Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mad Max & Other Feminist Movie Reviews

Anyone else see Mad Max: Fury Road and have your heart beating in your ears the whole time? People said it broke all the rules of story-telling, starting us with a chase scene, giving no dialogue until many minutes into the movie, and making the entire plot one long extended car chase. All true, all fantastic.

Mad Max also put women in lead roles, saving the day from the bad dudes. And not in a "feminist agenda" way: I'm confused what that actually means, but I think something about man-hating. Mad Max was simply a good story with strong women. Which is what feminism is.

From the Feminist Mad Max tumblr.

Of course, there are critiques. People have fulminated against the outfits of the fleeing wives, for example. They're dressed in white gauzy wraps that leave thighs and midriffs bare, and when we first meet them, they're washing off in a jet of water.

But there's nothing sensual about the scene. At no point during running, climbing, or fighting were any of the women's bodies put on display, nor were gratuitous zoom-in shots added to get lady-loving viewers excited.

We could argue whether what they're wearing is sexual or not, but I don't think that's the point. The point is that this movie managed not to objectify female bodies. Women shouldn't have to dress a certain way to earn "humanizing" status from media. Covering up shouldn't be a requirement for dignity.

People have also taken issue with the subtle background message sent when we see corpulent women hooked up to milking machines, none of whom seek escape from their fate. This is juxtaposed against the story of the five skinny wives who are running away from a life of being bred (despite the fact that they should be too thin-hipped for good child-bearing).

But in a male-dominated world, this made perfect sense. Of course the small, girlish ones would be chosen for sex, especially where "perfectly formed children" is the end-goal. (The idea that large women have easy childbearing and small women don't is a damaging generalization and a whole different post.)

In a world where escape almost certainly means being caught/killed/tortured, running away is only worth it if what you're leaving behind is far worse. Both sets of women are being objectified, but we shouldn't be surprised that it's the ones used as rape toys who flee. I want more body types represented among heroes/ines, but I didn't have a problem with the way Mad Max portrayed our runaways.

Then we get to see the victims of sexual abuse stand up for themselves. They load guns and help Furiosa with the big rig. They may not know what they're doing and sometimes they're terrified. Sometimes they do what all abuse victims do and pine for their abusers.

But in the end, they fight and become no longer victims, but survivors.

Mad Max is unique in telling a woman's story from a man's point of view. Furiosa is the heroine while Max is a selfish dude trying get by. This is his story of getting wrapped up in Furiosa's rebellion, a cause which is bigger than himself, and being inspired by her heroism to do something selfless.

Best of all, no romance spoils it. I'm not sure I've ever seen a story where a man is simply inspired by a woman, without falling for her, becoming better than her, or taking the reins from her once he "mans up." Furiosa is larger than life, a state Max never attains. She's also the impetus for Max's internal change throughout. It was simple and natural.

From the Feminist Mad Max tumblr.

At one point, Furiosa decides to ride across the salt flats to escape the evil swarm. Max comes up with a more daring, confrontational plan. Furiosa considers it, decides to do it, and prepares her team.

This exchange didn't take away from Furiosa's agency or heroism. She chose the safe route (the flats) because this is her Darkest Hour. It doesn't look like it, but she's lost hope. Then Max suggests the radical path she craves, restoring her crazy courage. This is a precise gender-flip on so many other movies. Typically, the male hero loses his focus, and his female counterpart bucks him up with the we'll-probably-die-but-it's-worth-it plan. He takes heart, makes the plan his own, and leads the cavalry to victory.

This was simply the other way around: him supporting her, without dominating or diminishing her. It was another thing I don't think I've ever seen before,* and it was awesome. This is what feminism should look like in our stories.

Max's male-dominated world has been ruined by greed and the tight-fisted control of a few. Nevertheless, there was no man-hating message. This is what the world looks like when people get used to privilege and take entitlement to an extreme. In Mad Max, men are not primitive or pigs: they're people who're used to getting what they want and unused to sharing.

From the Feminist Mad Max tumblr.

In our world, men have been the privileged gender for millennia. Privilege makes you feel entitled to certain things, and upset at having to work for them. Sexual dominance, for instance, has been granted to men by culture. Consequently, it's men who tend to get upset when they have to work at a mutually-satisfying sexual relationship, while women rarely take having a voice in the bedroom for granted, since it was denied for so long.

This is why solutions for the Third World lie in supporting wives and mothers. Giving microloans to men result in them putting the money into risky ventures or simply spending it on themselves. When the focus is on mothers, we see them invest reasonably in their businesses and build a future for their kids.

There are many fathers in parts of the world who do not work, living off the income from selling their daughters to Westerners for sex. It's not that they're incapable of loving their daughters: it's that humans--men and women--always take the easiest route. This is why privilege is such a difficult issue.

Mad Max wasn't feminist because it tried to be: it simply showed current cultural trends taken to an extreme--practically the definition of dystopian stories. The film shows what happens when the entitled control the world, and it shows women willing to risk everything to save themselves and find freedom.

In other words, it was a story. An awesome story. With lots of big cars and fire and fast-moving fight scenes atop the big vehicles. In my opinion, all feminist movies should come with a modified big rig driven by Charlize Theron with a shaved head. If you haven't seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, you need to. And fast.

This post went so long that you'll have to wait for the other two movies on Saturday! I'll give you a sneak peak...

Verdict so far: Can I be Furiosa when I grow up?

Before we got to the next reviews, shit went down in the real world and this happened: What I'm Responsible For, & Not, As a White Person

Skip to More Feminist Reviews: Age of Ultron & Insurgent.

* I've seen women characters lead the final charge, though it's surprisingly rare. But frequently it takes a lot more for a heroine to get pulled out of her Darkest Hour. She relies heavily on her male counterpart and doesn't so much make the plan her own--figuring out the details and making the orders--as she says, "Yeah, everyone, do what he said." Here, the final plan was Furiosa's, even though the idea was Max's. She never once lost her agency.