'Who Killed the World?' Religious Paradox in Mad Max: Fury Road

By McLean, Bonnie | Science Fiction Film and Television, January 3, 2017 | Go to article overview

'Who Killed the World?' Religious Paradox in Mad Max: Fury Road


McLean, Bonnie, Science Fiction Film and Television


George Miller's Mad Max film series examines a dystopian world as imagined by combined destruction of the planet and society through warfare, resource shortage and political instability. Through his vigilante character Max Rockatansky, who battles lawless gangs and fascist warlords, Miller explores the fear of extinction from the combined disasters of nuclear warfare and reproductive crisis. In the latest instalment, Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller US 2015), Miller utilises religious ideology, practice and language to highlight simultaneously ecological exploitation and abuse of women - behaviours that culminate in the oppressive consumerist and religious rhetoric of the film's villain, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Miller contrasts the rigid power structure of Immortan Joe's society with depictions of the women who defy his rule and present an ecofeminist social model that promotes a society of mutual dependence, gender equality and respect for the Earth.1 He illustrates pregnancy and the woman's body simultaneously as manifestations of individual agency that decry abuses of power by Immortan Joe (echoing the ecological exploitation undertaken by Joe throughout the film), who views the female body as a product that will perpetuate his lineage.

Miller connects the male exploitation of the female body with human exploitation of the Earth to suggest that these fates are linked by the ability (or inability) to reproduce a system of power, which then yields a kind of exploitation of natural resources and human lives. While the women's reproductive capacities are appropriated for a man's self-appointed ideological purposes, they also serve to spark a promise that the Earth may be made whole again. The traditional Edenic 'recovery' narrative is disrupted by feminist agency, as noted in the article 'Re-casting Nature as Feminist Space in Mad Max: Fury Road', also featured in this issue. Through ecofeminist matriarchal religious practice, Miller examines the masculine appropriation of reproductive power in order to track the effects of oppression on vulnerable populations and on the Earth itself. In this way, he unites ecological concerns surrounding the Earth with gendered anxieties about women and childbirth to posit a theory of the Earth's destruction and suggest a blueprint for its restoration.

Yet Miller complicates this optimistic solution by adding aspects of religious practice, linked to social customs and political affiliations. Through the conflicts between the warlord and his wives, he constructs divergent religious practices as a means of explaining 'Who killed the world?' - the question Immortan Joe's wives continually pose. The film's plot sets up a patriarchal religious structure in which Immortan Joe acts as religious leader, the Citadel becomes a place of worship, and the War Boys enact rituals and recite incantations in order to win Immortan Joe's approval and hope to win a glorious death.2 Miller contrasts this oppressive religious cult with a subtle yet equally resonant religion from a matriarchal perspective. Practiced by the Vuvalini and Immortan Joe's warrior, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), this communal faith finds converts in the wives, who murmur Earth-centred liturgy and seek to become one with the Earth. By decentring hierarchy and creating a religious practice focused on the Earth and its inhabitants, this matriarchal religious practice exposes injustice and inequality of our own present-day world. Yet the matriarchal religious model offers no easy solutions with which to restore the Earth to a desired ideal of balance and harmony.

From these ideological contrasts, Miller introduces a paradox that forms the film's central conflict. While oppressive patriarchal practices purport to embody an imbalanced hierarchical power structure as a means of preserving natural resources and the human species, such a means of salvation is only available to an elite few, while abusing the trust of the poor and oppressed. …

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