An iconic feminist consultant ensures that Mad Max: Fury Road won’t be your typical testosterone-drive action spectacle. by
Anyone who’s seen the first three Mad Max movies knows the drill by now. There will be fun post-apocalyptic fashion (chain mail if we’re lucky), a number of car chases, daring stunts, and, at the center of it all, a laconic, macho road warrior named Max Rockatansky. (Played this time around by Tom Hardy.) But before you chalk all this up to another testosterone-fueled day at the movies, you should know that new female characters played by Charlize Theron, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton have the potential to flip certain action movie tropes on their head. In fact, Mad Max director George Miller enlisted the help of activist, feminist icon, and Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler in order to ensure that Fury Road wasn’t just another story about helpless female victims; it’s a story about empowered survivors.
There should be little doubt after the first few trailersthat Theron’s rough and tumble character Imperator Furiosa is not to be trifled with. But action driving the film involves Furiousa (and Max) rescuing five former female captives with less intimidating names such as Toast, Fragile, and Splendid. Is this just another iteration of a worn-out trope of beautiful women as prizes and precious cargo? Splendid herself, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, says no. In an interview with Esquire, she raved about the opportunity to work on her character with Eve Ensler:
"We were so lucky that George arranged for Eve Ensler, who wrote the Vagina Monologues, to fly in and work with us girls for about a week. We did extensive research with her. Eve herself has had a very intense life. She’s spent time in the Congo working with rape victims and women who have had unthinkable things happen to them through the power of men's hands. We were able to pick her brain for a week. She told us the most tragic stories I’ve ever heard in my life, which gave us so much background to our characters. We really wanted to kind of showcase that. It was a privilege to have her around to make these characters something more then just five beautiful girls."
There’s no way to know for certain, but it’s possible Miller recognized the limitations a male director and three male writers faced in trying to cover every nuance of a story about female exploitation and survival. And it’s no wonder, given some of the harrowing story details Huntington-Whiteley revealed, that Miller would want to approach some of Mad Max: Fury Road with a delicate touch. She told Esquire:
"Splendid was just so cool to play because she’s so conflicted, so layered. She’s pregnant through rape and she has been held captive her whole life. It was so interesting to think: how would she feel about carrying this child? Does she have these natural maternal instincts that a lot of mother's feel? Is she enjoying being pregnant? Is she having that time of pure love or is she angry? Does she have any regard for this child? What does she feel about that? I think that I never really knew what she was going to feel because I don’t think even she would know. I think it was all very confusing for her. She was conflicted. That’s why a lot of her actions in this film are reckless."
But fans of the original trilogy shouldn’t worry. Just because Miller took care to develop his female characters, that doesn’t mean Fury Road will be lacking in any of the eye-popping visuals or brooding heroism they’ve come to expect. (In fact, Tom Hardy recently revealed that he’s signed on for at least two more films, so it’s not as if Max is going anywhere.) It would seem Miller feels there is room for both over-blown spectacle and nuanced character development. How about that?
That Miller is also willing to shake off the dust of the original trilogy and subvert the tropes of his own iconic franchise speaks volumes about his commitment to deliver a story a little more in keeping with the times. Saving Max’s victimized wife in the original and Tina Turner’s villainous Aunty Entity in Beyond Thunderdome, the Mad Max franchise is pretty lacking in memorable female characters. (To be fair, the franchise is pretty lacking in character development of any kind.) All that is about to change when Mad Max: Fury Road speeds into theaters on May 15, carrying with it a new generation of heroines. Lord knows we don’t need another hero.