Being a film lover and avid feminist, great women in film have always fascinated me; both in front of the camera of behind it. Directors like Ava DuVernay and Kathryn Bigelow, actresses like Natalie Dormer and Angelina Jolie and characters like Thelma & Louise all fueling my love for strong women.
When I bagged a place at the press screening for George Miller‘s semi-reboot of his cult-classic Mad Max series, Mad Max: Fury Road, I was exceptionally excited to bask in the glory of one of my favourite actors to watch, Tom Hardy, and revel in the visual excellence the trailers so eagerly promised. When I walked into the theatre, I expected an all consuming action-adventure with a masterful level of style and aesthetic. I was not dissapointed. The film was beautiful, the action was relentless and Hardy’s performance as the strong but silent Max was bang on.
Still, I got far more than I bargained for in the way of female strength and presence, something that, to my surprise and delight, totally eclipsed the rest of the cast and production. At a superficial glance, Mad Max looks like your standard, stereotypical boys flick; but Miller skillfully creates a smorgasbord of genuinely strong and smart women that are both visually compelling in costume and make up, as well as complex in character and emotion.
Mad Max: Fury Road tells the post-apocalyptic story of Earth gone mad. With water practically non-existent and gasoline worryingly scarce; a physically grotesque and morally corrupt Immortan Joe rules over the majority of the worlds remaining inhabitants with an iron fist. With Tom Hardy’s Max finding himself blurring the lines of lucid and insane, he roams the desert with his aim of survival interrupted by just the crazed visions of his disturbed past.
When Max finds himself at the hands of Immortan Joe’s ruthless gang, working as a human blood bank for warrior Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult; he soon gets caught up in one of the most high-octane car chases in cinema, as a group of women desperately try to escape their captors and return to land of promise and freedom.
While Charlize Theron‘s character, Imperator Furiosa, heads up the escaping War Rig; her hidden companions come in the form of Immortan Joe’s ‘wives’, five beautiful women who are kept captured for the sole purpose of breeding perfect, healthy children. Played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Courtney Eaton and Abby Lee each play the imprisoned women and represent a varied range of fear, strength, softness and power.
With their only purpose is to bear Immortan Joe with a healthy heir, two are known to be pregnant already; with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Splendid obviously heavily pregnant. Miller takes this forced upon state for Splendid and uses it as a position of power. Splendid uses her own body and pregnancy to protect herself and the others from Joe and the War Boys.
In one particular scene, just as the War Rig is set to be blast apart, Splendid thrusts her pregnant belly out of the moving vehicle, being held by the other Wives; as Immortan Joe quickly ceases fire and screams in rage. This play in power of both mentality and physical state is a joyfully ironic knock to Immortan Joe’s claim of possession, making for an iconic moment in the film’s narrative.
As the other Wives and wonderfully strong women one meets along the way continue to flaunt their newly found determination, it is Charlize Theron’s Furiosa that carves out a revolutionary character for the representation of women in action films. Some have criticized that Furiosa’s character loses her feminist pull due to the glorification of violence and “girls can fight like boys” mentality, claiming that it is used as a cheap gimmick.
However, I can’t help but feel compelled by the brilliance of Theron’s performance and although yes, violence and brute force is an aspect of Furiosa’s journey; there is so much more to her character and development. There is a raw and impressive necessity to the violence that occurs. It is the strength of survival and humbling desperation and redemption that stops Furiosa from being the token bad girl.
There are moments of crushing vulnerability that juxtapose so wonderfully with the initial portrayal of impenetrable strength. She’s multi-layered and deep, without being dramatic or brash. There is an honest sense of realness and the idea of a lost sense of humanity is rebuked with her genuine care and selfless behaviour. Not once is she overtly sexualised, her appearance has been altered to defy the impossible, crushing beauty standards of contemporary living and yet she is beautiful in her actions and beliefs.
Miller truly does create a beautiful film; from the sophisticated cinematography, the exquisite make-up and costume and the stunning detail in each scene. However, it is the reoccurring themes of female empowerment that eclipse the films core aesthetic and narrative. With Miller unofficially confirming more Mad Max in the future, I can only hope that Furiosa and more complex female characters will join him.