Fury Road and some thoughts on meaningful narrative!


I had a really interesting discussion with justinoaksford earlier today regarding narrative messages and creative intent – and while I usually keep this blog to art stuff, I think we both had enough aha moments that some of it might be worth sharing. Bear with me, as I’m sure most of this will be painfully obvious to anyone who is a writer, even if it felt revelatory to me at the time :B

This conversation came up, of course, because of the incredible and much-discussed feminist storytelling in Mad Max: Fury Road. There are about 8 million articles on that already which are all fantastic, so I won’t go into that specifically. What had piqued Justin’s and my interest was the question of how and why. Movies and stories like Fury Road are super powerful and can be a real force for good in the world. As people who are in the film/games biz, who want to tell stories ourselves, we want to know how to make things like that!

There are people out there with the opinion that entertainment is just entertainment, and social agendas should be left out – it’d be too preachy, it’d constrain something that’s supposed to be fun and escapist. There’s a grain of truth in this, in the sense that if a specific lesson is shoehorned into a story, instead of being an organic part of it, that lesson will feel, well… like a lesson. It’ll be obvious, pasted-on, and can detract from the fun of being entertained. However, that initial assumption – that social justice has no place in entertainment –  also assumes that entertainment without a “social agenda” has no kind of impact on the people consuming it. I would confidently say that media affects people very deeply, regardless of whether or not the creator had any kind of agenda or intention, and regardless of whether or not the person consuming the media realizes it. In fact, it’s when the messages come in a super entertaining form that our barriers are lowest, and we accept as emotional truth some pretty deep, unconscious lessons about ourselves, others, and how the world works – at least according to that story.

Which brings me back around to Fury Road. It’s unquestionably full of the fieriest kind of social justice around, wrecking the patriarchy like nobody’s business, giving us amazing examples of men and women hurt by it and trying reclaim themselves from it. It’s been analyzed almost to death already, and it’s hard to imagine that a message so resonant could be in any way accidental. But George Miller himself has said that there wasn’t a feminist agenda in the beginning:


The meaningful nature of the story grew really organically out of a scenario involving these wives escaping. And I think the entire reason it became the furious beautiful feminist thing it became, instead of sliding into a cheap “Max helps a bunch of sexy women” story (as it easily might have in the hands of a lazier creator), is because Miller cared about those characters as people. The exact manifesto in the movie – “WE ARE NOT THINGS” – is why his story doesn’t cheapen or fall flat, and why it resonated and provided so much meaning. He didn’t set out to tell a feminist story, but he had empathy for literally everyone he put on screen, and clearly did his best to imagine and construct how they would feel and respond to a situation like the one in Fury Road. And as he picked his way forward through the decade of development this went through, he cared enough to research, and to get experts like Eve Ensler to add their experience and knowledge. And none of this was to paste anything on, to preach, or to shoehorn anything in – it was to make sure the story and the characters that drove it were simply better, truer, more interesting, more entertaining.

Basically, it’s good writing.

Meaningful stories that deconstruct our world are things that happen naturally when, as a writer/storyteller, you care about your characters as real people affected by the world they live in. And when your characters act like humans, not things, you can achieve films like Fury Road, where the excellence of the fire tornadoes and Doof Warrior-backed car melees is enhanced a hundredfold by the fact that you, as an audience member, care about everyone on screen.

So this: 


And this:


…are not in any way opposed, but are facets of a cohesive whole that would be way less excellent for the loss of either.

This isn’t to say that having a conscious point to your stories should be in any way avoided. Rather, there’s a lot to be said for discovering the meaning and power in a story – by writing with empathy and honesty within a story or world that you as a creator feel kid-at-Christmas gleefully excited about, and staying open to expanding into the territory your characters lead you to when you let them.

More often than not I suspect that effort and openness will lead to other Fury Roads.

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Tags: fury road.

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