Recent feedback from a friend on my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) post brought to my attention my disregard of the Gyro Captain’s (Bruce Spence) role in the film. So, in an attempt to compensate, I’m giving him a post all of his own.
We are introduced to the Captain when he captures Max (Mel Gibson) by concealing himself beneath the sand and tempting him with the prospect of gasoline. Max, in turn, is able to outwit and capture the Captain, which sets in motion a game of one-upmanship between them. The Captain’s association with a snake is symbolic of the cunning he displays and his ability to adapt to life in the wasteland but is also connected to the film’s religious themes, as we see him use temptation and treachery in pursuit of his goals.
In contrast to Max – who resembles a Marauder – the Captain attempts to maintain a respectable appearance and employs a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation, making him seem more attuned to the Settlers’ ideals. He sees himself as a gentleman and criticises Max for his lack of ‘style and taste’, evoking certain representations of Satan. If we compare their initial encounters with the Settlers, we see Max is persecuted, while the Captain is accepted and, indeed, respected instantly, due to his transport and air of sophistication (showing the traditional Settlers’ aversion to those who are different).
Both Max and the Captain seem affected by the Settlers’ lifestyle, seemingly abandoning their self-interest to aid the community. But not before Max is hunted down by Wez (Vernon Wells), and the Captain tries to tempt Lusty Girl (Arkie Whiteley) away; his compliance with her refusal suggesting he is warming to the Settlers’ family-like existence. When it is revealed he was complicit in the Settlers’ betrayal of Max, we see he hasn’t changed at all and is merely profiting from the opportunity the alliance provides. It’s possible he even instigated the betrayal, as it is he who returns Max to the compound so the deception can be carried out (speaking demoniacally to the addled Max) and he later returns to gloat upon its success. Like the Settlers, his respectability is merely a cover, and his true selfishness is revealed.
Mad Max 2 uses exaggerated villains to criticise capitalism, politicians and religion, but it is its most subtle villain that prevails. The Captain has the ability to fit in, to pursue his self-interest within the system while maintaining a mask of decency. He does not come across as evil, in fact, he is very likeable – as are many unscrupulous opportunists in our own world, who’re often part of respected organisations and institutions – but, in the end, he proves himself more dangerous than any of the anarchic Marauders.
Max, like myself, ignored the Captain at his peril, believing this was the story of his reformation, while all along he was still embroiled in a game of one-upmanship with the nefarious Captain. The Settlers adopt the Captain as their leader, referring to him as ‘the man who came from the sky’. The title allots him prophet-like status, but while Max’s Christ-like figure is representative of the need for communality, the Captain represents immoral self-interest, showing the Settlers have embraced a false prophet. Max, untrusting of such a society, chooses to remain an outsider.
More Mad Max!