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, shooters-for-hire Swan Dallara and Kroni, former circus headliner Shiloh, and mariners Razor Witt and Dilly Henderson in tow. Here’s the second half of what they had to say:
RW: Well that was nothing if not a horrifying and unexpected shock.
SD: I thought it was one of the realest moments in the whole thing. Big mean world doesn’t care how pretty, smart or pregnant you are. Sometimes you just fall off the side of a rig, if you were climbing around out there.
RW: Yes, but it’s a pretty blatant violation of cinematic convention. And I’m not complaining about that, I love it when conventions are broken.
SD: Okay, I don’t even know half of those words. Make sense.
RW: There’s an expectation in a lot of movies, especially action films, that the pretty people are going to be immune from harm. The same goes for visibly pregnant women. A lot of directors will put them in peril, of course, to ramp up the tension, but in the end they’re always okay.
K: And the more this convention is used, the less effective it gets.
RW: In some ways. It creates an expectation, and there’s a huge—and delightful—shock when it’s not fulfilled. No, Splendid’s not okay, she fell off the side of the rig and got run over by another one.
IA: Big trucks don’t care how pretty or pregnant you are.
K: Nor does physics.
IA: I thought she was going to fall when she grabbed the exhaust pipe. They get hot, even if they are wrapped.
DH: Did you see the tires on that silver truck? I was amazed her body was in one piece. She should’ve squotched like a melon. There woulda been guts everywhere.
RW: Well, that’s a charming image.
SD: I’m going to let you run with that, Dilly. What do you think she should have looked like, after being smushed by at least one and probably two of that rig’s giant tires?
IA & SG: Please don’t.
SD: No, tell me. Have you ever stepped on a toad? I bet it was like that. I bet everything would have squirted out of her like squeezin’ a burrito, what do you think?
DH: Ivy said not to.
SD: Ah, you’re no fun at all. Back a bit before all of that toad-stomping, though, I got a laugh when they jumped that rig over that rock and all the fenders just about flew out of the back. Do you think he warned them first? Travelmaster, if you ever do that to me—
IA: Don’t worry, I wouldn’t. I did like the adjustable wedge on the front of the War Rig. Handy way to put out fires in the desert.
RW: Were you impressed that they paid attention to repairing the rig? That’s something else that gets overlooked a lot in films like this—all that damage to the vehicles takes a toll.
IA: I did like that! And I liked when Furiosa called Nux a “blackthumb,” did you get it? And the notion of fixing a rig while it’s running, hanging on to the bottom, is a level of heroic I can’t even imagine. You’d have to have all of your tools clipped to you on cables! What if you dropped one?
K: The secondary use of the boomsticks was clever.
K: When they were stuck in the swamp. Mining the mud to gain some time, and to stop the followers.
SD: I hated that whole scene. Reminded me too much of that time the circus got stuck outside Memphis and all those rigs went into the flash flood when the winch cable broke. You probably don’t remember that, Kroni, since you were busy being dead and everything.
K: I wish you would let that go.
IA: Please don’t remind me of that day. At least no one was shooting at us.
SG: So here’s a thing to ponder. They throw Nux out at the beginning, because Splendid says “no unnecessary killing.” Which seems reasonable, if a little bit naïve considering who they’re being chased by. But that little bit makes you ask yourself if you would have done the same thing, doesn’t it?
DH: How do you mean?
SG: Would you have thrown him out? Taken him prisoner? Or just killed him outright? It turns out that sparing his life was the right thing to do, but there’s a subtle question in there, if you’d have done the same.
RW: I see what you’re saying.
SD: Oh, I do too. You’re right, I would have shot him in the face, sure as the sun.
SG: Which would have made the end of the movie a lot different! They might not have gotten away, if it weren’t for forging that connection.
IA: I think I would have killed him too. It seemed like the right decision at the time.
RW: I’m with Ivy, but there’s an underlying message there for sure. This movie’s constantly reminding you that, regardless of what the circumstances seem to dictate, destruction and annihilation are not the way to survive, ultimately.
SD: That’s some preachifying there. Run with that, Razor.
RW: Well, it’s hardly the only example. “Who killed the world?” is even what Splendid shouts in Nux’ face as they toss him out. But the plot repeatedly takes steps to…I don’t know, to show that the violence is wrong long-term. The people who fight over the water wind up dumping it on the ground. The Warboys who perform the most glorious acts of destruction do so by getting themselves killed. At first, Joe’s chasing after the wives and destroying everything in his path doesn’t accomplish anything except to get his first healthy baby and his favorite breeder killed.
K: You don’t think that is just pointing out that Immortan Joe’s male-dominated society is a failure at heart?
RW: Not at all. The Vuvalini are shown as the opposite of that. They also kill everybody they meet, according to the Keeper of Seeds. It’s a necessity, given their environment, but guess what? They’re slowly dying out as a result.
SG: Exactly. It’s not until everyone begins to work together—a blend of the Warboys, the nomads, and the Many Mothers, working together—that things begin to change for the better. All of their various philosophies, anyway.
SD: Wow. I like listening to you guys, it makes me feel smarter.
K: Does this mean you wouldn’t have killed Nux, Shiloh?
SG: It does.
SD: You’d have kept him around because you wanted to hump him instead.
SG: Hmm…that’s true too. If you’ve only got a ‘half-life’ there are much better uses for it than setting yourself on fire.
IA: But where do you draw the line, Shiloh? Do you think they should have tried to talk to the canyon biker who got aboard the rig? Or the Poleboys who landed on it?
SG: That was different—that was in the middle of a fight, and without time to consider. When Nux attacked he was outnumbered and they were able to subdue him before he hurt anyone.
RW: He was pretty weak at that point as well. And possibly in general. He did come out of sickbay to join the chase after all. Remember Max put him down for five minutes with a fist to the breadbasket.
SG: So, he wasn’t a threat. There was no reason to kill him outright, and they didn’t.
IA: He still came back later as a potential threat.
SG: I know. And if he’d succeeded in trying to hurt them a second time, then that would have been a death sentence I’m sure. Hard to say for sure because the story went the way it did, for its own reasons.
DH: I dunno. I think maybe they were just trying to show that the girls weren’t bloodthirsty.
RW: Eh, there’s something to that. I like Shiloh’s interpretation. Max and Furiosa were pragmatic, but hardly bloodthirsty. There’s a difference between looking out for yourself and…running over a couple of women with a kenny.
SD: And both trailers! Oh good Lord, what was that? If you ever fall off a rig and live, you gotta remember to look back, not forward! Such a waste. The danger’s coming from behind.
K: I am sure she had a great many things to think about at that moment. She had just tried to shoot Joe and failed, and she was protecting the other fallen woman.
SD: You can’t tell me that kenny wasn’t making a ton of noise. Should’ve stayed lying down until everyone drove past.
IA: …and then she would have been caught by the Warboy blackthumbs at the rear who were picking up the wrecked rigs.
SD: You guys are thinking about this too much, that’s the problem. Shiloh, tell me what you thought of the fightin’ circus folk, on the poles.
SG: That was something to see, wasn’t it? I wanted to try! What were they using as counterweights?
SD: As what?
IA: Engine blocks. The heavy bits at the bottom, to help swing the person on top, Swan.
SD: Got it.
IA: I would like to say that if a man had just ripped the blower off of my engine with his bare hands, while it was running, I would not be confident that a crash like that would kill him.
SD: Would you volunteer to go back and check?
IA: Of course not! If he’s dead, it’s a waste of time. And if he’s not, he’s probably even angrier now. I’d send you to check.
SG: So what happens next? They make it back to the Citadel. I imagine people are wondering why about thirty rigs left and only one is coming back. And they show them Joe’s body.
SD: And nobody shoots them.
IA: Well, it doesn’t appear that he was too popular, in spite of being in power.
SD: Someone always likes the tyrant, no matter how much of a shit he is.
K: Be that as it may, the film shows that Furiosa is acknowledged as the new leader, at least for the moment. Do you think they’ll be able to keep control of the Citadel?
RW: There are definitely hints that things will change. The Milk Mothers and War Pups seem to like Furiosa, because they step up in support of her very quickly. I think the chances are good. Whatever potential threats still exist at the Citadel are limited to the few of Joe’s lieutenants who were there, the masters of the elevators, and they were quickly overwhelmed by the masses. Any sick Warboys left behind won’t pose much of a threat.
K: But what next?
DH: Doesn’t look too bad to start off. The other two warlords are dead too. Might be a few Warboys coming back with busted rigs, once they get through the canyon.
IA: But not all at once. They could take Shiloh’s route then, talking to them to see if they’re willing to work together rather than fighting. With Immortan Joe gone, I think that might happen.
SD: I don’t know. I think someone’s going to screw it all up at some point.
K: They are in a good position. The Citadel is easily defended by a small group once they’re inside. Even if a large party from Gas Town or the Bullet Farm decided to attack, they’d have a hard time getting in. And it’s not hard to imagine that while ammunition and fuel were coming from the other two places, the Citadel is providing a sizeable percentage of the available food and water. Which resource would you most like to be in control of in a war?
IA: Beg pardon?
SD: I want to be the one in control of reality. The one who can say, “This is all just a movie anyway,” and get up and go the hell home.
RW: That’s actually kind of deep.
SD: Oh, shut up.