Tag Archives: Mad Max

Let’s Start Again: The leap of “The Road Warrior”

By Steven Moore

This summer I decided to spend time focusing on the post-apocalyptic genre of film. As a consequence, I have been spending many afternoons wandering the wastelands of humanity. I’ve been traipsing through not only the films I will be reviewing, but also less worthy candidates to round out my explorations. An unexpected consequence of spending so much time in the wreckage of society is that my general feeling about humanity has taken a few hits. When stripped of our politeness and the threat of consequence, most of us are horrifyingly savage and brutal–if movies are to be believed. If I wasn’t already a misanthrope, I surely will be come summer’s end.

My first foray into the apocalyptic wasteland was the well-regarded classic Mad Max. After watching Mad Max, I wasn’t looking forward to watching its sequel. However, I am nothing if not determined to punish myself, and so I forged on. Due to Netflix’s ever shifting instant watch availability, I was forced to wait longer than I would have liked to finally sit down and watch The Road Warrior. Immediately, the difference was clear. The film starts with a newsreel-style retelling of the end of the world. The previous film is framed as a backstory for Max and a backdrop for the apocalypse itself.

Storytelling techniques, characterization, production value–all are not just a step up, but a flying leap beyond the original film. This isn’t just a budget issue, this is a director who learned from his mistakes and made something far better. Where the original Mad Max had an indefinite sense of landscape and character, this film clearly defines who these people are, how the story is going to be told, and what kind of world we, the audience, can expect to inhabit. The Austrialian landscape provides the perfect setting for a world on the brink of ending. The most present concern, fossil fuels, still resonates (perhaps even more loudly), and everyone emits the stink of desperation.

The first film is a great backstory to this film, and gives a kind of characterization to Max that is rare in the “stranger walks into town” story. With the background of the first film, you understand why Max makes the choices he does, what motivates him, even why he has a leg brace. The Road Warrior benefits from the first film, enabling a hero with the complexity of a man with a past. It provides a layer of depth unique to this genre, and to film in general. Post-apocalyptic films, by definition, do not focus on the past, and as a result, often leave the backstory of the characters as something off in the blurry distance. The focus instead rests on the aftermath of tragedy, with very little regard to the tragedy itself. (In a film like The Road, which I will be reviewing later in the summer, the tragedy itself isn’t even made explicit, and the lives that lead up to the tragedy are never explored.)

However, in The Road Warrior the focus is on Max and his explicit tragedy and subsequent willingness to do anything to survive, even leaving someone trapped in a car to presumably die. People are nothing more than a form of currency to him, and although he does not partake in the vicious and appalling acts that the gangs commit, he often seems bored by the brutality around him and does very little to stop it. Even his great hero moment, which does eventually come, only comes because he has no other choice.

In the end he is treated as a myth, the great Herculean hero that showed up one day, set everything right, and disappeared again. I found this to one of the most hopeful of the post-apocalyptic films I have watched so far. This is a picture of humanity rebuilding its myths, fighting for the very ideas that brought us to dig in the dirt and plant seeds. Even though Max is not a part of humanity’s continuing struggle back to humanity, he knows its importance and helps fight for it. Even the most misanthropic know the value of human connection.

Let’s start again: “Mad Max” and the two kinds of post-apocalypse

By Steven Moore

Because I have a long summer of sunshine and flowers ahead of me, I have decided to counter it over the next few months by exploring worlds where humanity has been stripped of everything it has built and brought to the brink of annihilation. The post-apocalyptic vision in film is one of my favorite themes because it strips away all of those things we think are so important, and presents the audience with a raw look at humanity, usually a not-so-pretty look. It presents simultaneous death and rebirth with the possibility of something better, even if it usually devolves into dystopia.

The first film I will be looking at in this series is Mad Max. Having never seen Mad Max, and as a fan of post-apocalyptic cinema, it stood high on my list of shame. After watching it, I could argue that it’s not a true post-apocalyptic film, but it turns out to be a great first film for this new series because it illustrates the two different kinds of post-apocalyptic visions. The traditional post-apocalyptic film is one in which society and all its achievements have been destroyed completely; human beings are left scavenging the bones of civilization, stripped of the many thousands of years of effort to pull ourselves out of the swamps and trees. Every aspect of society has collapsed, and the destruction is usually imposed by some outside force, be it virus, alien, war, etc.

The second kind of apocalypse is a moral apocalypse. A dystopian society is left intact materially, but social morality has collapsed. Society has cast off the chains of moral restraint and devolved into civilization where the stronger and less principled man or woman gets what they want. The dystopian post-apocalyptic vision is really a subset of the first vision, where the physical destruction of society often leads to a moral collapse. Where it differs is that the characters often deal exclusively with moral decay, and survival is not about basic necessity, but instead about becoming strong.

Mad Max presents a vision of the apocalypse perfectly in line with the latter. The world (or at least Australia) has succumbed to roving biker gangs who rape and pillage whenever and wherever they see fit. Society itself goes on as normal, except when these biker gangs stroll into town, and take what they want. The biker gangs are combatted by road warriors, police officers who roam the roads searching them out, hunting them down. The road warriors are nearly as lawless as the biker gangs, except that they generally protect civilians, as long as it’s convenient.

The thematic notion that the protectors are only a slight nudge away from the lawless and psychopathic biker gangs is probably the most interesting aspect of the film, and the characteristic of the film that most recommends it as a dystopian post-apocalyptic vision. When those who are supposed to protect us are as thrill-seeking and morally questionable as those they are hunting, the social contract has expired. Even when Max tries to escape the decay of authority, he is drawn back in not by justice, but by a desire for violent revenge.

Other aspects of the movie are less stellar. The heavy-handed moment when the baby is playing with a hand-gun (just so we, the audience, know things are bad), the absurd police chief with nothing on but a scarf and leather pants, and the terrible pacing of the movie all make me wonder why this film is so revered. When a revenge tragedy only begins the revenge plot fifteen minutes before the film ends, the script needs work. Max’s solution to his buddy being horribly disfigured is to cut out. What follows is at least 30 minutes that seem like home movies of a young Mel Gibson hanging out with the fam.

Friends have told me the that the sequel, which I will be reviewing next week, is a better version of the same movie and more in line with the first kind of post-apocalyptic world. Mad Max has some great ideas, but the execution is poor. Hopefully, those great ideas are expanded and refined in the sequel.