"My name is Max": Critiquing the toxic masculine in Mad Max: Fury Road
This paper examines the representation of toxic masculinity in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), and how the development of a ‘care circle’ around the male characters supports their progression into less destructive gender performances. ‘Masculinity’ as a concept in Western culture refers to a set of assumptions projected onto people who identify as male, and these behaviours can become toxic without criticism or intervention. By examining the character arcs of the male lead, Max Rockatansky, and the War Boy, Nux, this paper examines how masculinity is critiqued and broken down through the narrative of Fury Road.
Film; Toxic Masculinity; Gender and Development; Mad Max; Care Circle
“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves?”– The First History Man
George Miller’s latest addition to the Mad Max franchise, Fury Road (2015), follows the titular character Max Rockatansky as he joins forces with Imperator Furiosa to save a group of women from the tyrant Immortan Joe. Immortan Joe maintains his power and the cult-like devotion of his people by controlling the water supply in his territory, the Citadel. Due to the birth defects suffered by newborn babies in the post-apocalyptic landscape, Immortan Joe keeps five Wives for breeding: The Splendid Angharad, Capable, Toast the Knowing, The Dag, and Cheedo the Fragile. Max is initially captured by Immortan Joe to be used as a blood donor for his terminally ill War Boys, and when Furiosa smuggles the Wives out of the Citadel he joins them in their escape. They meet up with the Vuvalini, an all-female clan wandering the wasteland, and together they reclaim the Citadel from Immortan Joe. This paper offers a close reading of the representation of toxic masculinity in Fury Road, and argues that the development of a care circle around the male characters, Max Rockatansky and Nux, is crucial to performance of hyper-masculine gender expectations in a healthy, constructive way.
Gender is considered in Western mainstream media to be a relational concept, where “masculinity” relies on a comparability with the concept of “femininity” (Connell 1997b; Reynolds 2002; Romøren & Stephens 2002). Although there is space for gender identities beyond this dichotomy, mainstream media often fails to acknowledge this. It is certainly the case in Fury Road that male-identifying characters are privileged by the patriarchal society of the citadel, while female-identifying characters are marginalised and oppressed. The binary relationship between the two is exaggerated by the behaviours of the characters – with War Boys and Joe performing hyper-masculinity, and the Wives performing hyper-femininity, with its accompanying preoccupation with protecting life and offering emotional support to each other.
Butler’s (1988) theory of gender performance argues that gender is constructed as a series of traits which are socially and culturally associated with a particular gender. While this concept is not entirely without fault, it is a useful way of examining how different types of masculine gender identity are portrayed in mainstream media. “Masculinity” is a concept which refers to a set of assumptions and behaviours projected onto people who identify as male (Connell 1997a; 1997b; Reynolds 2002). These behaviours and expectations are often reinforced through media which presents certain behaviours as desirable for male-identifying people to emulate. There is a range of masculinities available for those who identify as male to adopt (Connell 1997a), while the media acts as a method for “reaffirming or challenging cultural ideologies, including those gender and masculinity” (Potter 2007, 28). Fury Road, then, challenges the patriarchal expectation of the superiority of masculinity by portraying hyper-masculinity as toxic and celebrating caring behaviours in both male and female characters.
This paper utilises the list of “masculine” traits compiled by Romøren and Stephens (2002) as a basis for understanding what is typically associated with hyper-masculinity:
“to be self-regarding, a physical or verbal bully, overbearing in relation to women and children, (over)fond of alcohol, violent, short-tempered, neglectful of personal appearance, hostile to difference/otherness, actually or implicitly misogynistic, sexually exploitative, insistent upon differentiated gender roles and prone to impose these on others, classist, racist, generally xenophobic, sport-focused, insensitive, inattentive when others are speaking, aimless, possessive” (Romøren & Stephens 2002, 220).
Romøren and Stephens also write that consumers of media are conditioned through repeated use in fiction to associate these traits with masculinity, and that the presence of three or more of these traits in a character implies that the character is performing hegemonic or hyper-masculinity (2002). In the binary relationship between masculinity and femininity, hyper-masculinity exists on one end of a spectrum – with traits traditionally associated with femininity existing on the other. That is not to say that these traits indicate what it “means” to be a man or a woman, but rather what Western society has come to associate with masculinity and femininity (Reynolds 2002; Connell 1997a; 1997b). Hyper-masculinity becomes toxic when it threatens the wellbeing of the characters who perform it, the characters surrounding the male-identifying character, and the environment they are portrayed to be living in.
In a post-apocalyptic environment, certain hyper-masculine traits can be extremely useful in ensuring survival. Being focused, violent, and even occasionally being wary of difference and otherness can ensure the safety of characters in a hostile environment. But toxic masculinity is destructive – rather than ensuring safety, it supports chaos. In Fury Road, the social order has been rigidly defined and hostility to difference and otherness has rendered the majority of the characters in the film as almost in-human. Personhood and individual identity is erased when hyper-masculine traits such as self-regarding behaviours, open misogyny, and violence are privileged and celebrated. While some male traits are useful in the post-apocalyptic setting, the feminine ethic of care as outlined above is ultimately portrayed as the most positive gender performance.
The portrayed moral development in the male characters in Fury Road and their development of more caring behaviours is gradual and directly relates to the relationships they cultivate over the course of the film. This is an extension of Carol Gilligan’s feminist care ethic (1982), which was analysed in Lindsey Averill’s “Sometimes the World is Hungry for People Who Care: Katniss and the Feminist Care Ethic” (2012). Averill’s analysis demonstrated that Katniss’s extension of care slowly encapsulates more people as the series progresses and she cultivates more relationships. The character develops what I call the “care circle”—a group of characters, both male and female, for whom the male characters feels an emotional a duty of care. Nel Noddings writes that “[a]lthough philosophers have long denigrated emotions and put a high valuation on reason, most have recognized that emotions often motivate action” (1998, p.135). In Fury Road, male characters are portrayed developing care relationships which directly affect the plot of the film and serves to drive the critique of toxic masculinity home for the audience. The relationship a male character has with his care circle leads the character to reject toxic, hyper-masculine behaviours.
While Fury Road did receive criticism for the apparent pro-feminist themes, characterised by some critics as “feminist propaganda” (Clarey 2015; Battersby 2015), I argue that the film is less of a celebration of womanhood and more of a critique of a patriarchal structure which privileges hyper-masculinity, with feminine ethics of care being offered as a potential method for improving these behaviours and basing them in a more caring and compassionate gender performance. Fury Road offers up an exploration of the potentially devastating consequences of hyper-masculinity – both to male character, female characters, and their physical environment. Fury Road extends the concept of hyper-masculinity to its most extreme conclusions in order to examine and critique the results. It holds a mirror to the viewers’ world, reflecting what it is and what it could be. In Fury Road, the hyper-masculinity privileged by the patriarchal society has become toxic, and as such concepts such as duty of care and relational ethics of care have become almost obsolete. The fictional society is redeemed through the combined efforts of a group of women who are driven by caring relationships. It is not womanhood which is celebrated, but rather the combined concepts of humanity and personhood.
The driving theme behind film is ownership, and particularly, the ownership of human beings. Immortan Joe claims ownership of the Wives, who are referred to as Breeders by the War Boys when they are sent to recapture them. As the society of the Citadel in Fury Road is patriarchal in structure, it is the female characters who are most marginalised. In one scene, the viewer is shown a row of women attached to milking machines, demonstrating the symbolic link between women and livestock in the narrative which is then reiterated every time the Wives are referred to as “breeding stock” (all scenes mentioned are listed in as references in the end matter). Max Rockatansky, the male lead, has a symbolic connection with livestock as well in his capacity as a blood donor for the War Boys, and so he is positioned in the narrative as being marginalised along with the female characters. Unlike the female characters, Max has renounced caring relationships and his character arc is concerned mainly with the rediscovery of these relationships as a source of strength and action. The Wives act as the standard for caring-based relationships and selfhood in the film. They repeat the words “we are not things” to each other as though to remind themselves of their selfhood beyond their position in the patriarchal domination of Immortan Joe, and when they escape his Citadel they paint the words onto the walls of their room as a parting message. Immortan Joe does not recognise the personhood of others, however, as demonstrated during the car chase scene when The Splendid Angharad, his favourite wife, shields Imperator Furiosa with her pregnant belly. When Joes sees her, he shouts: “That’s my child! My property!” Furiosa displays several hyper-masculine behaviours, particularly in her dealings with Max, and tries to kill him, but the Wives desire freedom without unnecessary killing. This decision to avoid killing is critiqued over the course of the film as the characters who display masculine traits (Furiosa, Max, and the Vuvalini) are called on to kill in order to defend their care circle – the Wives – from Immortan Joe and his War Boys.
When Max and Nux ally themselves with the Wives, they begin displaying more compassionate, caring behaviours because they have entered into a care circle where they have an emotional duty of care to the people around them, but they continue to exhibit certain masculine traits; the way they exhibit these traits changes from toxic to caring, further demonstrating that it is not necessarily the behaviours which are damaging, but rather the degree to which they are allowed to develop without critique.
ESTABLISHING THE TOXIC MASCULINE BEHAVIOURS
As discussed above, hyper-masculinity becomes toxic when it threatens the lives and selfhood of people and the environment. Fury Road identifies scenes with evidence of toxic masculinity with soundtrack changes that are designed to heighten tension and bombard the viewer with “music noise” (Coyle 2004: 114). During the scenes where the War Boys ride into battle, the soundtrack includes heavy drums and an electric guitar to mix in with the sound of engines revving and men shouting. The overall effect of this is a chaotic blend of sound. These scenes are framed as hyper-masculine and toxic because they centre around the behaviours of the privileged men in the patriarchal structure, but they do so in a way which highlights their wastefulness and lack of necessity. During the first car chase, when the War Boys are going after Imperator Furiosa, the camera pans around to a set of speakers set up as a stage on one of the War Rigs with an electric guitarist on a bungee cord. It serves no narrative purpose, but it highlights the culture which has developed around the War Boys – that they will bring their own musical accompaniment to these battles for no other purpose than to entertain.
Similarly on Romøren and Stephens’ toxic masculinity list is the reverence of sport (2002). When a War Boy dies in battle, he is said to ride eternal in Valhalla, an afterlife populated by those who died in battle in Norse mythology, and War Boys are shown to covet glorious death by shouting “witness me!” as they are dying to ensure that their deaths will be seen and therefore celebrated by those who survive. This behaviour is referred to as “kamikrazee”, a play on the word “kamikaze”. War Boys are repeatedly shown taking suicidal risks in order to destroy their enemies. After Nux “witnesses” several War Boys killed during a sandstorm, rather than being upset when a fellow War Boy is killed, the death is celebrated and “witnessed”, demonstrating the limited emotional connection that the War Boys share between themselves and demonstrating to the audience how the culture of toxic masculinity which prizes the “sport” of death and destruction is supported and maintained.
Although it is never stated explicitly, it is implied throughout the film that War Boys suffer a terminal illness. Given Joe’s preoccupation with having healthy women as breeders, it is likely that the War Boys’ condition is genetic. Nux is introduced to the audience as the recipient of Max’s blood transfusions. At the beginning of the narrative, he displays several of the behaviours identified by Romøren and Stephens including violent behaviour and possessiveness (head-butting a fellow War Boy who tries to take his place on a pursuit vehicle), implicit misogyny (referring to the Wives as “shiny” and “chrome”, using language similar to what one would use to describe a car), and sport-focused (his sport is driving, and hopefully dying, in the service of Immortan Joe) (2002). He calls Max “Blood Bag” throughout the film, and although he prizes the blood for its ability to keep him alive and able to fight (“High-octane crazy blood, filling me up!”), he hitches Max to his car as a hood ornament so that he can help the other War Boys track down Furiosa and the Wives. This demonstrates his objectification of Max – he treats the other man as a vessel for blood, rather than as a thinking, feeling human being. This objectifying behaviour is toxic not only to the characters around Nux, but to Nux himself – because if makes it difficult for him to make personal connections beyond the other War Boys, who mimic and support his behaviours and encourage him to seek a glorious, kamikrazee death.
It is important to recognise that while the War Boys display several toxic, hyper-masculine behaviours, it is not their gender is to blame – rather, it is the culture of patriarchal domination which privileges dangerous and destructive performances of masculinity. War Boys are not entirely without the capacity for caring or recognising the humanity of others. While Nux does treat Max like an object designed for his personal use, he also acknowledges Max’s personhood when he decides to go kamikrazee and take out Furiosa’s War Rig during the sandstorm scene. He calls on Max to “witness” him, indicating that Nux recognises Max as enough of a person for him to act as a witness. Nux also assumes that Max will be offered a reward for recapturing the wives – which demonstrates that he plans to share the credit with Max: “He’s gonna be so grateful. We could ask for anything. I wanna drive the War Rig – what are you gonna ask for?”. This is not self-serving behaviour. The War Boys, while undoubtedly driven in part by a desire for a glorious death, are motivated primarily by their devotion to Immortan Joe. Their hyper-masculine behaviours reflect their devotion. In terms of a care circle, it would seem that their duty of care extends mainly to Joe with other, secondary, care relationships coming up when necessary, but rarely superseding Joe’s place in the hierarchy.
Max Rockatansky’s voiceover at the beginning of the film states his name, former occupation as a “road warrior searching for a righteous cause”, and his current decision to wander to wasteland to forget about the people he had apparently failed to save. Whispered voices, which sound like young women, accompany this narration: “Where are you, Max? Help us, Max. You promised to help us”. The implication here is that Max failed in his capacity as a carer and guardian before the events of this film, and so he has elected to try and forget these failed caring relationships and hide out in the wasteland: “I am the one who runs from both the living and the dead, hunted by scavengers, haunted by those I could not protect… A man reduced to a single instinct: survive”. This opening scene establishes Max as a character who has embraced traits such as aimlessness and being neglectful of his personal appearance. His costume and hair give him a dishevelled, almost feral appearance, and the audience sees him kill and eat a raw lizard before they see his face, further establishing his disconnection with “civilised” humanity. After this voiceover, Max is captured and his personhood erased by the War Boys. As discussed above, the War Boys identify Max as a universal donor and use him as a blood bag for transfusions. This reduction of Max into a tool for the use of War Boys objectifies him, which reinforces his stated singular instinct to survive because it forces him to consider how to escape and reclaim his bodily autonomy. He is driven by the instinct to survive, but not to live. The toxic, patriarchal structure of Immortan Joe’s Citadel mutes Max – the bottom half of his face is obscured for over forty-five minutes of the film – and he communicates with the other characters in a series of grunts and single words. He only speaks to identify objects as belonging to him: “My blood… my head… my jacket”. His removal from caring relationships, coupled with his subsequent objectification at the hands of the War Boys and displaying of the hyper-masculine trait of possessiveness, indicates the character’s detachment from emotional concerns, such as companionship, identity and acceptance.
There is a sense of longing when he is offered the opportunity to regain his voice. When he captures Furiosa and the Wives, he attempts to steal their War Rig and leave them in the hands of Immortan Joe and the War Boys. Furiosa tries to reason with him, but he remains unmoved, and it is only when she offers to remove the muzzle that the War Boys have strapped onto his head that he allows the Wives and Furiosa to get back into the Rig. His desire to speak unhindered is shown to be more powerful than his capacity for reason, at least when it comes to the decision of whether to aid the Wives and Furiosa or to let Immortan Joe reclaim them. He still chooses to hold a gun to The Splendid Angharad, the heavily pregnant favourite wife of Joe, because he recognises the caring relationship she shares with the other Wives and Furiosa. His interactions with Angharad over the course of the next few scenes demonstrate the beginning of his shift into the redevelopment of a care circle, and the beginning of his reclamation of personhood.
The displays of hyper-masculinity among the War Boys and Immortan Joe serve to erase Max Rockatansky’s personhood and contributes to Nux’s kamakrazee desire for a glorious death. Max’s disempowerment at the hands of hyper-masculine characters indicates that the objectification of humans is not limited to women. The women model caring relationships which serve to empower them, and the male characters who have suffered from toxic masculinity learn caring behaviours as a result.
DEVELOPING THE CARE CIRCLE
Max’s time with the Wives allows him to develop his caring behaviours and demonstrate more compassion and empathy. While he refuses to tell Furiosa his name, denying his own personhood and remaining partly complicit in his own disempowerment, he is shown to connect on an emotional level with the Wives as he begins to feel a duty of care towards them. The War Boys muzzle him with sharp metal because he is “a raging feral”, and this element of Max’s costume acts as a reminder for the audience that Max has been claimed by the War Boys and his personhood erased. When he removes the muzzle after meeting the Wives and Furiosa, he speaks the first full sentence which is not designed to indicate his possession of an object. Speaking to Furiosa, he points out of her window and says: “we’ve got more friends”. This is a very important line of dialogue because it indicates his decision to identify himself with the Wives and Furiosa. He remains suspicious of the women and continues to hold a gun on Angharad, but it is a step towards the reclamation of his personhood after the horrors that the hyper-masculine War Boys inflicted on him. Later, when Angharad nearly falls off of the Rig, Max smiles when he sees that she is alright. It is the first smile that the audience sees on this character’s face.
When Angharad dies, falling from Furiosa’s Rig and under the wheels of Immortan Joe’s War Rig, Max is shown to retreat back into himself, not showing any emotion beyond detached disappointment. The remaining Wives and Furiosa all cry for their loss. This clear emotional reaction to Angharad’s death is framed as being essential to Max’s continued emotional development; this comforting, caring behaviour is modelled for him and its usefulness is shown later in the film. The Wives have built a strong care circle, and the narrative of their escape is structured around the support each of the Wives receives from that circle. Their circle extends to accommodate Max, as demonstrated when Furiosa comforts him after a nightmare.
Max is shown to alter his behaviours after this scene by taking a proactive approach to defending the Wives and Furiosa from their pursuers. When they need to stop the Rig to let the engines cool, potentially losing their lead over their pursuers, Max takes a gas can and some weapons and goes to “retaliate first”, telling Furiosa to leave him behind if the engines cool before he returns. The audience does not see Max “retaliate first”, instead they see the red flash of light from an explosion and a rise in the soundtrack. This contrasts with the previous scenes of toxic masculine aggression, indicating that this scene is not meant to be read as glorious or exciting, but as a necessary evil that Max is committing to protect his care circle. Max kills in the name of protecting the care circle he has begun to develop, and not because he enjoys it.
The audience sees Max struggle with the instinct he began the film with – to survive and separate himself from humanity – and the juxtaposition of the care circle he has begun to develop with the Wives and Furiosa. The caring behaviours he is exhibiting are at odds with the decision he made at the beginning of the film to run from the living and the dead. When their group meet up with the Vuvalini, the wild women of the wasteland, Max initially chooses to separate himself from the group. While the women and Nux plan to ride into the Wasteland, Max elects to stay behind, telling Furiosa: “You know hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll… you’ll go insane”. This scene is immediately followed by one where Max is once again being haunted by the people he failed to save, but this time his ghosts appear to be guiding him rather than attacking him. This symbolically demonstrates his intention to move on from his mistakes. The symbolic connection between the care circle he has lost and the care circle he has found solidifies in this scene, and Max is shown to find strength in this connection when he counsels Furisosa to return to the Citadel. Just as he turned back to “retaliate first” earlier in the film, the next scene positions Max as performing the masculine behaviour of decisiveness and pro-active defence. He convinces the women and Nux to return to the Citadel, which is undefended due to Immortan Joe sending out all of his War Boys to recapture the Wives, and reclaim it for themselves.
The Vuvalini are also shown to take proactive measures to defend themselves and their care circle. This is initially framed in opposition to the Wives’ desire to avoid killing. During an exchange between The Dag and one of the elder Vuvalini, The Dag questions why the Vuvalini would exhibit such destructive behaviours:
“Vuvalini: Killed everyone I ever met out here. Headshots, all of them. Snap! Right in the medulla.
The Dag: Thought somehow you girls were above all that.
Vuvalini: Come here. [ The Dag joins the Vuvalini on her bike. The Vuvalini shows her a bag Take a peek.
The Dag: Seeds.
Vuvalini: These are from home. Heirlooms. The real thing. I plant one every chance I get… So far, nothing’s took. Earth’s too sour.
The Dag: Oh, so many different kinds.
Vuvalini: Trees, flowers, fruit. Back then, everyone had their fill. Back then, there was no need to snap anybody.”
While Immortan Joe in his Citadel has the capacity to grow food and pump water from the earth’s core, he does not share these resources; he hoards them and uses them to maintain control. This hyper-masculine self-regarding behaviours exhibited by Immortan Joe supports the gradual destruction of the physical environment. The Vuvalini cannot grow their seeds and support the reclamation of the poisonous, dystopian landscape without the resources of Immortan Joe. The above exchange demonstrates the positive construction of traditionally masculine behaviours when they are positioned as being the result of a duty of care. Motivation is critical in understanding how these behaviours are to be read by the audience. Killing because a character enjoys it is toxic, but killing to defend is acceptable.
Nux’s development from a War Boy antagonist to an ally of the Wives and Furiosa is due in large part to the care relationship he develops with Capable. Nux is shown to take his failure to recapture the Wives as a sign of his being unworthy to enter Valhalla, and when Capable finds him crying in their Rig, she comforts him rather than raising the alarm. It is following this conversation, when Capable gently touches the scars he’s given himself in service of Immortan Joe, that he chooses to ally himself with the Wives and Furiosa and support them in their escape.
The narrative presents two potential reasons for Nux’s decision. On the one hand, he is clearly traumatised by his failure to perform his duties for Joe, particularly when he realises that Max, who Nux has taken personal responsibility for, has betrayed Joe: “He saw it. He saw it all. My own blood bag driving the rig that killed [Angharad]”. It is clear that Nux feels like he cannot return to the Citadel and to Immortan Joe because he has failed his duties. On the other hand, this scene with Capable is the first time the audience sees Nux treated with kindness. The camera focuses on Capable’s hands as she strokes his head to stop him from beating himself. After the toxic masculine culture of the War Boys, the gentle care that Capable models in this scene becomes part of Nux’s behaviours for the remainder of the film.
Nux is shown to expand his care circle to include all of the Wives and Furiosa when the Rig is stuck in a quagmire. Nux takes control of the Rig and drives it forward several yards before hitching the Rig’s winch to a dead tree and getting it out the rest of the way. Capable is the one who explains his intentions to the other characters, shouting: “He wants to help!” Nux’s behaviour in this scene could still be considered masculine, particularly in his decisive decision to act before explaining himself to Furiosa or Max, and in taking control of the situation, but the behaviour is motivated by his intention to help the Wives. Rather than being toxic, this behaviour is a positive expression of masculinity when considered in the context of Nux’s earlier aggressive, destructive behaviours. After successfully moving the Rig out of the mud, Nux continues to reaffirm his new position as part of the Wives’ care circle. He helps the Wives and Furiosa cool and fix the engines. He remains at Capable’s side while they ride through the swamps and the rest of the wasteland, and continues to support them when they reach the Vuvalini. While this sudden transition from hyper-masculine to caring and compassionate could be considered abrupt, the brief indications of compassion in the character’s interactions with Max foreshadow the change. They demonstrate that Nux could engage in a caring relationship if there were space for one in the context of Immortan Joe’s toxic, patriarchal social order. Once Nux has connected with characters who model compassion and caring relationships, the narrative supports his own natural change in character.
Both Max and Nux display hyper-masculine behaviours in toxic and destructive ways at the beginning of their respective character arcs, but they learn more compassionate, caring behaviour after seeing these behaviours models by the Wives and Furiosa in the context of a care circle. Although they continue to display hyper-masculine traits, they are motivated by the duty of care they feel towards the female characters, which renders these traits as positive and productive, rather than destructive and toxic. Once they begin to perform the caring behaviours they have seen modelled, they begin to reclaim their identities and personhood, which were erased by Immortan Joe’s toxic patriarchal society.
RECLAMATION OF THE SELF
The culmination of Nux’s character development can be seen in his final scene, when he dies to give the Wives, the Vuvalini, Furiosa and Max the chance to escape. This scene directly contrasts the scenes where War Boys go kamikrazee and die for Immortan Joe, both in terms of the characters’ behaviour, the reactions of witnesses, and the soundtrack. While kamikrazee scenes are dominated by heavy-metal guitars and loud, rhythmic drum beats, Nux’s death is characterised with the same brass instrumental which accompanied Max’s killing of their pursuers earlier in the film, symbolically linking the two scenes and the motivations behind the behaviours. Max’s scene focused on the hyper-masculine behaviours he exhibited in order to defend his care circle; Nux’s death scene focuses on the traditionally feminine trait of self-sacrifice, which he performs in order to ensure the safety of Capable and the rest of his care circle. It is less of a reclamation of the self, and more of a recognition of the self beyond the culture of destructive hyper-masculinity he had been raised in.
When Nux says “witness me” during this scene, it is not a call designed to draw attention to his actions. It is a whisper which is almost drowned out by the accompanying soundtrack. He makes eye contact with Capable, establishing for the audience that this self-sacrificing behaviour is for her benefit, and she responds with the Vuvalini salute to the dead. This salute is established earlier in the film. The gesture involves reaching towards the fallen warrior and then making a clasping motion and placing the closed fist on the heart – metaphorically drawing that person into the heart of whoever is witnessing the death or grieving their loss. When Nux calls on Capable to witness him, Capable responds not with the hyper-masculine, positive reinforcing behaviours that Nux has grown up with (the screaming, the cheers, the heavy-metal music), but with the female salute to grief. It is a recognition of caring and loss, rather than excitement, and further serves to indicate Nux’s development from toxic masculine behaviours into the more compassionate behaviours modelled by the women in his care circle.
Max reclaims his selfhood by telling Furiosa his name and giving her his blood at the conclusion of the film. After the final car chase, Furiosa is critically injured and Max attempts to treat her injuries. During this scene, Max willingly gives her his blood. This is an important act because it reiterates the importance of choice and ownership—the central themes of the film. Max’s blood was stolen from him while he was held captive by the War Boys. He was a tool and a blood bag, but he had no control over his bodily autonomy, much in the same way that the Wives had no control over their bodily autonomy while they were being raped and impregnated by Immortan Joe. By giving his blood willingly in this scene, Max is taking ownership of his body and claiming it for his own use in order to give it to someone in his care circle.
The scene closes with Max telling Furiosa his name: “My name is Max”. This echoes the opening scene’s voiceover and brings the narrative full-circle, with Max acknowledging reclaiming the sense of self that he lost with the War Boys. This focus on the male character’s reclamation of his bodily autonomy and selfhood might be considered troubling from a feminist standpoint. The female characters are not given similar scenes where they are able to reclaim their bodily autonomy in the same way that Max has. But I would argue that the film itself is a reclamation of the female body. The plot is driven by the Wives’ desire to escape from Joe, and their repeated cries of “we are not things” demonstrates their desire for personhood beyond their place as breeding stock. The film intertwines the narrative arcs of Max and the Wives, so that the desire for autonomy on the part of the female characters paves the way for the reclamation of Max’s sense of self and humanity by allowing him to develop a care circle that he is responsible to.
Mad Max: Fury Road examines and critiques toxic masculinity by portraying male characters as falling victim to the destructive consequences of a society which privileges hyper-masculine gender performances. By developing caring relationships with the female characters in the film, and by learning from the caring behaviours modelled by these women, the male characters begin to re-purpose their hyper-masculine behaviours to be more constructive. Male characters may continue to exhibit these hyper-masculine traits, as do female characters like the Vuvalini and Imperator Furiosa, but they do so because they are motivated by the duty of care they feel towards their care circle.
At the conclusion of the film, Max and the women arrive in the Citadel with Immortan Joe’s body and the crowd celebrates the death of their tyrant. Rather than partake in the celebrations, Max disappears into the crowd after sharing one final nod with Furiosa. This mirrors the scene earlier in the film when Max plans to remain behind while the women and Nux escape into the wasteland, but with one crucial difference: he leaves the Citadel after having reclaimed his selfhood. The scene is structured to give the impression that Max’s duty of care towards Furiosa and the Wives has been satisfied, and now he is free to go back into the wasteland and help more people who need it. The film closes with the quote which is written at the beginning of this paper: “Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves?” The implication is that Max is returning to the wasteland to build on the caring instincts that he has developed since reclaiming his selfhood with Furiosa and the Wives’ help.
This hopeful conclusion to the film is a statement about the potential of contemporary hyper-masculine performing individuals to improve their behaviours and motivations before the world falls to the chaos seen in this dystopian narrative. As discussed in the introduction, media acts as a method for “reaffirming or challenging cultural ideologies, including those gender and masculinity” (Potter, 2007, p. 28). In Fury Road, the patriarchal social structure which privileges hyper-masculinity is critiqued and a counter-argument for the development of feminine care ethics is presented to the audience for their consideration.
1. “Mad Max Fury Road – Milk Farm Scene HD 1080p,” YouTube video, 0:53, posted by “jumpy drake,” Sept 26, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-_7pdF2zU4.
2. “Mad Max: Fury Road – Max vs Furiosa (Full Fight Scene) 1080p,” YouTube video, 3:20, posted by “Movie Scenes,” Aug 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxZ90pP-Bas.
3. “Mad Max: Fury Road – The Splendid Angharad Death,” YouTube video, 3:47, posted by “jenjaesx,” Aug 26, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl5cB8oZFto.
4. “Mad Max Fury Road Guitar Guy (Full Scenes) Good Quality,” YouTube video, 2:05, posted by “MusicAreaHQ,” June 26, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DcqnkzGEFQ.
5. “Mad Max Fury Road First Chase Scene,” YouTube video, 2:56, posted by “Ending Scene,” June 24, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRBu-FxD5W0.
6. “Mad Max Sand Storm Scene,” YouTube video, 3:24, posted by “Chris Bean,” July 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqkP-YztZdo.
7. “Mad Max: Fury Road – Opening Scene,” YouTube video, 5:40, posted by “jenjaesx,” Aug 26, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IJ8_Jf891k.
8. “Mad Max Fury Road – Max Returns,” YouTube video, 2:47, posted by “jenjaesx,” Aug 27, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGW4BTUFNC4.
9. “Mad Max Fury Road – Nux and Capable scene,” YouTube video, 5:40, posted by “jenjaesx,” Aug 28, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1KmglLZ6f4.
10. “Mad Max Fury Road- Nux’s death scene”witness me” -(HD),” YouTube video, 1:11, “The movie scenes,” Aug 15, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTeY_Rlyn2U
11. “Mad Max: Fury Road – Furiosa’s scream,” YouTube video, 2:48, posted by “jenjaesx,” Aug 27, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QOcaW1M3JM.
12. “Mad Max: Fury Road – Max saves Furiosa,” YouTube video, 2:15, posted by “jenjaesx,” Aug 27, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYr3Ylzh5wk.
13. “Mad Max: Fury Road – Final Scene,” YouTube video, 4:06, posted by “jenjaesx,” Aug 27, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UzaRsCrNDY.
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