Monday, June 22nd, 2015



Fury Road – Physics & Feminism


Warning – philosophizing ahead.

In a previous post conversation with malibujojo we were talking about Max & Furiosa’s fight, which led me to thinking about the broader context for the fight.  And once I get started, I kinda just keep writing.  Better to start a new post rather than clutter the previous one :)

I said:

….and then in the final moment, having overcome everyone in this 4-way brawl, when you’re going holy shit she is so fucking done, what does he do? fires 3 warning shots into the sand next to her head.  WHY??  Why does he spare her?  It’s a moment of instinctive something – training, compassion…what? and I exhale in disbelief, no sense of victory or relief.

and malibujojo has a great answer – Max is seeking a moment of calm to figure out what the hell he wants, what he should do next.  The warning shots are everybody SHUT THE FUCK UP.  Perfect – yes!  That fits exactly.

my response:

For anyone aiming to control the outcome, gaining control of the chaos, of the various vectors of danger, of the intersecting elements of all, is step one.  Shut the fuck up, indeed.  Warning shots are the most efficient deescalation at his disposal.


If he’s looking to have the best possible outcome along a path-of-least-resistance from the humans around him, NOT killing is a much much smarter move.  It saves dealing with now-probably-unhinged survivors, and it spares him the most possible energy to keep him mind clear enough to formulate a workable plan. [poor Max, he’s operating on almost no mental spoons]

[annnnd here’s where redshoes delightedly goes off the rails!  Nah – here’s where redshoes expands from one scene to an overall theme of the movie.  Like she does.  Because context is everything.  Here goes:]

There is one hanging thread in this scene for me – and it relates to an ethic I’ve been pondering that runs through the whole movie.  Furiosa didn’t hesitate more than a second before pulling the trigger on the shot gun.  Max knows absolutely and for sure she is a deadly threat and given the chance she wouldn’t even hesitate the next time because now she’s seen the extent of his capability.  And yet he doesn’t react with the same deadly-force-is-the-only-option approach.  Instead he bargains for a moment to think.  I think this is one of those moments when the movie tacitly acknowledges how different the stakes are between men and women:  she cannot safely subdue him, he’s simply too strong.  He would be a constant danger.  But he can safely subdue her and carve out a moment to think.  She didn’t have a choice; he did – a simple fact they both must know to the bone, living in the wasteland.  He wouldn’t blame her for that.  It’s just reality. **

In every way, this movie respects physics – bodies fall and break.  It also respects the realities of size and strength and how the men and women strategize for that reality.  The men are stronger, the women are trickier.  Furiosa’s skill as a sharp shooter is no accident; the Vulvalini are, every single one of them, sharp shooters.  It’s their best tactic – don’t even let the men get close.  The grannies do everything they can to stay out of reach – because once they close with a male attacker, the odds of winning drop dramatically.  While they’re all fighting on the rig they maintain distance as best they can – swing the rifle stock at your attacker, don’t get close enough for him to hit you.  Hide and sneak attack. Trick, feint or pick ‘em off one at a time from a high perch.

There’s a moment in the brawl on top of the rig when one of the grannies has been barely fending off a war boy and when it comes to a moment where Max can get to him, he just wipes the guy off the map. [in my brain I was going ‘aw maaan – menfolk! UN FAIR! …and hot.  reeeeally fuckin’ hot.  yes, I am a hominid who would chose the strongest mate, it’s all true]  This is the reality of strength, and they played it that way without apology.  Way to go, George Miller, way to go.

I admire that they did not choose to have super-human-strength women.  The grannies are grannies – however strong their harsh desert life makes them. But they are crafty.  The wives are sheltered women who have never had the opportunity to learn to fight or sharpen their reflexes or strengthen their muscles.  In the wives, it is their will that is strong.  Furiosa is nearly 6 feet tall and has been forced by living among the war boys to always play at the top of her game physically – maximizing her native strength and honing her tactics for times when her strength won’t be enough.  And even that cannot save her against a similarly sized man (yeah, he’s shorter, but they probably weigh pretty close :P) and the complication of Nux suddenly waking up.  Everything about the way she approaches that fight says she knows she’s got to win before the fight is even fully started, before Max can get his bearings, and when that doesn’t happen, she gets increasingly desperate, angry, ferocious.  

I keep seeing people growl that this isn’t a ‘feminist movie’ because it doesn’t emphasize women over men, or doesn’t gift women with strength or skills or magic that they do not have in real life so they can prevail over men.  It doesn’t have women dominate the plot until it warps under the weight – in mirror image to how male-dominated misogynistic action movies do.  

People seem to be forgetting that feminism isn’t about the dominance of women – it’s about the equality of women.  

Fury Road tells a story about the realities of women, and the feminine principle as a whole, in a brutal patriarchal society; but the point-of-view of the film refuses to be complicit with that in-universe stripping of agency.  In doing so, the ethics of the film show women as having equal value, equal agency, being equally deserving of freedom, fulfillment and their own destinies.

Magically endowing the women with super strength or insta-skills would have allowed the movie to handwave the entire issue of patriarchy, of misogyny, of feminism – and that’s what hollywood has been doing for more than 20 years now.

But George Miller didn’t fall for that trap.  Without even thinking about it, he wrote the women as people – and let the actors’ gender declare for itself.

That’s feminism, folks.  

**[as a woman with a background in combat sports, blackstump has a fantastic insight here‘He’s trying to fight her, she’s trying to execute him.’ That’s it exactly!  he has that choice…she does not] [this has been your ETA for today]


This is a great analysis and I agree with almost everything said here and admire the movie quite a bit for the equality that is presence, especially in acknowledgement of differences.

The only disagreement I have is that there is one inequality in the representation of men and woman in the film- all of the women in the film have benevolent motivations. Not one of them is evil. Not one of them is wholly selfish. It might feel nitpicky, but the idea that women, especially in sisterhood, are blameless, particularly with leading questions like “Who killed the world?”, is damaging as well as sexist. Especially when many modern feminist circles have a horrible confirmation bias that lets them continue to hold hateful, hurtful, and counterproductive outlooks as though they are not responsible for their actions. Just something to keep in mind.


This is entirely a ymmv response – but this is the reason I didn’t include any discussion of this concept in my original post.  So!  No disrespect – this is interpretation, this is shades of rage vs. shades of nobility.  This is just my way of seeing :)

Here goes:

Something that is much less interpretable in the film (you really have to look for an unfamiliar intent expressed non-verbally in actions-over-words), but that Charlize Theron has made crystal clear in interviews, is that Furiosa is not out for any feminist-linked purity of cause.  She’s not freeing these women – she’s STEALING them. Her goal is to HURT the Immortan, because he took her from home, killed her mother, tried to make her a breeder, cast her aside when she was barren…he destroyed her life.

Furiosa isn’t in this for a benevolent cause – she’s in this for VENGEANCE.  And that takes a while to change. *thinks for a moment*  The first time she shows concern for the wives beyond ‘valuable cargo’ is after Angharad dies – Capable says she’ll go in back to be the lookout and Furiosa snaps fearfully, “No. I want you to stay together!”  She’s made the transition – these are no longer cargo, no longer her vehicle to vengeance…these are people.

In the overall arc, it’s that battle that solidifies the course of both Furiosa and Max.  Now they are no longer running scared, gunning for vengeance or enacting rage or terror.  Now is when we can say that some positive purpose starts to crystalize, aligning the course of their actions. The mission starts to emerge.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley playing Angharad is very clear that her character is full of conflict, expressing that in her actions – she risks herself, she risks the baby, she acts recklessly – she is not acting in a benevolent noble-purpose model either.  She is profoundly self destructive in her horribly conflicted state of wanting to protect a baby conceived in rape.  She is moved by rage to scream “Who killed the world” at a kid she has just defended as a kid! Just a boy at the end of his half life!  Her rage is consuming her, even as she’s trying to think justly.

On seeing the true stakes involved, Cheedo loses it – decides to go back to Joe.  She’s been running scared, and now she breaks and abandons her friends, their mission, the whole thing.  That’s not a benevolent purpose – that’s a young woman in terror.

The Keeper of the Seeds is full of remorse about killing everyone they come across – at long range, before they can evaluate good or evil, purpose or intent!  This is a purely selfish act – survival above all else, because the risk is too great to act otherwise.  The Dag calls her on it, and she tries to explain…but the truth isn’t pretty, and she doesn’t try to deny it.

These character points are all evident in the film – they’re THERE, it’s not that they are hidden or down-played or pasted on as after thoughts to appease.  I think it’s just hard for us to see them at all.  We’re so conditioned to a set of movie tropes that these character realities don’t fit…that we almost cannot interpret, “These women are just as flawed as any realistic character.  They, too, have suffered warping of their world-view at the hands of the culture they were embedded in – they see all men as the enemy.  They have healing to do.”

Second wave feminism fell prey to this point of view, this rage, and got mired in it, couldn’t get past it.  Feminism as a whole is still pulling out of this tailspin that soured both its reputation and its expression.  Rage is not the end point of healing – it is only one step along the way.

The women – the people – of Fury Road are just starting down the road to healing. They are not good souls with pure motivations – they are messy, conflicted, angry at the wrong causes or wrong people or simply too angry to seek justice over vengeance.  Part of their character journey, is to take them from a destructive rage to a constructive anger.

It’s yet another way George Miller impresses the socks off of me – because the flip-side of the “magical super-strong woman” trope, is the “we women are noble, you men are base” trope.

And he refuses to fall into either aspect of that trope, of that myth, of that lie.


Thank you for your amazing response! I’ve only just seen the film for the first time, so our differences in familiarity with the content shows, but upon your pointing out evidence of the realism of the women of Fury Road out I’m very inclined to agree with you. There was much more nuance in there than I originally realized, and I think I find even more agreement with you at the end. The characters aren’t unselfish or benevolent in their own context, but it is very easy from our perspective to see them as such, because their rescue mission seems like the most benevolent purpose there is. 

An additional thing I realized, thinking about egalitarianism in Fury Road, is that the male characters seemed to be in many ways as damaged by their society as the women are. The hypermasculinity and unnecessary masochism of the War Boys can be comparable to self destructive measures of masculinity on our own world. It is important that there are multiple representations f these Kamakrazee characters, so we can see that they are both brainwashed and deserve and responsible for their own destruction, and Max’s role as a male character who is none of the above and still hurt is yet more lovely analogy.

On that note, if you’re willing to respond again, I’d be very interested in your thoughts on one related question: Do the female characters of Fury Road reflect culpability for the world they live in? Did they contribute to this damaging society?

Thank you again so much for your excellent analysis!

*tips hat* It takes two!

Totally absolutely YES on the men being every bit as damaged as the women by the reviling of any feminine principle in their whole society.  And while I understand that women in the midst of healing from the wounds of misogyny are not in a place to [nor are they responsible to] offer much compassion or help to men needing to heal, I hope that the end goal of ALL the healing, is to help humanity get the fuck out of this hole it’s dug for itself.  Fury Road gives us even that perspective, and it’s a beautiful one :)

Do the women in-universe reflect culpability for the world they live in…let me think outloud for a few minutes here.  Furiosa’s choice of the word redemption as her need, is damning of herself.  She has participated in this system far more than she can stand – she can no longer live with herself and so takes radical action, kicking off the whole story.  

So then we’re stuck asking the question – if she finished her own childhood inside this system, seeing no way out, doing whatever she had to do to survive which surely meant perpetuating the abusive culture she’s trapped by…can we call that culpable?  Is a rape victim culpable if she decides struggling will put her in more danger than just getting through the experience?  Is any victim of racial/orientation/religious/[insert here] oppression choosing to survive by whatever means necessary…culpable, partly to blame for the system oppressing them because they don’t choose to die?

Furiosa sees herself as having played by the Immortan’s rules for an unforgivably long time.  Without knowing the backstory, we only have her word for it (and damn, the comics are so fucked up I’m not at all sure how we can take them as canon – they read like non-con, OOC fanfic of the sleaziest sort).  But we know from a zillion case histories that victims of abuse almost universally feel guilt, feel culpability, feel they contributed to it. Sooo I’m calling Furiosa an unreliable narrator on that bit.  Sorry Furiosa.

Is Miss Giddy culpable?  For…what?  For staying and teaching the girls if that was all she had the skills to do?  For all we know she planted the seeds of rebellion in every word she taught (headcanon alert!), which would make her a revolutionary in her own hidden way.  Or she was simply a survivor, doing the best she could to stay alive.  Would that make her a cog in the wheel of patriarchy?  Does her willingness to sacrifice herself to Joe’s fury at the end redeem her, if so?

Not everyone is cut out to run an underground railroad or launch a rebellion or make a martyred stand – and I will never be comfortable telling (or naming) someone oppressed by institutionalized abuse that they were complicit in their abuse because they made the choice to survive rather than die – because they were not cut out to be heroes.

In a system that won’t literally kill you, one can surely make the argument that women with privilege who do not act to help women without, are blameworthy.  Here in the US, I could make that call.  In a system that will literally kill you, I most assuredly cannot make that call.  I don’t have the experience of what it is like to live that way and thus do not have the right to make that judgement.

So coming back around to answer your question:  Coming from my perspective, I’ve got to say culpability on the part of the women for furthering the misogynistic culture they were in, isn’t applicable as a concept.  Totally my opinion and in no way a judgement on this conversation. 

I believe it goes beyond culpability into a different realm – Furiosa whether or not one can call her complicit-with or contributing-to the abusive nature of the culture she was trapped in, took responsibility anyway.

And ultimately?  That’s what’s critical to healing the aftermath of abuse or oppression.  It may not be our mess to clean up, but if we don’t take responsibility for the clean-up, we most assuredly are complicit in the unhealed damage.

You don’t do that?  Then I’ll get out the ‘culpable’ stick :)

[apologies, once again, for the whacked formatting :P – tumblr no longer lets you nest indents, grr.]

Reposted from