to rescue their bikers, too. They were combat-crazy, but–same as Furiosa showed–they still cared about their own.
K: How’s that?
RW: Watch close. It’s obvious their cycle escort’s no match for a bunch of attack trucks covered in spikes. After one gets run over, the other pulls up next to the War Rig and the passenger jumps aboard. It looks like the driver’s about to do the same, before he gets hit as well. I think that goes to what Ivy was saying about the background characters acting like motivated individuals, rather than set pieces. These aren’t just madmen bandits; they know each other.
K: That’s true. They knew there was a bigger party on the way, and all they had to do was hold the Buzzards off until then. No sense in dying pointlessly.
SD: Still, some of ’em went out glorious. They didn’t give up, that’s for sure. And I like those fancy boomsticks.
K: Rather have a good rifle.
SD: You might. Tell you what though, just about every road fight I’ve ever been in, guns didn’t do a damn bit of good until the bad folks were right up on you, and I bet it’s a hell of a lot easier to tag a baddie with a boomstick than trying to shoot at him and hit him in a soft spot.
SG: But they’re killing themselves, sometimes!
SD: Course they are. Not a bad way to make everyone else think twice about fighting you, now is it?
RW: Would you think twice about fighting a caravan of Warboys?
SD: I dunno, would you?
RW: I have no experience in road combat. Ship-to-ship fighting, though, yeah, I think I might try to avoid a boat full of paint-addled, Valhalla-bound fighters.
DH: I wouldn’t.
RW: That’s because if you were ten years younger and ten pounds less hairy you’d be one of them. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.
IA: Is there a nice way to mean that?
SD: For me it would depend on if the Travelmaster was driving. And what she was driving. With the right rig, I think we could take them on.
IA: I prefer to avoid fights like that.
SD: Yes, but when you’re stuck in them, you do okay. Mostly.
DH: I notice these guys do a lot of falling off of vehicles and not dying.
IA: It’s possible. It’s the desert. Ground can be pretty soft in places. Not as many rocks or trees to smash into. I imagine that as the slower vehicles in the war party follow, they’ll pick up anyone who’s been thrown from a rig but is still able to fight. And did you see the big rack truck?
SD: Rack truck?
IA: Yes! There were several big kennies–the one driven by the People Eater, and the Doof Wagon, and there was one more that was just carrying extra cars. It’s usually at the back. But if when you see it, you’ll see that it’s full of wrecked cars. As they crash, this one’s following at the back and picking up the wrecks so they can re-use the parts, or rebuild them.
K: It’s a sparse landscape. They’ve got to use whatever they can.
IA: I know. That made me happy. I noticed they towed the dead rig away at the beginning, and wondered why they’d been so thoughtless about wrecking it, but then I saw they had a whole shop and it made sense. They collected some of the wrecked Buzzard cars too.
RW: It’s good and bad. In the context of the world it makes sense, it’s pragmatic. But thematically, it still follows that they’re using absolutely everything, leaving nothing behind.
K: One of the things I quite enjoyed was watching the allegiances shift, without any exposition or discussion. In every instance, the characters decided whose side they were taking, and took it. These were very casual and natural transitions, and no grudges were held.
IA: Why do you think that was? Seems there would have been more trust issues.
K: I think everyone is used to living moment to moment, and so there’s a tendency to reassess where one stands from moment to moment.
RW: I disagree. With the theme of redemption being such a large part of it, it makes sense that the main characters would be willing to forgive. A lot more stake was put in actions rather than words–hell , the whole movie did that. And it worked.
IA: You didn’t need to have Max or Nux say that their intentions were good, because the way they behaved showed that they were.
SD: All this thinking is ruining a perfectly delightful fight.
SG: I liked that everyone got involved. The wives didn’t just stand back and cower, they helped.
IA: Which they would. They were already brave enough to attempt the escape in the first place, it would have been ridiculous if they stood back and let Furiosa fight by herself.
SG: Do you think they made it a boys versus girls fight on purpose?
DH: Nah, it just turned out that way.
RW: Oh, absolutely. It’s a mirror of the bigger picture, in some ways. Go outside the reason that they’re fighting, or what they’re fighting over–the men and women are fighting each other instead of working together, and while they’re wasting time doing that, what’s going on?
K: The war parties are getting closer.
RW: Right. The end of the world. You can hear the drums of the Warboys approaching, and when they arrive it means everybody dies. Unless they work together.
IA: And even when Max tries to go it alone, he doesn’t get far.
SD: She had a dead man’s handle same as your rig, Travelmaster.
IA: That’s because she’s smart.
–to be continued. I mean, seriously, they’re only about half an hour into the movie.