George Miller knows a thing or two about dystopias. He basically predicted the Gulf War, while commenting on the fuel shortage anarchy of the OPEC oil crisis, in 1979’s Mad Max and 1981’s The Road Warrior. And God help us if the worldwide drought turns into a Fury Road situation. So it seemed wise, upon running into Miller at the opening night dinner for the Cannes Film Festival, for which he’s serving as president of the jury, to ask him about Donald Trump.
First of all, Miller said, the reason the Mad Max films resonate is because they’re allegories “about what’s pretty constant in our behavior, even in the modern world. There’s a power structure where, one way or another, all of the resources are controlled by the few at the expense of the many.” And that same dynamic seems to be playing out in the American elections, which he is watching with interest. “Sometimes America feels like a failed state,” Miller said with a sigh. “I remember when I first went to America, the Americans said, ‘The best way to understand America is you’ll get the best and the worst of everything.’ But when you look at the political system it seems very dysfunctional and very sad.”
Regarding the rise of Donald Trump, he said, “The word everyone uses seems to be ‘scary.’” But he might have called it inevitable. “I had a bet when Trump first started, with an Australian who works for the diplomatic service so he’s pretty aware,” said Miller. “And he said, ‘Oh, Trump won’t get anywhere near the nomination.’ And I said, ‘But compared to the others, he’s got this very compelling charisma.’ And as I watched it happening, I got so anti-Ted Cruz — I agree with John Boehner who says he’s Lucifer in the flesh. That group is very scary. Hopefully they’re put aside and hopefully Trump unravels the Republican party, so you get a little bit … I’m not even qualified. Do you think Hillary will triumph? What about the emails? It’ll be interesting if you have Trump in America and Justin Trudeau in Canada, because at least Trudeau has a …” Miller pointed to his temple, indicating a brain.
For now, though, Miller has his own presidency to worry about. There’s the brutal schedule of watching films and meeting to talk about them for hours every day — with jury members including directors Arnaud Desplechin and Lázló Nemes (Son of Saul), Italian actress-director Valeria Golino, actors Kirsten Dunst, Mads Mikkelsen, Vanessa Paradis, and Donald Sutherland, and Iranian producer Katayoon Shahabi — while dealing with an eight-hour jet lag. Miller likened the experience to a book club, but admitted he was having trouble bridging the divide between those who smoke and those who don’t. Every meeting involved all the smokers suddenly getting up to go to the balcony, and it wasn’t like the non-smokers could join them there, because some, like Donald Sutherland, are allergic to smoke. Miller was so concerned, I watched him plead with festival director Thierry Frémaux for advice. (Frémaux said Miller had to put down the hammer on the smokers and tell them to treat the meetings like a movie screening — something they couldn’t leave.) Miller, an ex-smoker, had sympathy for both sides, but ultimately those days are behind him. “I gave it up a long time ago,” he said. “I think I’d probably be dead by now.” Now that’s the kind of empathy we want in a leader, even if his rule is just for two weeks over a single building on the French Riviera.