friday night movie club

Mad Max: Fury Road Is a Model Movie for Our Troubled Times

It’s one of the most compelling postapocalyptic visions ever put on film. But the reason has less to do with calamity, and more with poetry. Photo: Village Roadshow/Kobal/Shutterstock

Every week for the foreseeable future, Vulture will be selecting one film to watch as part of our new Friday Night Movie Club. This week’s selection comes from our film critic Bilge Ebiri, who will begin his screening of Mad Max: Fury Road on March 27 at 7 p.m. ET. Head to Vulture’s Twitter to catch his live commentary, and look ahead at next’s week movie here.

Tonight, starting at 7 p.m. ET, I’ll be livetweeting George Miller’s Oscar-winning, generation-defining Mad Max: Fury Road, as part of Vulture’s Friday Night Movie series. (To read last week’s terrific livetweeting of Some Like It Hot by my brilliant colleague Angelica Jade Bastién, go here.)

Why Fury Road? Of course, on some level, it makes perfect sense. It is certainly one of the greatest action movies of all time, as well as one of the most compelling postapocalyptic visions ever put on film, continuing and escalating the vivid catastrophizing that director Miller kicked off with his first entry in the series back in 1979.

But what makes it such a perfect movie for our troubled times — even though our current housebound dystopia is a far cry from the endless, rolling exterior expanses of Miller’s vision — has nothing to do with calamity, but with poetry. The characters’ haunting glances, the grand gestures of both the people onscreen and the cameras swirling around them, the downright Melvillean dialogue. These elements speak not just to the apocalyptic imagination but also to our dreams of a better world, with a kind of wild-eyed, shamanistic urgency. Fury Road isn’t afraid to be hysterical or to look ridiculous. The over-the-top aesthetic — the death-defying stunts, the baroque camera moves, the thundering music, the rhythmic, rapid-fire editing — matches the desperation of the characters.

Miller has always excelled at this kind of high operatic style. The Road Warrior (the second entry in the Mad Max series) offered an electrifying blend of the perverse, the mythic, and the visceral. His medical drama Lorenzo’s Oil, which remains his masterpiece, turned a young boy’s terrifying diagnosis and his family’s grief and gathering determination into an Expressionist symphony. His talking-pig sequel Babe: Pig in the City was the rare children’s film that connected to the dark, twisted, nightmarish traditions of classic children’s literature. (Of course, it flopped and almost took Universal down with it.) Over and over again, Miller has proved himself one of the world’s great artists, but it wasn’t until Fury Road that he seemed to become a household name.

Fury Road was nominated for ten Oscars in 2016 (including Best Picture) and it went on to win six of them, though it missed out on the big prizes of Picture and Director. (Those went to Spotlight and The Revenant, respectively.) Most of its nominations came in those categories we sometimes dismissively call “technical” ones, and which the Academy is always trying to cut from the show. There are two injustices here: One, the technical categories are the things that make cinema cinema, and they should ideally be the most important awards in any Oscars show. But more importantly, Fury Road absolutely deserved to be nominated in the performance categories, and for Screenplay. How does any of this work without Tom Hardy’s performance as Max, brooding, bewildered, and deranged? Or without Charlize Theron’s riveting, inspiring turn as Imperator Furiosa, whose toughness masks both tenderness and doubt? A movie exploding with emotion needs actors who are willing to explode with it.

As for Screenplay, Fury Road does the very thing that filmmakers are always trying to achieve: It tells its story visually and economically, and it allows feeling and meaning to emerge organically, through incident and through the characters’ interactions. In that sense, it is a perfect screenplays, even if it reportedly started out as 3,500 storyboards before it became words on a page. Never mind, the film has already stood the test of time. With each passing day it becomes more beloved — and more essential.

Mad Max: Fury Road is available to rent on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, and Vudu.

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Mad Max: Fury Road Is a Model Movie for Our Troubled Times