Everything you need to know about Mad Max Fury Road is found in its midpoint scene.
Fury Road basically explodes in your face, so you have to wait until the adrenaline wears off to poke around in the ashes for things like character and theme. I saw it in the theater multiple times and each viewing made the movie a richer experience. There’s a lot to unpack here. Is Fury Road a feminist movie? Of course it is. But feminism is just its starting point, because everything in this movie is over-the-top, including its theme.
This post is filled with spoilers, which is why I waited for the DVD release to write it. So watch the movie, then come back so we can talk about…
This scene. Everyone’s favorite.
It comes sixty-six minutes into a two hour movie. It’s the centerpiece of the film, not just in plot but in theme.
But to understand why it’s so important, we need to look at an earlier turning point. About a quarter of the way into the movie, Max and Furiosa are still enemies. Max has disarmed Furiosa’s party. He has all the guns. He’s holding Angharad as a hostage. And Furiosa says the strangest thing to him.
She doesn’t ask for his help. She doesn’t threaten him with her hidden knife. She doesn’t try to negotiate. She says four simple words that don’t make any sense at all.
“I need you here.”
Except they make perfect sense in the context of the entire movie. Because Fury Road’s central question, “Who killed the world?” does not lay the blame at the feet of all men. Nux and the other warboys are victims just as much as Immortan Joe’s wives are. So is Max “Bloodbag” Rockatansky, whose only mistake was trying to survive alone in the Wasteland. The problem isn’t men. It’s toxic masculinity—the pointless machismo that glorifies power for power’s sake and values battlefield prowess above all else. (The Citadel’s society is so toxic it has literally become cancerous.)
Which brings us to the midpoint scene. The Bullet Farmer is coming after them in the dark. Max takes a shot at him and misses. Toast shouts, “You’ve got two left!” Max misses again.
We know action movies. We know what’s supposed to happen next. The hero is supposed to smirk over his shoulder at the girl who dared to sass at him and then fire off the perfect shot. That’s what we’re conditioned to see on the screen.
Instead, Max thinks about it for a second, then hands the rifle to Furiosa. He knows she has a better chance of success. Remember, earlier that day, she killed two men on a moving motorcycle with one shot from a standing position.
Furiosa can probably make this shot, too.
But in the Wasteland, with one bullet left, probably isn’t good enough. She needs a tripod, and there’s nothing in the landscape but mud and a tree. Max, however, is solid and steady, exactly what she needs, and he knows weapons well enough to understand why it’s important. When Furiosa rests the rifle on Max’s shoulder, she’s telling him (in actions this time instead of words) “I need you here.”
And then they go to meet the Vuvalini, which is when things really get interesting.
Because everyone loves the Badass Biker Grannies of the Wasteland. Heck, many of us want to be Badass Biker Grannies someday. But nobody seems to notice that the matriarchy is every bit as dysfunctional as the patriarchy.
As bad as it was, the Citadel at least had water and plants and children. But the Vuvalini see all men as the enemy and their society is dying. The Green Place is gone. The Earth is too poisonous to grow anything. And in case the audience misses those clues, we also see one of the women trying to grow a seedling in an animal skull.
Gee, who else uses skulls for every possible purpose?
There is only one way to fix the broken world. There is only one way for Max and Furiosa—for all of us—to achieve redemption, and that’s by working together.
So when Furiosa wants to keep running across the salt, Max convinces her that becoming like the Vuvalini won’t help. You can’t escape the problems of the world. You have to face them. He insists they can go back to the Citadel and overthrow the old order. It will be a hard day, but if they work together, men and women can make a better world.
When Max holds out his hand, you see him alone, but when Furiosa clasps his hand in agreement, it’s from the reverse angle, showing everyone together—because Furiosa has waited for every single person to be on board before agreeing to this plan.
That’s the central message of Fury Road. Is it a feminist movie? Of course it is.
And it’s also so much more.