In the West, Action films tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to winning major awards. While some films, such as Gladiator or Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, have obtained the coveted Best Picture award, it is incredibly rare for a big blockbuster action movie to even get a nomination, let alone a win. Since its beginning, the Academy Awards have given around six or seven action films (depending on what you truly classify as action over drama) a Best Picture award. None of them are of the high octane caliber that is director George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road.
The Golden Globes have been a little more accepting of the action film genre. Action films, in general, never seem to receive as much accolade as other film genres. Now, with the next batch of awards coming up and the Golden Globes nominating Mad Max: Fury Road for both Best picture and Director, I have noticed a bit of push back from the film community regarding the film’s overwhelming praise.
Listen, I get the argument a lot of film fans can make towards this movie’s overtly simplistic narrative structure and pacing. It’s hardly going to throw anyone a curve ball they might not expect or outwardly engage on a far deeper message, yet this was hardly by accident. This is by design. In a recent interview, director George Miller explained that Mad Max’s message was not meant to be so overtly explained to movie goers, stating: “You can see it on the surface, but we tried to put a lot of iceberg under the tip.”
Unlike a fair number of films, Mad Max: Fury Road is completely content with hiding deeper meanings in layers upon layers of visual storytelling. What appears to be simplistic characters become physical representations of the movies multiple messages, with their actions dictating who or what they stand for. Looking at the film’s principle villain, Immortan Joe, there is an obvious statement that he is made to represent an oppressive male patriarchy, but is that really it? I would argue no, as the rallying cry of “Who killed the world?” not only remarks upon his objectification of women as nothing more than trophies but all three villains’ philosophies. Looking back at Joe, his empire is ruled by both faith and the god-like image he has bestowed upon himself. His War Boys are clearly willing to die for the man, their minds twisted into believing that he is “The one who grabbed the sun.” We learn the massive hold Joe has on his followers through the story arc of Nux, who grapples with the sense of failure he had in the eyes of his “god.”
Now look at the other two main villains, who do not receive massive screen time. The People Eater is an obese man who runs a city entirely based around the production of gasoline (guzzoline?) and who is constantly referenced as the one who is “Coming to count the cost.” The People Eater is a man based around wealth and his entire design is focused on this philosophy. He rides in an altered stretch limo that hauls a massive tank of “profits” behind him and is adorned with golden….Umm…nipple piercings. (Listen, I never said this movie wasn’t absolutely ridiculous.) Then we have The Bullet Farmer, who oversees the manufacturing of ammunition and is literally adorned in a garb made of bullets. One can only guess he is a physical embodiment of the violence within this world and the unhealthy obsession of guns that come with it. The man actually calls upon his weapons to “sing” as he fires blindly into the darkness at Max and his followers. Each one of these villains represents a different aspect that potentially brought ruin to this world. So, “Who killed the world?” Religion (Joe), War (The Bullet Farmer), and Greed/Gluttony (The People Eater).
Another complaint I can see being made against the film is about Max himself who really appears to serve as nothing more than an empty shell. I once again theorize that this is due to the fact he is supposed to be a vessel for which we view the story itself. In both the second and third Mad Max films, Max really doesn’t cause a gigantic impact on the world around him. Sure he is there and ultimately serves a very valuable purpose, but Max has never been a character to just take the reigns and be the sole hero. He isn’t James Bond, able to stop everything evil solely by himself, but just a person trying to survive the wastes. Honestly, while Max did help out, one can only assume Furiosa was more than capable of figuring out her dilemma without him. Max serves as a simple gateway for us to view this insane world and the inhabitants. He is not given a ton of background development because it’s not needed to further any sense of the story. We receive more than enough character progression from both Nux and Furiosa, as Max is there for the ride. This is very much Furiosa’s story and while that can be a big point of contention among fans, it helps further the messages of the main narrative. Think about it. Did Max’s background and the tragic losses he has suffered affect the story in any major way? With the possible exception of the ending, his own struggles are completely separate from the story. Once more, I can only assume this is on purpose as we are not really meant to get that close to Max. Our information is limited to about as much as the other characters have about him.
Now I am not saying Mad Max: Fury Road is a perfect movie that can do no wrong as it does have a few issues. All movies do and this is hardly an exception. As I mentioned, the film is incredibly by-the-books in terms of pacing and the narrative beats that it hits. The film hardly has a moment where it veers off course in terms of story telling and it may take multiple viewings to actually catch the massive amount of clues/hidden messages Miller has scattered about through this movie. Do these problems mean the movie isn’t Best Picture material? No. It’s a very rare breed of movie where the high octane stunts mesh so comfortably with deep, almost philosophical symbolism.
The film can be easily dismissed because, honestly, who thought a movie would have such meaningful things to say when you have a man playing a flamethrower guitar? Speaking of, why is that man not nominated for Best Supporting Actor? Did Stallone ride a massive war truck covered in speakers during a car chase, while playing a musical instrument? No? I didn’t think so. Will Mad Max: Fury Road actually win the Best Picture award? That’s hard to say as the movie does have a lot of stiff competition, all equally deserving. Does the film deserve to actually receive the nomination? Yes. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that is, and forgive me for this one, more than meets the eye.
A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.