The Feminist Chauvinism of Mad Max:Fury Road
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS CONCERNING MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
So, those pesky MRAs will tell you that the new Mad Max film was "going to be a feminist piece of propaganda posing as a guy flick" (http://www.returnofkings.com/63036/why-you-should-not-go-see-mad-max-feminist-road) and that it will "force a lecture on feminism down your throat" (ibid.)
With such 'concerns' in mind, I headed to my local Cineworld, sat in a shiny D-Box seat and was thrown around for two hours in a joyous roller-coaster. Besides trying not to shout "wow" at the gorgeous visuals, I kept my ears peeled for any feminist posturing, just in case the MRAs had got things right for once. The plot centres around the escape of a group of "wives" fleeing with Imperator Furiosa, played by the sublime Charlize Theron. The first proper look of the group looks a little like this:
Which to be fair reminded me more of a Russ Meyer shot rather than a scene from the latest Andrea Arnold film. Certainly the 'feminism' seemed questionable, and this was picked up by Mark Kermode in his review of the movie- "More problematically, for all its avowed feminist credentials 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." (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/17/mad-max-fury-road-review-mark-kermode)
This all left me confused, what is a poor simple film-goer to think? Is it a feminist essay or is it an exotic fashion shoot? Luckily for us it seems that George Miller is a little more intelligent than both Kermode and the MRAs that attack him on either side...
Fury Road needs to be examined first of all from the sense of expectation. The early trailers were certainly designed to fire up testosterone and appeal to the same 'masculine' sense as the Fast and Furious franchise or a Michael Bay film. So the above image would be totally expected, and mirrors the first appearance of Megan Fox in the first Transformers movie (not the good animated one, the rubbish live action one). This conforms to our expectations, but is in fact a hideously clever image to use. It lulls the viewer into thinking that the film is "by the numbers", remember at this stage we do not even know that Nux is about to undergo some major character development...
In fact the film continues to subvert expectation by the death and subsequent foetus removal of The Splendid Angharad, a highly unexpected moment given the establishment of birth pangs pointing to a later scene of pregnancy during a car chase.
So the viewer thinks they know what they are getting, then George decides to develop the characters of the surviving wives, and makes Furiousa an even tougher character than the eponymous Max himself. Perhaps this isn't all that different to Russ Meyer after all...
Anyway, my point being this: you cannot remove one scene from the wider context of a film and claim that it holds the entire key to the movie. The above image looks like a classic piece of Grindhouse cinema, then the film demonstrates that men can objectify women when they first see them. But women are as strong as men in a variety of ways, that actually cinema can play with these gender roles and make us reflect on our own views. George Miller is not a chauvinist, Fury Road is not a piece of feminist propaganda. It cleverly recognises the rules of the action film, then bends and sometimes breaks them. For this reason it should be applauded.