With so many films coming out something has to be very special to make me want to go back and see it a second time. One such film is Mad Max Fury Road. Taking advantage of a week when little of interest came out I went back to see it for a second time. The first thing to report, is that the 3D is a waste of time as ever. Having originally seen it in 2D only a 3D screening was available to me for my second screening. This potentially vindicates my decision not to see it in IMAX. I would have liked to see it in the large format, but didn’t want the 3D. The best I can say for the 3D is that the film is so bright and colourful that the light loss experienced with 3D glasses was far less noticeable than usual. I would also point out the 3D was effective in one moment towards the end of the film when it resorted to the gimmick of having something flaying out of the screen at the audience, these tricks are what 3D is good for, not to make the film more immersive! But I am not here to talk about the evils of stereoscopy.
I am not here to talk about Max, or even the heart and soul of the film, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). I am here to talk about the potentially controversial part of the movie, the five wives. *** Warning, what I am going to say from here contains spoilers. *** My first reaction to the movie was that the wives were little more than walking talking MacGuffin’s. Their presence is essential to drive the plot but they have little use beyond that. Had Furiosa not taken them, she would have incurred far less wrath from Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and made her escape safer and easier. There are two possible reasons for her actions, she could have taken them for revenge against Joe, or out of concern for the women. Either one presents an interesting point and makes me like her character even more. But what of the wives? It is the one part of the film that critic Mark Kermode has a problem squaring. He is a critic I hugely respect, not least for his appreciation of genre and exploration cinema, however I think he has got this one wrong. He keeps alluding to having a problem with the characters without ever fully expanding his augment. In his Guardian review he states:
“Miller’s film can’t quite reconcile its horrors-of-patriarchy narrative with its exotic fashion-shoot depiction of “The Wives”, leaving its gender politics weirdly conflicted”.
On the other hand Ian Nathan makes little mention of the Brides in his five start Empire review. In the one paragraph he devotes to them, he states:
“The brides too make for a gaggle of amusingly grouchy individuals” and “You could say there is a crackers feminist subtext at work”.
I get the impression he overlooked the characters in a similar way to me on his first viewing.
Who are the wives? Each one has a distinct personality and play a different part in the story, they are:
The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley: As Joe’s favourite and visibly pregnant, Angharad is the focus of the brides for a lot of the film. She often appears to be the leader of the five woman, and the most socially aware of the group. She is demonstrates a different side of feminism to Furiosa. In a conversation with Nux she at one point says “Then who killed the World?” implying it was men, and that woman with save or t least resurrect it. She understands her power over Joe, unfortunately exerting this power, along with a freak accident it cost her life.
Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz): is more practical, she is the one to reload Furiosa’s gun and take inventory of weapons when the other wives do not want anything to do with guns.
Capable (Riley Keough): is the one who shows empathy, particularly towards Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who she brings into the group and appears to have a bond with up until his death. It is his connection to her that appears to motivate him to sacrifice himself to save them.
Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton): has the most interesting arc. She begins the least convinced of their plan and twice wishes to return to Joe. However in a nice twist she baits the viewer by appearing to make this decision for a third time, before revealing it was a trick to help Furiossa.
The Dag (Abbey Lee): who it is revealed is also pregnant but not showing, is possibly my favourite character of the five and is just one of many little things that add to the brilliance of the film. She is often the first to spot danger and alerts the others in a very matter of fact way. Like with Theron and Hardy, Abbey Lee does an huge amount of acting with her eyes, unlike Hardey and Theron who are accomplished actors, Lee is a fashion model in her first film. A lot of her dialogue (and that of the other wives) sounds like ADR, to notice this you would think would be desecrating, quite the opposite, it is actually otherworldly and strangely soothing, it is also another thing I only noticed on a second viewing. Although all the wives remove their chastity belts, it is The Dag that we actually see cutting it off, she is also the one who expresses the greatest emotional reaction to its removal.
A lot has been made of the wives costumes. Essentially white sheets and bandages. Various interviews have suggested the actresses chose their own from a selection of bandages and sheets. As well as Mark Kermode’s uncertainty, Noah Berlatsky also in The Gaurdian says:
“The fact that those freed prisoners all look like supermodels dressed in lingerie is a standard WIP (WIP refers to “women in prison” films, something Berlatsky describes as “one of the most despised exploitation movie subgenres”)trope.”
He isn’t necessarily criticising the film or the way the characters look, more reminding us that Fury Road hasn’t moved that far from the exploration cinema that spawned the first two Mad Max films. He goes on to praise Angharad’s “Pregnancy as empowerment” as something new to the genre. Eileen Jone writing for In These Times questions the feminist credibility of the film that enlisted The Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler to coach the actress.
“The first full shot we get of the escaping women shows them standing tall against a gorgeous sun-blasted horizon, wearing white muslin bikinis and other resort-wear, and looking exactly like supermodels posing for a Vogue shoot in the deserts of Namibia.”
She reminds us that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was awarded the rank of Victoria’s Secret “Angel” (whatever that means) and has previously topped Maxim magazine’s “Hot List”. Had we seen characters dressed like this in a Michael Bay or Justin Lin movie, or anything associated with Roger Corman back in his day, it wouldn’t have raised more than the odd eyebrow. It is simply the fact that it appears in film that wants to promote its strong female characters that it appears to be receiving a backlash, all be it, a small one against almost universal praise. There is no denying that the characters are scantily clad, the film wants to have its cake and eat it, but this is the movies and, a fantasy/Sci-Fi movie at that, the rules of the real world do not apply. We can have our strong women and dress them this way for the titillation of the audience, this is nothing new. Given the story, the way the brides look makes perfect sense, well as much sense as anything else in the film. It is kind of a cheap shot drag out the flawed Bechdel test, but there is no getting away from the fact Fury Road does pass the test.
For a film that on the surface is a two hour chase movie, it is amazing how much more I took from a second viewing, most notably how the wives enhance the movie.