I’ve got an unconscious guy on my back that I’m chained to, a metal muzzle, I’m carrying a car door and I’ve got a shot-gun. Typical Tuesday.

Due to the fact that I was out of town this weekend and last week was pretty busy at work, I was pretty low on the old inspirational juices. However, I did go see Mad Max: Fury Road over the weekend and that’s pretty much all I’ve been thinking about since. So guess what? This article is going to be about that. In fact, it’s going to be twice as long as a regular article!

This is not really going to be a review, if you came here for a review here it is: Fury Road is fucking awesome and if you like action movies you should see it on the biggest/loudest screen you have access to.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the subtle (there’s not a lot subtle about Mad Max, but there is some) world-building that George Miller does and how he effectively tells you a lot about his world without a) much exposition b) spelling things out too much or c) slowing down what is arguably a movie that is basically a non-stop action sequence. Instead of spelling everything out with dialogue and holding the viewer’s hand through everything that lead to the events of the movie, Miller instead uses bits of dialogue, various visuals and other clues to tell the story of how things got this way. The main plot of the movie is fairly straightforward and linear, but the background of the world seems complex and intricate. Most interesting, nearly none of that background is ever explicitly revealed.

I’ve always loved post-apocalyptic as a setting. Something about our technologically advanced society collapsing and seeing what is left over has always struck a chord with me. In fact, 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was probably my first exposure to not only post-apocalyptic movies, but was likely the first genre movie I had ever seen. My dad was always into car movies so he was a Mad Max fan, even though Thunderdome is a little light on the cars compared to previous entries, I can only imagine that it was his love of the movies that had me seeing it at a very young age. I had nightmares about Master Blaster.

What made these movies immensely watchable to me was not always the stories, but more the little clues in how the world works. What people do in these worlds, how they speak, what’s important to them, etc. I liked Waterworld because even though it was terrible, I liked the Smokers, I liked the guy who apparently lived in oil tank, I liked Kevin Costner peeing into a water purifier. I even have fond memories of Firebird 2015 AD, which is probably one of the worst movies ever made (also shown to me by my dad) because of the idea that in a post-apocalyptic world with sanctions on gasoline, some dudes just wanted to drive around real fast in the desert.

So here’s some of my favorite little bits of the world that George Miller shows us in Fury Road. I’m also going to try to talk about how he shows us those things and how he sort of forces you to think about his world in a much bigger way than he actually spells out on camera. I’m not going to talk very much about actual plot points here but just about everything in here could be considered a spoiler. So, you’ve been warned.

The Language and Names of the Film

I’ve always been a huge fan of the language of the Mad Max films. The bastardized pronunciation of “gasoline” as “guzzling” to the different names that are either given or used to describe the characters. In Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) there’s the Humongous, Feral Kid and the Gyro Captain. Thunderdome has Aunty Entity, Master Blaster and Savannah Nix. There’s a whole type of slang that seems to be 100% natural in these movies. The names in Fury Road are equally interesting, Immortan Joe, Imperator Furiosa, Nux, War Boys, Bullet Farmer, The People Eater and on and on. Words from other languages (imperator is a Roman lieutenant and Furiosa as pointed out by redditor koola1d702 is a Spanish feminine form of “furious”)and messed up English (Immortan obviously sounds like a word, but isn’t) all come together to tell us about these people. Society’s gone and the only people who remember it are old or dead. A scary or cool sounding name is all people will know about you. These names keep people in line by sounding important or badass. Joe must be a God, he’s Immortan. Furiosa has an important sounding title and her name is a world for angry; she must be a badass. Even the fat sick guy is named the People Eater, maybe he is fat because he actually eats people.

There’s a throwaway line that had me chuckling to myself. Max asks Nux if he has a “black thumb”. After the movie I said that it was hilarious and the people that I had seen the movie with didn’t get it. I explained that a green thumb is someone who is good with plants and growing things. That’s obviously not such a concern in the Wasteland, but a black thumb is obviously someone who’s hands get black with grease from working on mechanical things. Max is just asking if the kid is a mechanic. Again, that little line tells us that in this world, being a mechanic is something very important. Add to that that later in the film Nux doesn’t even know what a tree is and you get an idea where this world’s priorities are. It’s amazing.FURY ROAD

Fetishization of Vehicles and Cars

When they get summoned to war, the War Boys run around in a frenzy and grab at a stack of steering wheels in rabid excitement. Obviously, they don’t get to drive around very often since gas is a precious resource. The cars aren’t even equipped with steering wheels which would make controlling them impossible unless you get access to the sacred heap of wheels (presumably you have to return them after returning). Without ever saying it explicitly, cars are rare. The combined forces of the Gas Town, the Bullet Farm and The Citadel seems to be what, 30-40 cars, tops? They mention that the force represents basically all of Joe’s forces. That’s not a lot of cars. In a world where there are so few cars to begin with, and most people are just wandering around starving to death, an armor plated car with spikes and some weapons would make you the scariest people in the world. Much like the names they give themselves, having a bad ass looking car is equally important. You rarely see a car in general, and a scary one just tells you to absolutely not fuck with whoever’s driving it.

Different groups are presented throughout the film. The three groups loyal to Immortan Joe: The Citadel, Gas Town, the Bullet Farm. A group of guys that drive porcupine like cars called the Buzzards (I think), there’s the Bikers that control the narrow pass through the cliffs and there’s the Many Mothers that Furiosa is trying to bring the Brides to. All of these groups have their own look for their clothing and their vehicles that are distinct and cool in their own way. They’ve got to be. You don’t want to shoot at your friends and you want people to be scared of your cars when they appear on the horizon. None of these groups are really explained (barring the Many Mothers and the Citadel) but they way they are visually represented on the screen tells you that there’s a whole world out there trying to survive and profit as much as they can.

Nux at one point talks about how he will be rewarded with chrome. In the car world (even the modern one) chrome is a luxury. It doesn’t serve any purpose but it’s shiny. When a War Boy is about to do something suicidal, he whips out a can of chrome spray paint and sprays it on his mouth and face so that he can die shiny and chrome. It’s fucking perfect. In this world where cars are so important and rare, a luxury like chrome must be like gold. Immortan Joe uses this to render something that is ultimately useless into something so sought after by his devoted followers. It builds on what we know (cars are important, looking scary is important) and shows how fucked up the world really is.

The Ambiguous Sickness

Immortan Joe is sick, the People Eater is sick, Nux is sick. It’s possible that all of the War Boys are sick. In the opening sequence, they show Max getting tattooed with his health information and blood type for use as a “blood bag” for Joe’s forces. In fact, the only reason they likely keep him alive is because he is a universal donor so he’s valuable as a blood resource. When Nux is hooked up to an IV attached to Max, he doesn’t seem otherwise wounded, he just needs the blood.

We’re not sure what the sickness is (it seems to cause tumors, so maybe it’s a cancer of some kind), where it came from or how it’s treated, but we know that a lot of people have it.

The point is, it’s never spelled out. It doesn’t have to be. There’s the idea that Mad Max is set in Australia post some kind of nuclear war and that the only reason Australia is around is that it’s not important enough to drop bombs on. This could definitely contribute to a radiation based sickness of some sort. It gives you something to think about literally – why are people sick –  and serves the grander metaphor: people are sick.FURY ROAD

The Bog and the Bog People [MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS ONE, though I try to keep it light]

I think we might even talk about this in the previous episode of 9ES, if we didn’t (or even if we did) we will almost certainly talk about in the next one.

Australia is a crappy place to farm. It has extremely garbage soil and any farming that occurs there needs to be carefully monitored to make sure they don’t overextend the very few nutrients the land has. Australian farming needs to go very long periods of time not farming sections of land to let the lend replenish itself. Obviously, this would not be something that would be considered in the Wasteland. In order to feed themselves they’d probably just keep farming away at what seemed like fertile lands. This would catch up to them and the area would go sour.

Again, like lots of the stuff I’m talking about, this is never explicitly spelled out. But it’s there if you think about it. The people crawling around on stilts minding their own business are also there, and never explained. A gross bog that probably resulted from a storm and an over farmed land probably has a few gross things living in it. The Bog people are probably picking through the gross little bits of things and just living a crappy life doing their thing.

The stilt guys are in the movie for 3 seconds, but the fact that they’re there leads you to so much thought about them and how they fit in the weird ecosystem of Mad Max.

These are all more major things, but there’s so much detail in nearly every single shot of this movie to pour over. Miller never sits you down and spells out “this is what happened, this is how these people survived, this is how they live” and so on. Instead he drops you into his world and lets you figure out all sorts of it for yourself.

His story happens without ever explaining how things got that way (in the grand sense or the smaller sense). He doesn’t take the time to tell you how the world died, how Joe came to power, how he supports his people, how Furiosa became a lieutenant to Joe, or a million other things. He tells his story and lets you piece together the details with the clues that he’s left.

As a result, I’m super excited about the prospect that this is potentially the beginning of a new trilogy. I’m not just excited about more Mad Max, I’m excited to see the Wasteland again to see what else is going on there. I’m also probably going to buy the Mad Max Magnum Opus video game when it comes out for that same reason.

All images from CinemaBlend

Keith does all sorts of things here on 9to5.cc, he works with the other founders on 9to5 (illustrated), co-hosts our two podcasts: The 9to5 Entertainment System and Go Plug Yourself and blogs here as The Perspicacious Geek.

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