The last time I went to see Mad Max Fury Road (Sunday), I went with my mom and her husband (and my partner, but that should generally be assumed lolol). My mom admitted after the movie that she’d been afraid she wouldn’t like it but had faith that she would enjoy something I did so much. But of course she loved it.
What was interesting though, is that her husband, a man who loves action movies, didn’t seem so sure about it. Oh, he didn’t hate it, but he didn’t seem to find it spectacular either. He finally at one point said that he wasn’t sure he cared for how Max starts out the movie so weak—how he gets caught so quickly, so easily, and then is essentially useless for the first quarter of the movie. (See also this brilliant meta that addresses this very thing, though in a different way than I hope to.) I think he mentioned this in close proximity to me talking to my mom about how great it is that the movie is dealing with domestic/sexual violence, but we don’t actually see any sexual violence perpetrated against Immortan Joe’s prisoners—my Revolutionaries.
The juxtaposition of those thoughts made me realize that, on some level:
We experienced the violence and degradation of the Revolutionaries through Max.
Narratively, this is kind of obvious. It’s through Max that we get to see how awful the Citadel is, and we get to see why the Revolutionaries wouldn’t want to remain there. But it’s so much more nuanced than that.
When people think about rape, what do they imagine? Often a woman tied up and being penetrated, hurt. We may picture them fighting back a bit (and probably getting hurt for it), but ultimately there’s nothing they can do. They get reduced to their body, and their body gets used up. In a very real sense, rape victims feel branded for life and often experience things akin to PTSD if not actually developing it.
What do we see happen to Max? He’s strung up, humiliated by the unceremonious cutting of all his hair (they did a really good job with the facial hair though, I might say). He gets silenced (gagged), and it’s implied he eventually gets branded. While he’s being held in chains, he’s being tattooed, a literal form of (mild) penetration. Later we know they stick needles in him, and his body is used for the purpose of life: to keep Nux alive and strong. This last act also parallels the very purpose of Immortan’s prisoners. Max is there to keep war boys alive: the women are there to bring war boys (though hopefully an heir apparently) into the world in the first place. Their bodies are used to sustain the physical bodies of others.
So Max undergoes a metaphorical rape in lieu of us ever seeing the women experience it. The place where depicting their rape could have narratively fit into the plot of this movie, we see the vulnerability of Max and the stripping of his agency instead.
This doesn’t mean that Max’s treatment should necessarily be compared and contrasted with the Revolutionaries’ experiences. They all had shitty lots under Immortan Joe’s rule, and that’s ultimately the point! One that I think the movie clearly handled well. Under joe’s tyranny, the bodies of the people around him are his commodities.
And it’s not something we see very often in media. Oh, sometimes we get torture scenes that star our male heroes, but they have a different flavor. They’re usually being questioned, or the villain is exacting their vengeance against our hero. They, as an individual, are vital to what is happening to them and is what propelled them to that place in their story. In contrast, the violence against Max has nothing to do with him as an individual, similarly to sexual violence. It’s about those in the Citadel using his body for their purposes—ultimately their domination over him and everyone else. In their society, he is replaceable in a way that other scenes in movies that depict the violation of men are not, and those depictions always further a man’s character arc and play on his importance.
In other movies, violence against our male heros happens along the way; it happens as a result of his actions; it happens because he has engaged with the enemies, put himself in their path. And that’s so very… male.
Max doesn’t engage the enemy, doesn’t get in their way. He just exists, and they chase him down. They take his vehicle though they’ve likely never seen him or it before. Max (and his car) simply exist and have entered Citadel territory; therefore, he and his things become Citadel property. The violence against Max is portrayed so much more the way we’re used to seeing violence against women, and it’s unnerving and unpleasant and probably made some men feel the affects and revulsion against that kind of violence in a way they never have before, because for once the face of that victim is male. For once, the character they’re supposed to imagine themselves as is getting attacked and violated without provocation, senselessly.
And this wasn’t something that struck me as too out of the ordinary right away. I definitely realized it’s not something we see very often, but it narratively didn’t bother me, seem out of place, or even that strange—though clearly there was something unique in that it was our main, male protagonist. But then again, I am invested in my female characters in my media, and I’m honestly quite used to seeing this be part of a woman’s narrative. Being dominated over and overcoming that is a very common story arc that starts a strong female character’s story, but it’s not a common one for our male heroes. Male heroes experience pain and brutalization as a plot point on their way through the story, not as a starting point, not as something to run away from or exact vengeance for.
And if you didn’t check out the meta I link to at the top, you should, because it highlights just how unique and important it is that it happens to Max. It’s unique and bold storytelling. It lets men (Nux too) be vulnerable and emotional and lost and to find themselves along the way instead of simply knowing who they are and who they should be and just being that.
Maybe someday I’ll talk more about it, but Max and Nux have the most transformative character arcs in this movie. Furiosa as a character really doesn’t change too much. As fuckyeahisawthat exquisitely puts it:
“If the action is being driven by Furiosa’s choices, it’s worth asking why Max is there at all. And here is where Fury Road does us one better than just replacing a lone male hero with a lone female one.
Fury Road is a dual protagonist narrative. Max isn’t there just as a supporting character. But because Furiosa’s storyline does so much of the heavy lifting in terms of moving the plot along, Max is freed up to have a story that’s mostly about his feelings.”
And gosh, how refreshing is that?!
“Max’s Violation: A Substitute for The Prisoners’ Pain” ©thoughtfulfangirling, originally posted 9 June 2015