Mad Max: Fury Road - Innocuous Feminism
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Despite all the “controversy” surrounding Fury Road’s portrayal of women, there is nothing intrinsically radical about it. What’s shocking–that real controversy–is the near-violent reaction detractors have had to a film that does nothing more than say people have the right to, you know, not be sex slaves.

It’s crazy!

Fury Road doesn’t even have time to be some potent treatise on feminism in action cinema. It doesn’t have time to do those deep dives into major philosophical crises. It’s busy being the leanest and most furious chase sequence in cinematic history. It’s action so constant and unrelenting that this self-professed action fan had to ask herself if it would ever slow down. For more than an hour I was breathless–exhausted by the neverending race across Australia that was unfolding before my eyes.

This film is spectacle first–its “feminist” plot is lean enough to be mistaken for a steak from FreshDirect. It is enjoyable to find a film teeming with fascinating women and giving them the large majority of the dialogue, but their stories are there not to radically alter someone’s world view. Rather they’re there to inform and give gravitas to things like a car chase featuring grenade spears and fire-spewing guitars.

Director George Miller has always had a canny eye so I wasn’t that shocked to see the canvas of a comic book he’s created out of real live people. He takes absurdist displays of opulence and serves them as reprehensible counterpoints to the grueling world everyone else lives in. The peons are all made up of festering sores and grotesque tumors while the upper echelons of society include boys surviving on breast milk collected from women onscreen and a corpulent Wall Street spoof who gleefully rubs his nipples, exposed via cut outs in his three-piece suit.

So yeah, nothing in the film shocked me–it merely met and frequently surpassed my expectations. Junkie XL’s score alone is worth the price of admission and John Seale’s cinematography is maybe the most colorful and exciting that it’s been in a decade.

No, what shocked me (okay really more confused me) has been audiences’, and particularly critics’, reactions to the film. That whole bit about it being “feminist manifesto.” After MRAs famously raged on Reddit in 4-Chan critics have glommed onto it as the great feminist oeuvre action fans have hungered for. That seems really cool right? I mean who doesn’t want a fem-friendly film as radical as critics have made Fury Road out to be?

And they have made it radical.

While “feminist” is a turn bandied about casually on Tumblr and in blogs like this one it is still considered controversial in the mainstream. We all still have friends on Facebook who won’t admit to being feminists and I’ve no doubt that some of the readers who will stumble across this essay will rankle at the mere mention of the word.

Hearing folks’ liberal use of “feminist” in association with Fury Road I have to admit I got a little “mainstream” myself and went in expecting something more than the “we are not property” graffiti scrawled across the wall. I thought I’d see some rallying cry for the death of all men. Maybe the film using a monologue to senselessly pound into my head how damaging the patriarchy is. I honestly expected the irritating and shoddy kind of feminism that’s come to be associated with the word.

Instead, I got a movie where women are characters with arcs. Where they demand to not be used as chattel. Where old motorcycle-riding Amazons use their femininity to lure in unsuspecting folks and murder them for supplies. Where the Bechdel test is passed in the first fifteen minutes.

I got a film where women are treated with equality and given a big slice of the narrative pie.

That is feminism. That’s what blogs like FemPop preach day in and out. I couldn’t be more delighted to see a genuinely feminist film–especially one that also now stands as one of the best action films ever made.

But I’ve got to be a little bummed too. Because the feminism on display in Fury Road is so innocuous. The fact that it isn’t radical–that it’s so “duh” to anyone with half a brain and an ounce of empathy–leaves me bummed. It’s like the world treating a fart like a god damned hurricane.

Fury Road isn’t going to change the way the world perceives women in narrative–not if the mere inclusion of women is getting such fanfare. But it’s such a fantastic action film and such a breathless race towards hope and a life beyond the crushing patriarchal grind these characters exist in that that may be enough.

It isn’t the stunning feminist epic you may have been promised, but it’s stunning all the same and should not be missed.

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