symbolism

Do I Still Agree With Myself?

INTRO

Since creating this website in 2013, my writing and analytical ability have developed past that displayed in many early posts, and my views and understanding of the world and many of the works I’ve covered have changed. This often niggles me, and I’ve considered deleting some posts, leaving what I consider my best, but as they’re still popular and serve as a testament to how much I’ve accomplished over the years, I’ve instead decided to create this post. I’ll be reviewing my past posts, seeing what I still agree with and what I don’t, and clarifying my current views. Who knows, maybe this will turn into an ongoing series as my perspectives are constantly evolving, and there may be other posts I discover I have issue with!

EAT THE GUN

The motivation behind this post was to praise economical writing and the song’s use of it. However, due to the lyrical content I’m examining, it could come across like I’m critical of the armed forces. I’m not, but at the time, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about going along with someone who was. I have no great knowledge or strong opinions about the military, but I’m greatly admiring of anyone willing to make a sacrifice in aid of others.

ALIEN EQUALITY (THE ALIEN FRANCHISE)

I don’t believe now the creators of Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) intended to criticise female empowerment, and I don’t think I believed it at the time. There’s actually a stronger argument for exactly the opposite, and aspects of the film I focus on can all be reinterpreted to support this. We do indeed see a future society without gender divides, and it works out pretty well as the strong female character, Ripley, ends up saving the day; it’s only because the male crew ignored her quarantine command that they got into trouble in the first place. The alien, symbolic of man’s bestial sexual nature, turns the male crew into victims of sexual violence, in ways previously beyond their comprehension; one even experiencing a painful childbirth as a result. The porno mag scene is clearly designed to be critical of female exploitation and sexual violence; the rabid Ash, spewing white goo, forcing the phallic magazine down Ripley’s throat. And although we do see Ripley strip to her skimpy undies for the climax, it’s revealed it’s shot from the perspective of the alien, forcing the male audience ogling Ripley to realise their connection with the beast.

As mentioned in the post, this analysis was inspired by my recent discovery of viewing films through the lens of feminism, and I believe I was motivated more by my desire to explore this exciting new way of looking at films than I was with making a genuine exposé. This is also a symptom of university essay writing, which encourages analysis based on interpretation rather than fact. If you can justify it via your own interpretation of the screen language, it’s acceptable, whether you believe it was the filmmakers’ true intention or not. I don’t have a problem with this, in fact, I’m all for it! Finding connections and meanings in films that weren’t necessarily the filmmakers’ intention is half the fun of analysis. You can get into trouble, though, if you’re stringently critical of filmmakers for meanings in their films you’ve created yourself. I’d like to avoid ever coming across like this in future.

Aliens (dir. Cameron, 1986) does indeed reward Ripley with a family, symbolically returning her to the role of loving wife and mother. I don’t believe now, though, that this has to be viewed negatively. She’s never once depicted as weak in comparison to her male counterparts or shown she doesn’t belong in the heat of the action; quite the opposite. She draws strength from her maternal instincts, as male action heroes often have from their paternal ones (protecting family, being rewarded with one; common action movie tropes: see Mad Max), and this is to be commended. You maybe wouldn’t want ‘independent woman becomes wife and mother’ to be the plot of every action movie, but I don’t think there’s anything sexist about it here.

I think I make some good points in my analysis of Alien 3 (dir. Fincher, 1992) – an underrated film – in particular, recognising its depiction of a patriarchal society and rape culture; there’s depth to this film that’s often overlooked. There are a few points that were maybe just my own interpretation, tying together the overall point of the post, and not the director’s intention (the symbolism of Ripley’s sacrifice for example), but as I said earlier, that’s half the fun of analysis!

STRANGER, DARKER, MADDER… (LOVE & MONSTERS)

My analysis of how Love & Monsters criticises fans who have a very inflexible view of what Doctor Who should be comes across a bit hypocritically intolerant. That was not my intent. I would never want to suggest people aren’t entitled to an opinion, more that people who are unwilling to accept the greater possibilities of what Doctor Who (and life) can be are missing out on a lot of strangeness, darkness, and madness!

JUST ONE MAN CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

In the first of my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) posts, I posited that, despite their misleading appearance, the Marauders have more in common with traditional society, and the Settlers have more in common with the counterculture, but it is their more traditional beliefs that are their weakness. I think now, rather than representing any particular group, more simply, the Marauders represent what Miller considers the evil of humanity, and the Settlers, the good. The Marauders rape, war, pillage, they operate via a dictatorship, and they’re stuck in a cycle of selfish consumption. They lack a higher purpose and a desire to better themselves, which the Settlers have, along with democracy and a sense of community, family, and loyalty. The Settlers’ connection to self-sufficiency ties them with the counterculture (Pappagallo is a bit of an old hippie) but that’s more to do with the film’s criticism of fossil fuels (such an ironic theme) than an attempt to connect them with a particular group, and they possess many traditional qualities. Max is tempted over to their side and away from the marauding lifestyle once he’s given a purpose and a chance to better himself. The fact he’s betrayed – although he doesn’t seem too bothered about this – does add some ambiguity to the Settlers, but I don’t believe it’s their traditional beliefs that are being called into question. Perhaps, instead, it acts as a warning that although we require purpose in life, devotion to a cause can sometimes cloud one’s morality. I posited that the Settlers’ traditional community values give them a distrust of outsiders that prevents them from truly accepting the marauder-like Max and that their religious conviction leads to their act of betrayal. I no longer believe this. Their initial distrust of Max is just a logical reaction, and their belief in paradise and Max’s martyrdom does not act as a criticism of religion, rather an endorsement of purpose and sacrifice and the spiritual power of storytelling.

GEORGE MILLER: there’s something that compels us collectively as human beings to find meaning in the universe. I mean, we can’t exist without that. And we do it through stories and narratives in order to explain the universe to ourselves. Or life to ourselves. And in all cultures across all time and space as humankind, we do that. We do that spontaneously. And I think that’s the function of storytelling, and some stories are so compelling, they become mythologies and indeed religions.”

IF WE CAN’T STICK TOGETHER (MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME)

In my Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) post, I posited that it ‘also’ acts as a criticism of traditional (Western) society. I was closer to the truth in this case as it does offer a blatant critique of capitalism and seemingly supports a Marxist philosophy. However, knowing little of economics or politics at the time (I’m still far from an expert), but having done a little research into Marxism, I was quick to side with this critique without pinpointing any possible flaws. For example, we see those at the bottom of the hierarchy offered no payment for their services and no opportunity to climb the ladder. Not really reflective of capitalism. This lack of opportunity for social mobility, and the fact Pig Killer and his ilk are working solely in service of the state, arguably aligns Bartertown more closely with communism. Either way, as I’ve mentioned, economics and politics are not my expertise, so I’ll keep away from siding with political ideologies, as I did here and in other posts, in future (certainly not before doing more research). The film also offers a more pointed criticism of religion, suggesting it can halt social progress. However, Savannah’s final monologue, again, endorses the spiritual power of storytelling, and the fact the Lost Tribe reach ‘paradise’ by plane, hints that there may have been some truth in their prophecies.

HOMOPHOBIC HORROR

This was a piece of coursework written in the final year of my degree that I later posted on my website. It again suffers from the university essay ‘interpretation over fact’ philosophy. It’s unquestionable that Strangers on a Train (dir. Hitchcock, 1951) and Psycho (dir. Hitchcock, 1960) used homosexuality and transvestism to enhance their killers’ perversion, that Strangers’ protagonist, Guy, was a prototype final girl, and that these films, as well as real-life killers, had a huge influence on the slasher genre and its continuing characterisation of homosexuals and transvestites as deranged deviants. However, I don’t believe for one second and didn’t at the time that every final girl is symbolically a male in the midst of a sexual crisis. The concept just allowed for a new spin on the material that would make an interesting essay; much like my Alien analysis.

HOPE & FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

As they were based on interpretations of the earlier movies that I now disagree with, my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) now, on the whole, don’t reflect what I’d be hoping for from a new Mad Max movie. I’m not particularly interested in the series giving direct criticisms of capitalism (or the rock industry. Where did that one come from?), more human ills in general. I’m not sure why I was hoping for a clearer critique of the military, having no strong opinions about it (see Eat the Gun). I suspect I’d just foreseen the possibility of this happening and felt I should include it. I was hoping for feminist themes (my obsession at the time) criticising female oppression, and again I unfairly criticise heroines with maternal instincts (see Alien Equality). Again, a more rounded view of humanity’s ills would be appreciated today. I enjoy the religious symbolism of the series and its contemplations on the spiritual power of storytelling and would always hope for their inclusion. However, while criticism of religious extremism and manipulation are alright with me, I would not hope for a negative depiction of religion in general. Ponderings on the afterlife are, again, alright with me, but I’m not sure why I was seeking a definitive statement on Miller’s belief in the existence of Heaven or Hell; I’d prefer a little more ambiguity these days. Today I’d give a big ‘no’ to the possibility of any romantic relationship for Max. Giving him a partner or a family would undermine the self-sacrificing nature of his character; unless they were planning on ending the series. Lastly, I’m still in total agreement with myself that CGI and an overly talky Max have no place in the franchise!

MAD MAX

In my Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979) post, I describe it as my least favourite of the original trilogy due to its morally questionable material. I suggest its depiction of Toecutter’s gang vilifies the counterculture, while Max’s job as a cop suggests support for the establishment. I now disagree with this. The gang, like the Marauders, more likely represent the evils of humanity, with their lawlessness and purposeless self-indulgence. While Max and his job represent moral duty, and law and order; hardly things to be criticised. The gang’s homosexual characterisation is questionable as it bears similarities to the previously mentioned slasher killers, being used to heighten their perversion. However, there is the argument that the use of gay characters is meant to represent a sexually liberated future, with Max’s commanding officer, Fifi, also characterised as gay. I label Fifi’s characterisation as stereotypical, but he is a unique and memorable character, in a respected position, traditionally held by straight, masculine males, so that was perhaps a little unfair. I also cite Max’s traditional family life being presented as the ideal in comparison to the homosexual gang as being problematic. This argument is weakened when we consider the defence of the gang’s homosexual characterisation and the true themes of the trilogy, purpose and betterment. Max’s family are representative of this as are the surrogate families in the sequels he’s given the chance to help and protect (as he failed to do with his), showing the series is rightly supportive of families and the protective nature of the parental figure (see Alien Equality). I was also critical of the film’s grim ending, but as this is clearly presented as a tragedy, it is in no way morally corrupt, and actually makes the message harder hitting, as seeing our hero (and identification figure) losing his purpose in life, and giving into the gang culture and survival of the fittest philosophy, makes it easier for us to empathise with the film’s themes. Far from being morally bankrupt, Mad Max contains many admirable moral messages and has gone up in my estimations to become my second favourite of the series (nothing can top Mad Max 2).

A further note on the fridging of Max’s wife, Jessie, and fridging in general. I referred to Jessie’s death as an example of fridging at odds with the feminism of the sequels. Fridging is used to describe instances in which a female character close to a male one is killed to further his arc. I now believe to describe Jessie’s death and every instance of this trope as sexist is a little ridiculous. Characters (male and female) close to protagonists are killed off all the time to symbolise themes and further the protagonist’s arc; Goose, Max’s dog, Mufasa, Newt, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It doesn’t automatically make it sexist every time it happens to a female one. After all, it’s not their story, it’s the protagonist’s, and good economical writing dictates it’s they who should be the main focus. Not every support character can have agency, be a hero, and have a happy ending; that would just be a mess. It may be the case that more female characters are fridged than males (but thinking off the top of my head, I mostly came up with males), but rather than being a symptom of inherently sexist writing, that’s probably more to do with the majority of writers being male and creating male heroes, which I don’t think they should be criticised for (good writers write what they know). More female filmmakers and writers would probably reverse this trend (if indeed it exists; I haven’t seen the stats). Jessie, and Max’s love for her, are symbolic of purpose and betterment, and the lose of the positive influence of a woman in Max’s life is presented as a complete tragedy. Male writers should be praised for viewing women in such a way, not criticised.

ONLY FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Much I disagree with here. My central argument is that Furiosa should have been the only wife of Immortan Joe as the Five Wives are superfluous, lacking character and agency, which reduces them to figures of objectification; contradicting the feminist themes of the film. This thinking is based on the rules of economical writing – don’t use any more characters than you need to – but I now see why the Wives are needed and where their agency lies. While Furiosa possesses a lot of agency, if she were the only wife, she’d resemble little more than your stereotypical rape-revenge heroine, and while the Wives don’t do any of the kick-ass fighting, their agency is that of endurance. They have survived abuse through endurance and had the bravery to decide to seek help and flee their captor; it is they who set the whole plot in motion, not Furiosa. The implication being, abused women shouldn’t have to be kick-ass fighters to be seen as heroes; there’s bravery in endurance and having the will to escape oppression. It’s true they wear skimpy clothing, opening them up for objectification, but the scene I cite where they’re washing each other with the hose is shot from Max’s perspective, inviting the male audience to ogle them, connecting them with the oppressive male characters of the film. It’s the same trick from Alien, and arguably it’s used throughout. I still think as characters they’re underdeveloped and doing more than just giving one of them a weak love story would probably have been a good idea. Speaking of which, I still totally agree that Nux’s sacrifice is uninteresting and we would have connected with it more if it were given to Max. I’m not sure about cutting Max altogether and making this a Furiosa film, it probably could have worked, but having male and female characters learn to work together is a more positive way to go.

My statement that the film doesn’t expand much on what we learnt from interviews and trailers is utterly vacant. There’s a great deal going on in the film under the surface, but I think my overall disappointment with it on first viewing meant I just wasn’t looking. Everything we need to know about the world and the characters is shown to us, instead of repeatedly told, which is how it should be. I’ll give a brief summary, but it’d take a whole new post to get everything. It’s another amplification of humanity’s ills. It depicts society as a perpetual war machine, kept going by a power-hungry man (that’s who killed the world) just so he can cling onto power. Women are employed as baby making machines, while the men don’t fare much better, being bred and brainwashed solely for war; willing to die for the glory of their divine leader. Like the Marauders, they’re stuck in a cycle, with no higher purpose or chance for betterment, which is what they’re given via the altruistic actions of our heroes. It’s not on the whole how I view society, but it’s a credible exaggeration of the worst of humanity and certainly a layered depiction. I still prefer the original trilogy with its zero use of CGI and better use of Max, but I’ll gladly admit I was unfairly critical of this first time around.

MISSING MEL (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Never thought this actually could or should’ve happened – I wasn’t campaigning for it – but it would’ve made a cool (possibly better) movie, and if they got the go-ahead ten years earlier, this could be quite close to how it would’ve turned out. As it is, I still think it’s a nice bit of fanwank.

THE MAN WHO CAME FROM THE SKY (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

This post continued the assumptions (I now believe to be incorrect) made in my first Mad Max 2 post about the film’s themes and what Max, the Settlers, and the Marauders represent. I also suggest the Gyro Captain’s ownership of a snake connects him with Satan and reveals him as the true villain of the piece. An interesting but far-fetched analysis, his snake more likely representing his cunning nature, and his minor deceptions hardly paint him as the ultimate evil.

THE LIGHT AND THE DARK (STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY)

I cited its subversion of the ‘women as reward’ trope as something I like about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977), and I still very much like this. However, it’s probably its subversion of the damsel in distress character that’s more appealing. No one likes the whiny damsel in distress, always stumbling into trouble, which makes Leia’s feisty, pistol-packing princess a really enjoyable innovation. The fact she’s not given to one of the male characters as a reward for their heroism is a bonus as it allows for a more unconventional story. It also showed excellent foresight as placing her in a relationship would have dulled the character for the sequel, which is eventually what happened (Leia doesn’t act like Leia in Jedi). I would like to point out, though, that, like fridging (see Mad Max), describing every instance of this trope as sexist would be ridiculous (not that I was doing that). Of course you want strong female characters, but the guy getting the girl doesn’t always equate to sexism. A female love interest may not always be as developed as a male protagonist but, again, it’s not their story, and she may be symbolic of very positive views of women (see Mad Max). Furthermore, female protagonists are given men as reward just as often. Some might consider this sexist, though, as it places them in a traditional gender role (you can’t win sometimes). Viewing films through the lens of feminism can be interesting and is definitely worthwhile, pushing writers to consider subversions of stereotypical characterisations and worn out old tropes. However, it can also be very restrictive, to both creativity and enjoyment, if you are too extreme in your readings.

I offered Han and Leia’s relationship as something I don’t like about The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I asked why does she fall for him as all he seems to do is act in a sexist manner and she seems quite adamant she’s not interested in him? I rewatched Empire before starting this post in a deliberate attempt to find material to counteract this argument but sadly didn’t find much. The first time we see Leia, she’s staring across the room at Han, suggesting feelings for him, but it’s subtle and easily missed or interpreted differently. Han expresses his feelings more openly, being rather sweet and sincere when he goes to say goodbye to her. Leia is very harsh in her response, and in subsequent arguments, Han suggests she is concealing her feelings. However, not much is done to suggest this is true, as she constantly refutes his claims. It also begs the question, why would she do this? Fear of undermining her position, or of falling in love in such difficult times? Possibly, but again, it’s not suggested, as she’s constantly depicted as resistant to Han’s advances. When Han shows concern for her, she pushes him away, and when they finally kiss, he comes across like a real sleaze, forcing himself on her, and she escapes the situation as quick as she can. It’s true she is a bit stuck up and rude and could maybe learn to relax a bit, like Han, but this suggests the theme of the love story is ‘she really wants it, she just needs to loosen up a bit’, and I can’t really defend that. I also criticise Han not telling her he loves her, but more because it shows he hasn’t really changed or done anything to deserve her. The line is definitely better than the alternative, suggesting character and avoiding being mawkish, and the feelings are all expressed visually anyway.

I still don’t like Leia being revealed as Luke’s sister in Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983). It’s a ridiculous coincidence, mainly done for shock value, and doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen and been told so far. However, my criticism that she doesn’t react to the fact Darth Vader is also revealed as her father could be argued against. Her emotional interaction with Han after the revelation suggests distress, and her inability to divulge the truth suggests fear it could endanger her friends. I also state it doesn’t affect the story. This is a major oversight, as it sets up the most crucial moment of the climax; Vader using it against Luke, inciting him to embrace his anger and the dark side. It’s still a very silly twist, though. It would have been better if the other hope for the Jedi that Yoda refers to in Empire was Vader. It is, after all, Vader who kills the Emperor and destroys the dark side. This would show Yoda’s wisdom and strong connection to the Force, knowing there is still hope for Vader, and reveal he was training Luke to turn his father back to good all along (like all his teachings suggest). This is even suggested in the mise-en-scene in Empire as Yoda is surrounded by black and bathed in red (the colours of Vader) just as he delivers the line, “No, there is another.”

CONCLUSION

Well, that, along with finally putting The Darning Needle behind me, was a satisfying purging experience. Now I can get on with bringing you brand new analyses, films, scripts, and other projects in the coming year!

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Happy Halloween! Today I’m posting about that terrifying Halloween classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (dir. Speilberg, 1982). E.T. is the tale of a parasitic alien from the darkest depths of space that infiltrates a family home and attaches itself to a small boy, forming a symbiotic relationship that drains the boy’s life force. A brave group of government agents must battle to save the boy and defeat the monster…before it’s too late! Okay, that might be the story told from an adult character’s point of view, but E.T. is not a story told from an adult’s point of view. E.T. is a story about empathy, an attribute we see facilitated through childhood innocence and impeded by adult ignorance and misplaced authority that must be rebelled against. Immediately upon being stranded, E.T. is hounded by a group of adult hunters, viewing his otherness as dangerous to their way of life and something to be extinguished. He is able to find refuge with a child, Elliott (Henry Thomas), who hides him from adult persecution. Elliott does not see E.T. as a monster, but as a person in need of help who has been separated from their home and family. He is able to empathise with E.T., having recently had a split in his family, with his father leaving his mother (Dee Wallace). Before the arrival of E.T., Elliott is insecure and lonely, being picked on and excluded by his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and his friends. He is also immature and inconsiderate, bringing up the fact his father has run off with another woman in front of his younger sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore). This upsets his mother and angers Michael (“Damn it! Why don’t you grow up? Think how other people feel for a change”). The arrival of E.T. sees Elliott take Michael’s advice, as having to care for someone in a similar position sees him mature and gain confidence and purpose.

et-elliott

E.T. does indeed form a symbiotic relationship with Elliott, but there is nothing sinister about it. Instead, it is used to emphasise the importance of empathy. E.T. and Elliott share emotional and physical experiences; getting hungry, scared and ill together. Seeing them share these experiences reminds us that although E.T. is different to us, he still feels the same and should be treated equally. E.T. and Elliott’s empathy goes beyond consideration for intelligent life, as an affinity with all nature, including animal and plant life, is displayed. E.T. is able to live in harmony with all living things, caring for them as though they were part of him. This is shown through his ability to heal, as he mends a cut on Elliott’s finger and brings a flower back to life. Thanks to his relationship with E.T., Elliott develops empathy for other life, freeing the frogs that are about to be dissected in science class and starting a youth revolt against the ruling adult teacher (Richard Swingler). The teacher is another example of adult cruelty and detachment. He treats the frogs as just things to be experimented on; just as Elliott fears the ‘adult’ authorities will treat E.T. (“they’ll give it a lobotomy or do experiments on it”).

Freeing the frogs.

The film expresses the importance of family. Separated from his family, E.T. grows ill, but he recovers upon their return. The family home is used to symbolise an ideal empathetic environment; there E.T. is safe and cared for by those who treat him as kin. Childhood is used as a symbol of virtue, as E.T. is taught about the world through the use of toys, watching kids TV shows and reading children’s books, and his idea to “phone home” is inspired by a children’s comic. He is also, at one point, mistaken for a soft toy, an item that is a focus of childhood love and care but later abandoned by adults. This shows the importance of carrying childhood empathy into adulthood and bringing the love and care shared within a family home into the outside world. When the government agents track down E.T. to Elliott’s home, we see the devastating effect a cold-hearted ‘adult’ view of the world has. They transform the warm, empathetic environment into a sterile laboratory; intending to experiment on E.T. just like the frogs in the science class. They believe they want to understand E.T., but unlike Elliott, they do not try and communicate with him; their lack of empathy means they only know how to take apart and destroy. Again, a youth revolt saves the day, as Elliott, Michael and his friends rescue E.T. and return him to his people.

ET

E.T. is a messianic figure. He comes from the heavens, heals the sick, dies and is resurrected. Upon his resurrection, we see him dressed in white robes. And finally, he ascends back into the heavens. Unlike most messianic figures, his message is simple, as simple as his last words to Gertie: “Be good”. A message of empathy. Spielberg has described E.T. as a “minority story”. E.T. is a minority on Earth. Elliott is also a minority, beginning the story as a loner. Through empathy, they are able to ignore their surface distinctions and join together to overcome adversity. That is the film’s message to the world, to put aside our difference, embrace our commonality and have compassion for one another. As E.T.’s spaceship departs, it leaves a rainbow in the sky: a symbol of universal harmony, unity and hope.

rainbow

Additional Points

  • Elliott has rainbow curtains in his bedroom, symbolising his empathetic outlook.
  • I don’t like that the girl Elliott kisses in class (Erika Eleniak) is seen standing on a chair, screaming when the frogs are freed. It’s a sexist stereotype (girls are fragile little things, afraid of creepy critters). It would make much more thematic sense if the large boy who struggles with Elliott to keep his frog in his jar were scared of the frogs: cruelty comes through fear and ignorance.
  • Gertie is read Peter Pan. Specifically, the scene where Tinker Bell is brought back to life by children’s belief in fairies. This fits with the film’s theme of the virtue of maintaining childhood innocence. Later, the children fly on their bicycles and are silhouetted in front of the moon; another nod to Peter Pan.

 

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

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.

the-gyro-captain_140335-fli_1374136123

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

 

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Saying Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) would have been better with Mel Gibson, sounds like the bitter and delusional cry of an older fan, whose sentimental attachment to the original trilogy is blinding him from the true awesomeness of the movie. I mean, it’s got 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, dude, what’re you talking about? Well, okay, there are obvious reasons for not casting Mel, which we won’t go into detail about here, but let’s just say certain events have resulted in him becoming far from the huge box office draw he once was. Casting Mel in the movie could have possibly resulted in a commercial disaster, and a fresh start was likely needed for the series to appeal to a younger generation. However, if we ignore these issues (and the fact it should have been a Furiosa film, not a Mad Max one), casting Mel would have undoubtedly been the right decision, made far more narrative and thematic sense, and resulted in a far better movie.

Hope4Mel

George Miller has said in interviews that Fury Road was “never meant to be a story about an older warrior”, but everything about it suggests it should have been. You may ask, how can you tell a story of an older Max still haunted by the death of his family, didn’t he move on in the second and third films? Well, how about this:

In his final days, an aged Max is still wandering the cruel wasteland. Reflecting on his life, he again becomes haunted by his past and visions of his lost family and begins to question whether he really has made a difference. 

If Max were nearing death, it would make perfect sense that he would be remembering the loved ones he’s lost and questioning the meaning of his life, and it would make a neat progression of the themes of Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981). At the start of the film, we see Max’s (Tom Hardy) blood forcibly taken via transfusion. This would have undoubtedly weakened an older Max and resulted in him moving ever closer to death throughout the film. Having Max gripping onto life from the very start of the film – desperate to prove once more he can make a difference – would really increase the tension and up the dramatic stakes (whilst channelling the classic Doctor Who, The Caves of Androzani. If you haven’t seen it, get off my blog!). Max’s age and weak condition would also explain his lack of involvement and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) handling most of the action (which some fans have criticised), and his brief spells of action would be all the more heroic with him struggling to hold onto life.

Joe

A stronger connection between Max and Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) would exist if Mel were in the role. Joe is played by the actor who played Toecutter in Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979), the character who killed Max’s family. Just having Mel come face to face with Hugh again would resonate with older fans, but it’s also possible that Joe could be an older Toecutter, who unknown to Max, survived his collision at the end of the first film; accounting for his breathing apparatus and deformity. Max again encountering the murderer of his family could result in him being torn between his desire for vengeance and his duty to help those escaping on the War Rig. This could perhaps be too much continuity for new fans, but even without it, there are definite parallels to be formed between Joe and an older Max. Nearing death, both men are seeking meaning to their lives. Joe selfishly wants to leave a legacy with a son and heir, while Max, altruistically, wishes to create a better place for the generation he’s leaving behind by helping those on the War Rig escape. The Many Mothers joining Max near the end of the film connects to this theme, as we see an older generation who had lost hope, finding purpose by fighting for a new one.

Canyon

My favourite aspect of Fury Road was its subversion of the plots of the second and third films, which both involve Max assisting characters to flee a damaged society so they can create a new paradise elsewhere. Fury Road is set up this way with Furiosa leading the War Rig to the Green Place, but upon discovering it no longer exists, Max makes the decision to return to Joe’s Citadel and mend the society they’ve left behind instead of running away. It’s a powerful moment, but would be all the more effective if it was made by a Max who had decided to flee from trouble in the two previous films and originally in the first film after the death of his family. A major flaw of Fury Road is that from the moment Max makes the decision to return, there are no surprises left; of course they’ll succeed with their plan, they’re the good guys! What’s missing is one of the main characteristics of the two previous films, ‘Max’s heroic sacrifice’. In both Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985), Max allows characters to escape danger by sacrificing himself. This does not happen in Fury Road and is a major oversight. Max’s plan is to return to the Citadel, charging through Joe’s war party and blocking the canyon so they cannot pursue. This succeeds, as Nux (Nicholas Hoult) sacrifices himself by blocking the canyon with the War Rig, causing Joe’s war party to crash into it. This clearly should have been Max’s responsibility, resulting in him being trapped outside the Citadel and left to wander the wasteland once more, or if this were a film about an older Max, his death! Max making such a noble sacrifice (perhaps instead of taking revenge on Toecutter/Joe, if we wanna go with that storyline) would result in a far more emotional ending and a perfect send-off for Mel. Max could finally have closure on the death of his family, and his life could be given purpose, as he finally makes the decision not to run from his problems and helps create a peaceful society to be left behind when he’s gone, discovering just one man ‘really’ can make a difference.

Just one man

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max 

Only Fury (Fury Road)

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Well, I’ve seen it, and overall I was disappointed (and not just with the CGI and terrible narration). I know, I must be the only person in the world, but if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know I had some pretty high expectations, and the film just failed to deliver on many counts.

My main complaint is with the feminist themes. No, not the same complaint that’s getting all the press attention (note to all the protesting meninists, if you think Mad Max has never had feminist themes, read my post on Beyond Thunderdome). We’re told it is bad to objectify women as Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) does by treating his Five Wives as his property, but the film does nothing else but objectify them. The Wives have no agency, no character. They’re weak, useless victims, there to be protected by Max (Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to add risk to their endeavour, for Nux (Nicholas Hoult) to have a shallow romance with (so we know he’s now a good guy), and to be fetishised by the audience. As my girlfriend said to me, “They had no character, but I liked looking at them.” In the first scene where we see all the Wives together, they are dressed in revealing clothing, their nipples visible, spraying each other with a hose and washing each other’s legs; looking like something out of a low-rent porno (I’m assuming). I understand they’re supposed to represent the kind of women who are fetishised in our own society, but to criticise this, surely they should have been given some sort of character? They are only ever addressed by name (Splendid, Capable, Fragile…) by Joe; pet names I presume he attributed to them because of their sexual characteristics. It would have been nice if they rejected these names and we learnt who they really are. The only female character with any agency is Furiosa. The Many Mothers can kick ass, but they’re basically just there as cannon fodder for the final chase as we aren’t given enough time to connect with them or reason to care about them (like the Wives, I couldn’t name a single one without a Google search). Even Furiosa is hard to sympathise with as her backstory about being kidnapped as a child from the Green Place and wanting to return there is only revealed in the scene directly prior to them arriving there and discovering it’s now a bog. We are then expected to feel sympathy as she breaks down and falls to her knees screaming in an incredibly over the top and pretentious scene. If we’re expected to connect with her and support her struggle, then her goal should be made clear from the very start. The solution to the problems with the Wives and Furiosa is there should have only been one wife, and that should have been Furiosa. This would give her a backstory we could connect with from the start (she was kidnapped as a child from the Green Place to become Joe’s future wife) and give a character that has been objectified back their agency. It would make sense for a victim of such abuse to want to return to a safe childhood place and would make the decision to go back to the Citadel and face her problems, instead of running away, more powerful. Some people may consider it unrealistic that a female victim of such abuse could become such a strong warrior, but I don’t think this issue would even occur to them if applied to a male character.

Five Wives

Despite being presented with a fascinating society, we learnt little more about it than was revealed in interviews and trailers. The Information given about Immortan Joe was not built upon or in some cases even referenced. What happened to his backstory, previously being Colonel Joe Moore? I guess that’ll be in the prequel comic. If it was made clear that Joe was once a military leader, one that was responsible for starting wars over commodities such as oil and water, and through his proliferation of these sins he represents the worst of the old world, then we would have a definitive answer to the repeated question, “who killed the world?” Also, although it’s made clear the War Boys believe that by dying heroically for Joe they will enter the afterlife, the fact he has tricked the populous into believing he is an immortal messiah is not referenced. This oversight significantly lessens the impact when his dead body is presented to his subjects at the conclusion. The main lapse in the religious subtext is in the depiction of Max as a Christ-like figure, as the trait of the previous films of him making a final heroic sacrifice is not included. The plots of the previous two films both involve Max assisting characters to flee a damaged society so they can create a new paradise elsewhere. Subverting this trait by having him decide to return to Joe’s Citadel and help repair that society is superb and counteracts the questionably defeatist attitude of these past conclusions. But once Max makes this decision, the film has no surprises left. Max’s plan is to return to the Citadel, charging through Joe’s war party and blocking the canyon so they cannot pursue. This succeeds, as Nux sacrifices himself by blocking the canyon with the War Rig, causing Joe’s war party to crash into it. Nux’s death is no big surprise, as he is a support character and support characters are killed off for plot convenience all the time. Plus, his reasons for making the sacrifice are shallow compared to Max’s in the previous films as they are motivated by his soulless romance with the Red Headed Wife (sorry, only distinctive thing about her). If Max were to have made the sacrifice, it would have cemented the film’s altruistic themes, with Max acting as a parallel to Joe’s selfish false messiah and selflessly sacrificing himself so a better society can be born. However, Max has less invested in the society than other characters, so what would have made more sense is if Furiosa made the sacrifice (as she was complicit in its wrongdoing). The film really should have been called Furiosa. I’m not saying that sarcastically, Max is superfluous as his goal is the same as hers (to find redemption for past failures by building a better future). Furiosa should have been the only wife; kidnapped as a child, treated as an object all her life but then finding the agency to return home. She would then come to the conclusion (by herself, not have a man make it for her as Max did) that she must face her problems and return to the Citadel. Finally, she would decide to sacrifice herself for the benefit of society instead of taking vengeance on her abuser. That’s the film I believe this should have been.

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Mad Max 

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Hope & Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

There’s not long to wait until Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) hits UK cinemas on May 14th, and recently there’s been an abundance of clips and interviews promoting the film. The original Mad Max films are probably my favourite trilogy, so obviously my expectations are high. I’ve been dissecting every bit of information that’s been released, in the hope of finding evidence that Fury Road will at least come close to living up to the legacy of the previous films. Here’s a summary of my hopes and fears, based upon the information I’ve gathered.

Fury Rd Poster

Both the previous sequels have expanded the saga’s existing themes, making them clearer and counteracting any possible misinterpretations. I’m hoping Fury Road will follow this tradition. Both criticised our capitalist society, and although in Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) this message was confused due to the bad guys’ resemblance to countercultural figures, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) made its point clear by presenting the bad guys as operating within a hierarchical capitalist system. Fury Road looks set to do the same but offers to present an even more complex system, ruled by a corrupt leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

GEORGE MILLER: “Immortan Joe, Hugh Keays-Byrne’s character, who is the warlord of the wasteland, he now has a citadel where he controls the water. And then he has Gas Town, that we see from a distance, which supplies the gas. And then there’s Bullet Farm, which supplies their munitions. So it’s an ecology, almost a hermetically sealed ecology. An economy and an ecology in a wasteland.”

Miller has also mentioned how Mad Max 2 was influenced by oil wars and that Fury Road will also present some topical criticisms of world powers fighting over resources.

GEORGE MILLER: People effectively went to war for oil. We arguably have been fighting oil wars ever since. Now, in some places in the world, there are water wars.”

The Mad Max films have comprehensively taken a dim view of war, presenting them as being started by greedy leaderships that selfishly seek commodities and resources, but they have yet to offer a defined opinion of the military. Mad Max 2 hinted that the wicked Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) was ex-military via his possession of a military gun and case, and Miller has revealed a little about his origins.

GEORGE MILLER: “Humungus had been some kind of military man who’d been in a severe accident or explosion and suffered facial or head burns.”

Miller has also suggested that Pappagallo (Michael Preston) was ex-military, but as his morality was presented as ambiguous, this can’t be seen as making any definitive statement. Another Settler, Curmudgeon (Syd Heylen), wears a military uniform, but as the Settlers were at times used to represent outdated institutions, and Curmudgeon was characterised as a senile old man who was also occasionally seen dressed in his pyjamas, it’s possible the military were also meant to be included in this bracket. With the character of Immortan Joe, Fury Road will hopefully define these themes, as he is also an ex-military man, formerly known as Colonel Joe Moore, and is seen wearing medals and military insignia.

Immortan Joe

In the past, the saga has promoted gender equality by attempting to present a society where the sexes are equal, featuring strong, free-willed, female characters like the Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey) and Savannah Nix (Helen Buday). It has also touched upon objectification and oppression of women by criticising women being used as commodities and the story of Adam and Eve promoting the suppression of woman’s knowledge. Fury Road promises that these gender equality themes will come to the fore. The latest trailer reveals the plot centres around a female character, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), freeing five women known as the Five Wives from the captivity of Immortan Joe, who is using them as sex slaves to bear his children. The trailer shows the Wives repeatedly screaming at Joe, “We are not things”, vandalising their prison with these words, and cutting the locks of their chastity belts once they’re freed, and Joe, upon discovering they’re missing, yelling, “Where is she taking them? I want them back! They’re my property!” It’s clear from the released footage that Furiosa is one tough character. She is seen to be involved in a lot of the action; driving the huge War Rig, saving Max’s (Tom Hardy) life by grabbing hold of him as he falls out of the vehicle, and headbutting bad guys. Her name also suggests her hardened nature, and possibly her origins, imperator meaning general in Latin and furiosa being Portuguese for furious. Along with her name, the fact we see her being branded with Joe’s mark of a burning skull, which also features on the War Rig along with her mark of a skeleton arm, indicates she was once a general under his command but turned traitor due to issues with his treatment of the Wives and decided to rescue them and flee in the War Rig. Miller has said, I don’t think anyone’s ever seen anything quite like (Furiosa) in cinema before”. A strong statement considering the tough women we’ve seen in sci-fi in the past. However, it has to be said that many of these tough sci-fi women draw their strength from maternal instincts (Ripley, Sarah Connor), which connects them with traditional female roles, or are overly sexualised, their strength existing more for its fetishistic appeal to the male audience than for female empowerment (Black Widow). So let’s hope Miller strays away from these conventions. It’s possible Miller is not only referring to Furiosa’s gender but also her disability, as she possesses an artificial arm. Beyond Thunderdome could perhaps be criticised for presenting disabled people as helpless, as Master (Angelo Rossitto) and Blaster (Paul Larsson) are unable to operate without the other’s assistance. Furiosa is clearly a disabled character who is more than capable of looking after herself.

Furiosa Disabled

Immortan Joe is seen to derive his power from manipulating religious superstition; tricking the masses into thinking he was brought back from the dead. This suggests a more blatantly negative depiction of religion than in the previous films. Mad Max 2 presented the religious Settlers in a mostly positive light: their religion leading to social progress. In Beyond Thunderdome, the fact that members of the Lost Tribe make it to their Tomorrow-Morrow Land, in a sense fulfilling their prophecy, could be misinterpreted as pro-religion by people not realising it is the rejection of their religion that led them to progress. Max’s (Mel Gibson) characterisation as a Christ-like figure could also be misunderstood by people not appreciating the message that he makes his altruistic sacrifices despite being just a man. Joe’s false resurrection suggests he could be cast as a Christ-like figure of a different nature. Plus, in the latest trailer, we hear him preach to his followers that they will only enter the afterlife through him: his words imitating those of Christ.

IMMORTAN JOE: “It is by my hand…you will rise…from the ashes…of this world.”

JESUS CHRIST: “I AM THE LIVING GOD, The Way and The Truth and The Life; no man comes to my Father but by me alone.”

We also again see Max presented as a Christ-like figure, as he is seen in a Christ-like pose, chained to the front of an enemy vehicle. It could be possible that like Wez (Vernon Wells) in Mad Max 2, Joe presents a dark parallel to Max, representing religion’s power to be used for corruption, manipulation and power seeking, while Max, as always, promotes charity, communal spirit and sacrifice, but rejects deification. The character of Nux (Nicholas Hoult), it seems, is also being used to expand the religious critique. The previous films, presenting the good guys as being in search of paradise, could easily be misinterpreted as praising the concept of seeking a glorious afterlife, even though Beyond Thunderdome’s intended message was for us to build our own paradise here on Earth. Nux is initially an antagonist, being one of Joe’s best pursuit riders; a group of drivers who are willing to sacrifice themselves for his cause. The trailers even feature one of these pursuit riders acting as a suicide bomber, possibly acting as a criticism of religious extremism. Nux is sent to chase down Max and Furiosa, and according to Miller, “(Nux’s) looking for a glorious death in battle, in the hopes of a sweet afterlife.” In the trailers, we see Max carrying an unconscious Nux on his shoulders after rescuing him from a crash, and promotional pictures show Nux joins the good guys. This could mean that after not experiencing the afterlife during a near-death experience and being shown kindness by Max, when none was shown by him, Nux has been taught to appreciate and make the most of the life he has now. As trailers reveal the film will also include the past plot thread of Max losing his family, it’s possible Max could be taught the same, and this could be a main theme. Nux’s journey would be similar to that of members of the Lost Tribe, but him actually acknowledging he saw no afterlife would be the most direct statement on the existence of Heaven the saga has ever made.

One of the main criticisms of Mad Max 2 is that the appearance of the deviant Marauders – they’re decked out in BDSM gear, with Mohawk haircuts, and two are in a homosexual relationship – could be seen as criticising homosexuality and the punk movement. This was never Miller’s intention, and there are ways Fury Road could rectify this. It would be great to see a positive depiction of a homosexual character and Nux seems the most suitable option. It’s possible such feelings could be suppressed under Immortan Joe’s tyrannical religious regime, and this could provide Nux with a motivation to join the pursuit riders; hoping the afterlife would offer him a better existence. Having him join the good guys, who’re excepting of him, would provide a positive message. I think the fact Miller is a known rock music enthusiast, and his casting of punk icon Angry Anderson in Beyond Thunderdome, has proven he has no beef with the punk movement, but a direct criticism of what he believes are the failings of the rock industry could help make his feelings clear once and for all. His favourite band is the highly political Midnight Oil, which could suggest he’s not a fan of the more excessive and indulgent aspects of rock. One of the bad guys in Fury Road is seen atop a vehicle stacked high with amps, wielding a guitar flamethrower similar to that used by Gene Simmons of Kiss. This could be criticising the self-indulgent excesses of rock, or perhaps it’s simply been done because it looks totally badass.

Flamethrower Guitar

So far, I’ve taken a positive look at what’s been revealed, but there are definitely some aspects that don’t look too promising. The latest trailer features an extended monologue from Max, which suggests Tom Hardy will have more dialogue than Mel Gibson had in the last two films combined. Not only that, but what he says is pretentious, self-pitying crap, greatly reminiscent of Nolan’s Batman (Christian Bale). Max does not need to imitate other heroes, and he never needed words for us to know what he was all about, so I’m really hoping this talking is limited to the trailer and won’t feature at all in the film. Another concern is the chance of a romantic relationship between Max and Furiosa. There’s little evidence that this will occur, but my girlfriend’s convinced, and they are standing very close together in some promotional images. A romantic interest for Max, if done right, could be very effective, but disastrous if done badly. The Marauders’ sadomasochistic gear and sexual excess, the Settlers’ conservative relationships, and the fact that Max has remained asexual since the loss of his traditional family in the first movie could imply the saga has a very prudish view of sexual relationships. Continuing to criticise treating sex as a commodity, introducing a homosexual character and sexualising Max could turn all this around. On the other hand, a clichéd romance, featuring the strong, independent Furiosa being tamed by the dominant Max, would have a really negative effect on the film’s gender equality theme, as well as incorporating a conventional trope into a hitherto unconventional saga.

OMG! They’re almost holding hands! Gross!

OMG! They’re almost holding hands! Gross!

So far, I’ve dealt with character, story and thematic issues, but probably my greatest concern with the film is its visuals. Although it’s been promised in interviews that there’s been minimal computer-generated tinkering, the trailers tell a different story.

INTERVIEWER: “So it’s still very real? You’re not using CGI cars or anything like that?”

GEORGE MILLER: “No, there’s no CGI like that.”

INTERVIEWER: “Good for you.”

GEORGE MILLER: “There’s a CGI storm, because there’s no other way you can create it, but everything else you see is real. Every car stunt is real.”

No CGI you say?

No CGI, you say?

Sorry, George, but that’s bull. I can tell the difference between a real explosion and a cartoon one. I recall Spielberg and Lucas saying similar things before the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (dir. Spielberg, 2008), and we all saw how that animated feature turned out. By comparing the teaser trailer and the final trailer, we can also see that scenery and numerous cars have been added to shots, and the colours have been greatly oversaturated, giving the film the look of a comic book (which the story initially started out as). The cars could have been filmed for real and just superimposed into the same shot together, but it’s this kind of trickery that I fear will take away from the realism and make us feel less involved, which was never a concern when watching the gritty action of the original trilogy.

After Before

These issues aside, Fury Road promises to stay faithful to the original trilogy but set itself apart by telling its own story and expanding the saga’s existing themes, as I’d hoped. The last entry, Beyond Thunderdome, despite expanding the saga’s existing themes, lacked the action and efficiency of Mad Max 2, due partly to its segmented plot. Miller has said that Fury Road will be “almost a continuous chase”, so action will not be sacrificed for story. It also offers to present action like we’ve never seen before, with bad guys attached to poles on the back of vehicles battling with Max as they swing back and forth; an innovation that could rival the Thunderdome fight scene. With the offer of non-stop action and the most richly thematic story of the saga so far, Fury Road could be Mad Max’s greatest adventure yet.

More Mad Max!

Just One Man Can Make a Difference (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

If We Can’t Stick Together (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome)

Mad Max

Only Fury (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Missing Mel (Mad Max: Fury Road)

The Man Who Came from the Sky (Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior)

Homophobic Horror

Carol Clover’s ‘final girl’ theory insists that in the Horror film subgenre, the Slasher film, the audience, both male and female, are structurally forced to identify with the female character labelled the ‘final girl’, who survives the killer’s onslaught, often by slaughtering him herself. I propose that the final girl is female in physicality only, and her identity is that of a male whose heterosexuality is threatened and in danger of being converted by the symbolically non-heterosexual killer.

Fears of the non-heterosexual have permeated horrific tales through the ages, from the cross-dressing wolf of Little Red Riding Hood (Perrault, 1697) to the monstrous progeny of Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and Pretorius’ (Ernest Thesiger) homosexual union in Bride of Frankenstein (dir. Whale, 1935). These are early examples in film and literature, but the direct roots of the Slasher can be traced back to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The depiction of the non-heterosexual male as subversive, wicked and deranged permeates Hitchcock’s films much as it did American society at the time. Rope (dir. Hitchcock, 1948) sees a homosexual couple, based upon real-life homosexual killers, Leopold and Loeb, commit murder for sport. Strangers on a Train (dir. Hitchcock, 1951) initiates many staples of the Slasher subgenre, such as the shadowy killer who stalks and attacks a young girl in a suburban setting. Also, through the film’s killer, Bruno (Robert Walker), Strangers incorporates many of society’s views on homosexuals; views that can be drawn from viewing ‘educational’ films such as Boys Beware (dir. Davis, 1961). Boys Beware depicts homosexuality as a contagious disease of the mind, and homosexuals, although outwardly normal, as murderous masked predators who target young boys. It describes conversing with a homosexual as “riding in the shadow of death”, which could easily be the tagline for a Slasher film. Further views from the era on the nature of homosexuals can be gained from reading Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals (Bieber, et al., 1962), considered at the time the definitive text on homosexuality.

“The specific findings of Homosexuality (in Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals) concerned three broad areas: mother-son relationships, father-son relationships, and developmental patterns. A significantly greater proportion of homosexuals had ‘close-binding-intimate mothers’ who were seductive to their sons and also over-controlling and inhibiting. A significantly higher proportion of homosexuals also reported having detached, hostile, or rejecting fathers whom they hated or feared during their childhoods.” “It was also found that boys who grew up to be homosexual fit the stereotype of the sissy.” (Lewes, 1988, pp.184).

Many comparisons can be drawn between these depictions of homosexuals and Bruno and his relationship with Strangers’ protagonist, Guy (Farley Granger). Bruno, although ostensibly erudite and charming, is mentally deranged. He is camp, effeminate – enjoying having his nails manicured – adoring of his overly protective mother (Marion Lorne), and has an indignant hatred for his distant father (Jonathan Hale). The older Bruno instigates a flirtatious seduction of the boyish Guy. Granger also played Philip Morgan, the subjugated partner in the homosexual relationship in Rope; a precursor to his role as the victimised Guy. It is indicative of Hitchcock’s view of the character of Guy as a victim of a homosexual aggressor that he would select Granger to play him. Bruno’s homosexual coaxing escalates into predatory stalking in an attempt to seduce Guy into the ways of the killer. Bruno’s characterisation and actions mirror those of society’s perception of the homosexual, with his status as a killer symbolic of his homosexuality and the act of murder acting as a metaphor for homosexual intercourse. Guy’s role in the narrative can be seen as a prototype for the final girl, with all future final girls adopting his position as a male whose heterosexuality is under threat from a non-heterosexual antagonist.

Hitchcock’s depiction of the non-heterosexual killer continued in Psycho (dir. Hithcock, 1960), a film that with its knife-wielding costumed killer, and gruesome, periodic murderous attacks, helped set the template for all subsequent Slasher films. The film would see the character of the homicidally deranged, homosexual mummy’s boy, glimpsed at in Strangers, taken to the extreme with the character of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Norman, whose upbringing could be drawn straight from the pages of A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals, would help set the template for all subsequent Slasher film killers. His father died when he was a child, removing his male role model and leaving him to develop an intimate relationship with his domineering, matriarchal mother. He secretly poisoned and killed his mother and her newfound lover; the murder taking place while they were in bed, implying recent sexual interaction. This is not only indicative of his jealous attachment to his mother but also his fear and disgust of heterosexual love. Slasher film killers’ aversion to heterosexual love would continue in future films, with killers frequently carrying out murders of young heterosexual couples embroiled in sexual encounters.

The murder of his mother irrevocably warps the young Norman’s mind, transforming him into a gender-bending sociopath, who dresses as and takes on the persona of his mother to carry out his brutal murders. Norman’s ‘mother’ persona is a personification of his homosexuality; a disease that eats at his mind, one that must be fought and repressed if he is to find normality and redemption. Psycho’s sequels take a greater focus on Norman’s redemption, as he seeks normality through heterosexual relationships and finally marriage, with the shadow of his deviant, cross-dressing alter ego perpetually hanging over him. Much like Bruno and the murderers of Boys Beware, Norman successfully hides in plain sight, lulling his victims into a false sense of security. But when the shy ‘boy next door’ side of his persona becomes heterosexually aroused, his mother persona emerges, rebuking and terminating his feelings. By adopting his mother persona, he is symbolically castrated, reflecting society’s view of the homosexual as less than a man: a sissy. For Norman, killing is an outlet for his sexual inadequacy; the phallic knife penetrating the flesh in an unnatural manner acting as a grim substitute for the sexual act, reflecting society’s view of the perverseness of homosexual intercourse.

By the mid-seventies, attitudes towards homosexuality and transvestism had improved. Despite this, a new generation of filmmakers emerged, highly influenced by Hitchcock and raised in an era where non-heterosexuals were treated as an ever-present danger, initiating a golden age of Slasher films. Dressed to Kill (dir. De Palma, 1980) is a Slasher film profoundly influenced by Hitchcock. As in Psycho, the film features a murder in a shower, a blonde (implied to be the leading lady) being killed off early on, and a cross-dressing killer. Transvestism is again depicted as a dangerous psychosis, with Bobbi (Michael Caine), the killer’s ‘female’ side, killing whenever Robert, his ‘male’ side, is heterosexually aroused. Other Slasher films, such as The Silence of the Lambs (dir. Demme, 1991) and Sleepaway Camp (dir. Hiltzik, 1983), continue these negative representations of transvestites. The Silence of the Lambs’ killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), skins his victims to create a female skin suit, and Angela (Felissa Rose), Sleepaway Camp’s ‘secretly male’ killer, is driven insane by his adoptive parent forcing him to live his life as a girl.

A seminal film, crucial to the emergence of this new era of Slasher films, is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (dir. Hooper, 1974). The film features a group of young people who set out on a road trip and fall afoul of a perverse, cannibalistic family. Like Norman, the family’s perverse desecration of the body is symbolic of their carnal homosexual depravity, which writer Kim Henkel concedes by acknowledging his inspiration for the film:

“The character that influenced the script was a guy named Elmer Wayne Henley. Elmer Wayne was the procurer for an older man. Elmer Wayne would lure young men to the ‘ghouls kitchen’ so to speak, and the older man and Elmer Wayne would have sexual relations with these young men, and then the young men would be murdered.” (2008).

Also like Norman, the family are a product of a perverted upbringing (their grandfather instigating their cannibalistic tendencies) and the corruptive influence of the matriarch, as they hold their Great-Grandma in great reverence. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (dir. Hooper, 1986), her corpse is placed in a shrine made of human bones. Worship of the matriarch features in other Slasher films, such as Friday the 13th Part 2 (dir. Miner, 1981), in which the killer, Jason (Warrington Gillette), constructs a shrine for his mother’s decapitated head. To compensate for the death of Great-Grandma, the character of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) has taken on her role. Like Norman, Leatherface is a transvestite, and his transvestism is presented as a deranged sickness and the product of a scarred childhood. He wears a wig and a mask of human flesh adorned with makeup, has a high-pitched voice, and with his rotund figure and apron, like Red Riding Hood’s wolf, he becomes a gross parody of the grandmother figure. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (dir. Henkel, 1994), Leatherface’s (Robert Jacks) transvestism becomes blatant. He applies lipstick and nail polish, dons a black dress, pearl earrings and a necklace, and his masks are stated to be made solely from female victims, from which he also fashions fake breasts.

In Chainsaw Massacre 2, Leatherface (Bill Johnson) instigates a relationship with Stretch (Caroline Williams), the final girl, which like Bruno and Guy’s relationship, can be viewed as a homosexual seduction. During the film, Leatherface corners Stretch, about to impale her with his phallic chainsaw. In desperation, she acts flirtatiously towards him, and his sexual gratification acts as a substitute for the kill. Later, when Stretch infiltrates the family’s lair, Leatherface conceals her from the rest of the family and attempts to further their romantic involvement. In distaste for her physical form, he places a mask of flesh upon her, made from ‘male’ skin, and they dance romantically. Like Bruno’s seduction of Guy, Leatherface is converting the symbolically male Stretch to his perverse homosexual lifestyle. At the film’s climax, Stretch is pursued by Chop Top (Bill Moseley) to Great-Grandma’s shrine and the conversion instigated by Leatherface reaches fruition. Stretch takes a chainsaw from the dead hands of Great-Grandma, symbolically accepting the corruptive influence of the matriarch. She skewers Chop Top with the symbolically phallic chainsaw; the kill again used as a metaphor for homosexual intercourse. She then proceeds to whirl her chainsaw in a fit of insanity, directly paralleling Leatherface’s actions at the end of the first film, symbolising she has become like him, a sexual deviant.

Halloween’s (dir. Carpenter, 1978) Michael Myers (Nick Castle) is another killer with strong roots in the films of Hitchcock, confirming his position as another homosexual tormentor. Like Norman, he had a traumatic childhood and killed a family member due to distaste for heterosexual sex, having at age six murdered his sister (Sandy Johnson) after discovering her in bed with her boyfriend (David Kyle). Like Bruno, he is a predatory figure, watching from the shadows, stalking his victims through a suburban setting. Another acknowledgement of the influence of Hitchcock is the casting of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), the final girl, who’s played by the daughter of Psycho star, Janet Leigh. An indication that Laurie, like Stretch, is symbolically male is her androgynous appearance. She shares this trait with other final girls, such as Stretch, and Silence of the Lambs’ Clarice (Jodie Foster), who all have short hair and wear masculine clothing, such as shorts, trousers, and suits. Questioned on whether his film punished female sexuality, director John Carpenter had this to say:

“They (the critics) completely missed the boat there, I think. Because if you turn it around, the one girl who is the most sexually uptight just keeps stabbing the guy with a long knife. She’s the most sexually frustrated. She’s the one that killed him. Not because she’s a virgin, but because all that repressed energy starts coming out. She uses all those phallic symbols on the guy… She and the killer have a certain link: sexual repression.” (Clover, 1992, pp.48-49).

Carpenter acknowledges the sexual repression of both the killer and the final girl, and also the phallic symbolism of the weapon. Crucially, the final girl’s association with this phallic symbol reveals her symbolic manhood.

But if the final girl is representative of a male, why is she played by a female? A film that breaks from this convention is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (dir. Sholder, 1985). Revenge sees the traditional position held by the final girl assumed by a male, Jesse (Mark Patton), and the themes of non-heterosexual fear are made manifest. Jesse has nightmares of being a misfit and being uncomfortable with girls. This shows that, like past final girls, he is socially awkward and sexually anxious and resistant. His social awkwardness is also visible in reality, as depicted via several embarrassing incidents involving Grady (Robert Rusler), including Grady pulling Jesse’s gym shorts down in front of his classmates. This is the beginning of a relationship between the two boys with patent sexual undercurrents. Grady refers to Jesse as a “pretty boy”, the couple discuss wet dreams, and a sexually fuelled row erupts when Jesse snaps at Grady when he asks him out to the movies. Like past killers, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) takes on the role of homosexual aggressor and tempter. Freddy visits Jesse in his nightmares in an attempt to seduce him and enter his body so he can wreak havoc in the real world; the possession of Jesse’s body clearly acting as a metaphor for homosexual intercourse. The sexual nature of the relationship is made apparent via Freddy’s flirtatious actions and dialogue, as he is seen to stroke Jesse’s face and declare, “I need you, Jesse.”

“Freddy Krueger, seems to exist solely in order to work the frightening generic and social connections between horror and homosexuality.” (Benshof, 1997, pp.246).

Revenge’s depiction of homosexuality is evidently in line with the dated opinions of Boys Beware, with homosexuality presented as an evil temptation that Jesse must resist, an abhorrent contagion that can be passed on by an elder aggressor. The film’s writer freely admits its subtext:

“I started thinking about guys being unsure of their sexuality, and I thought, ‘well, that’s pretty scary.’” “Freddy appeals to that gay part that’s like, the questions, he appeals to the questions that Jesse’s asking himself.” (Chaskin, Never Sleep Again, 2010).

Troubled by Freddy’s nocturnal visits, Jesse begins to act erratically. At this point, Revenge displays more outdated opinions on homosexuality as Jesse’s mother (Hope Lange) is extremely protective of him, defending him against his disapproving father (Clu Gulager); parental characterisations in line with A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals.

Freddy ignites homosexual feelings in Jesse that begin to reach fruition during the sequence at the pool party. As the young heterosexual couples start to pair off, an anxious Jesse is escorted to the changing room by Lisa (Kim Myers), a female suitor. The reluctant Jesse declares, “I’m not into this”. Lisa insists she wants to help, but Jesse argues, “How can ‘you’ help me?”, emphasising his feelings for her sexual inadequacy as a woman. Jesse is cajoled into a sexual encounter with Lisa, but Freddy intervenes, his tongue emerging from Jesse’s mouth and sending him into a panic. Freddy symbolises Jesse’s homosexual nature, an evil that restrains his heterosexual feelings. He releases Jesse’s homosexual urges, sending him running to Grady’s bedroom. Jesse’s sexual intentions are apparent as he throws himself upon Grady, demanding, “I need you to let me stay here”. He confesses, “Something is trying to get inside my body” and Grady replies, “Yeah, and she’s female. And you wanna sleep with me.” The final girl’s conversion into the killer, as seen in Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Halloween, becomes literal as Freddy bursts out from within Jesse’s body, impaling Grady against the door, symbolising the unleashing of Jesse’s destructive homosexual urges, with the kill again substituting for homosexual intercourse. Like Norman, Jesse has a chance of redemption through heterosexual love. Lisa confronts Freddy and Jesse’s consciousness begs for death, but she declares her love for Jesse and kisses Freddy. Her heterosexual love destroys Freddy’s malignant homosexual force, sending Jesse’s gay nature into remission, and a new heterosexual Jesse rises from the ashes of Freddy’s corpse.

Although Revenge follows all the conventions of the classic Slasher film, bar the casting of the male lead, it is not well regarded by fans, being mockingly referred to as “the ‘Homo Nightmare on Elm Street’ on the net by a million prepubescent boys” (Patton, Never Sleep Again, 2010). The cast and crew, including producer Joel Soisson, also acknowledge the film’s failings and cite the casting of a male in the role of the final girl as responsible.

“when you suddenly cast your male lead in the victim role, and then you have him scream like a girl for ninety minutes, you’re gonna have some people going, ‘well, that’s not the manliest performance I’ve ever seen.’” (Soisson, Never Sleep Again, 2010).

To understand the failure of casting a male in the final girl role, it is vital to consider audience expectations when viewing Slasher films; films that are used as a form of romantic courtship by millions of young heterosexual couples.

“teenage boys enjoyed a horror film significantly more when the female companion they were sitting next to expressed fright, whereas teenage girls enjoyed the film more when the male companion with whom they were paired showed a sense of mastery and control.” (Zillmann, et al., 1986, pp.586).

Accepting this, to depict a male protagonist having his sexuality put into question, and his control threatened, would work contrary to the popular appeal of the films. Therefore, it becomes clear why although the final girl’s identity remains male, she must physically become female.

Bibliography

Books

Bershoff, H., 1997. Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Bieber, I., Dain, H.J., Dince, P.R., Drellich, M.G., Grand, H.G., Gundlach, R.R., Kremer, M.W., Rifkin, A.H., Wilbur, C.B. and Bieber, T.B., 1962. Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals. New York: Basic Books.

Clover, C.J., 1992. Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Lewes, K., 1988. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality. New York: Plume.

Perrault, C., 1697. Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals. Paris: Publisher Unknown.

Zillmann, D., Weaver, J. B., Mundorf, N. and Aust, C. F., 1986. Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, [Journal Article] 3(51). 586. Available through: Zotero Website < https://www.zotero.org/mbeam/items/itemKey/BDRMT58F > [Accessed 15 March 2013].

DVD Extras

Interview with director Tobe Hooper, 2008. [DVD Extra] USA: Dark Sky Films.

Interview with writer Kim Henkel, 2008. [DVD Extra] USA: Dark Sky Films.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 2008. [DVD Commentary] Tobe Hooper. USA: Dark Sky Films.

Films

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985. [Film] Directed by Jack Sholder. USA: New Line Cinema.

Boys Beware, 1961. [Film] Directed by Sid Davis. USA: Sid Davis Productions.

Bride of Frankenstein, 1935. [Film] Directed by James Whale. USA: Universal.

Dressed to Kill, 1980. [Film] Directed by Brian De Palma. USA: Cinema 77.

Flesh Wounds, 2006. [Documentary] Directed by Michael Felsher. USA: Dark Sky Films.

Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981. [Film] Directed by Steve Miner. USA: Paramount.

Halloween, 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. USA: Compass International.

Never Sleep Again, 2010. [Documentary] Directed by Daniel Farrands & Andrew Kasch. USA: 1428 Films.

Psycho, 1960. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Paramount.

Rope, 1948. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Warner Brothers.

The Silence of the Lambs, 1991. [Film] Directed by Jonathan Demme. USA: Orion.

Sleepaway Camp, 1983. [Film] Directed by Robert Hiltzik. USA: American Eagle Films.

Strangers on a Train, 1951. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Warner Brothers.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, 1974. [Film] Directed by Tobe Hooper. USA: Bryanston Films.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 1986. [Film] Directed by Tobe Hooper. USA: Cannon Group.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, 1994. [Film] Directed by Kim Henkel. USA: Return Productions.

Online Newspaper Articles  

Maher, K., 2010. Psycho: The Impact Made by Alfred Hitchcock’s Classic Movie. The Times, [online] 26 March. Available at: www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/arts/film/article2467719.ece [Accessed 15 March 2013].

Websites

Kelly, A.S., 2010. Mother Issues. [online] Available at: www.screenjabber.com/psycho-50th-importance [Accessed 15 March 2013].