The Soapbox: On All The Male Tears Being Shed Over “Mad Max: Fury Road”

“Mad Max: Fury Road” will go down in history as the movie that flushed all of the roosters out of the hen nest. George Miller did a brilliant job with everything from cinematography, to score, to flipping the typical action blockbuster plot structure on its head. He created the most bewitching two-hour car chase anyone will ever see. He found a way to put action back into action flicks—giving us brutal tension, constant suspense and focused aggression that laughs in the face of all of the movies that think some male brooding and nameless tits, punctuated by a few CGI-enhanced fights, is adequate. “MMFR’s” most significant triumph though was completely defying the expectations of Hollywood’s gender roles, and that has a whole lot of pimply nerds and wannabe rapists, who need misogyny to get hard, very upset (especially this asshat).

The import of what Miller and his very adept team accomplished is hard to comprehend, because at the same time they also made a ridiculously fun film that doesn’t have to be bogged down with gender politics if it doesn’t want to be. The subtlety of its feminism is what is really remarkable about “MMFR.” “Men’s Rights Activists,” the shit that patriarchy leaves behind when it wipes its asshole, would argue the opposite until they’re blue in the balls. Their main argument is that they were duped into seeing “feminist propaganda” by the typical promise of an action film, i.e. fire tornados, fury, fighting and farts. The reality though is that it would have been disingenuous to market it as a feminist film, because it’s much more than that—including, but not limited to its commentary on apocalyptic resource depletion, the resilience of humanity, and war. I don’t believe Miller and his team sat around contemplating, “how can we make this a feminist film,” but rather making the active decision to not pander to what typically draws a profitable box office turn out. The irony is that the film is doing well in the box office, earning $45.5 million opening weekend, and proving that Hollywood doesn’t need its tired hacks to bust the block.

What’s really compelling about the feminism of “MMFR” is that it mimics the feminist reality of today, just in a dystopian landscape. This is a feminism that is relentless and without an option to give up. It’s an evolution that has gotten us labeled “feminazies” and “social justice warriors,” but is really just us trying to run this last and most exhausting lap to equality. We are no longer talking about the right to vote or work, we’re talking about the right to bodily autonomy and a livelihood—things to be warriors over. As women have taken bits of our power back over time—edging the wage gap marginally closer to being closed, fighting anti-choice legislation, and rallying around women braving the legal system in the face of sexual assault—those absolutely terrified of equality have become all the more arduous in their villainization of women. We are no longer painted as emotionally unstable, fragile things that should be coerced indoors and kept away from large books, like the generations of women who came before us. We are now billed as manipulative, untrustworthy, dangerous cyborgs who stage rapes and kill babies. And being made out to be monsters is just the kind of thing that’s making us derail our own war rigs in real life.

It is obvious why the film terrifies the kind of weak-minded men who rely on patriarchal standards to maintain their fragile egos. In “MMFR,” Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is not afraid to be unpretty. She rubs grease on her forehead. Her head is shaved. The way she wields her wrench-like prosthetic arm like its an advantage, rather than a hindrance, makes you forget its even there. Her strength emanates an intimidating beauty. As for her female counterparts—the wives of Immortan Joe that Furiosa is risking everything to save from sex slavery and baby farming—they are gorgeous, clothed in nymph-esque gossamer, each representing a different beauty ideal. And yet the movie does not placate their looks. Instead it zeros in on their determination. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Splendid, uses her pregnant belly as a shield. They don’t have trouble taking orders from Charlize, dismantling the myth that women cannot work together. They all take some hits, shed some blood, and (spoiler alerts here on out) die. But “MMFR” does not take the time to mourn, the same way it doesn’t take the time to fawn. People die. People are beautiful. The chase need not pause for either.

There is no need for sex in “MMFR,” which sounds simple enough, but a huge blockbuster not having even implied sex is groundbreaking. There is clear chemistry between Furiosa and Max, but it is expressed only through a few glances. Riley Keough’s Capable, one of the wives, falls for a war boy who switches sides mid-movie. They too never make it a point to consummate anything. This all serves to add another element to the layered tension in the film, and heighten the stakes of the chase, the ultimate goal of liberation being held higher than the instant gratification of sex or the ephemeral nature of love.

The “meninists” are mainly crushed that Tom Hardy’s Mad Max gets out-heroed by Furiosa. Aaron Clarey flaccidly whined on a popular MRA blog, “Charlize Theron kept showing up a lot in the trailers, while Tom Hardy seemed to have cameo appearances. Charlize Theron sure talked a lot during the trailers, while I don’t think I’ve heard one line from Tom Hardy. And finally, Charlize Theron’s character barked orders to Mad Max.” And no, there’s no sense of irony or satire of the fact that the exact same thing happens to female characters in any blockbuster movie trailer. The blog post that got quite a bit of traction, and has unified like-minded individuals on Twitter, goes on to defame women and the film at great length, and implores others to warn men and “real women” (whatever the fuck those are) not to see it. What he would rather see is a film with “one man with principles standing against many with none.” Which just goes to show that not only do these kinds of people not want to see a movie where women might have a sense of equality, but that they want to see a movie so black and white with antiquated standards that it is literally one hero winning out against a bunch of villains, cutting out any possibility for dynamism or any human nuance.

What’s really disheartening about the anti-feminist reaction to the film, is that “Mad Max: Fury Road” is not necessarily feminist, it’s just not inherently misogynistic. Furiosa does need Max’s help, but she is also unafraid to go on without it. Max does take out a whole gang of war boys on his own that threaten to finish off Furiosa and the wives. Miller just choses to exploit the fact that the women must nervously wait for him to return, rather than glorify Max’s slaughter. Max gets plenty of time to anguish over his own circumstances, it’s just not allowed to slow down the film. He wrestles with a lone tree in a crow-filled wasteland that’s straight out of a “Waiting For Godot” set, or if Salvador Dali had a blue period. Miller choses to explore what it means for Max to existentially fight with a warped tree, a relic of the old world, in order to save the whole group from imminent danger—rather than go for showy save the day scenes. It is not a manifesto of pro-woman creed, instead it is an alternative to women being weak, damsels there to provide sex breaks or someone to save. The distinction is imperative to letting the film actually promote progress in cinema. And if you really want to go there, perhaps Splendid’s “perfect male baby” dying is a symbol in the film of oppressive patriarchal ideas of masculinity dying with it as well.