Where’s the Love in Mad Max?

"Furiosa" | Art by OtisFrampton. Used with permission.
When I read that writer/director George Miller was going to return to his post-apocalyptic roots and make another Mad Max film, I didn’t think much about it. The original films were fun, cult stories but not so amazing that I would get excited for a sequel. Even Miller’s eclectic but solid body of work (everything from Lorenzo’s Oil to the talking pig classic, Babe: Pig in the City) didn’t prepare me for one of the deepest films of recent years. People have remarked on its strong ecological and feminist messages, its reimagining of the action genre, its inventive practical effects. I’ve been wanting to write about Mad Max: Fury Road for a while now, but despite its obvious richness, no topic has seemed quite right.

When Our Fearless Leader (OFL), Allison, proposed the topic “agape,” I quickly crossed Mad Max: Fury Road off my list again: “It’s an awesome movie, but where’s the love?”

Theirs is a love of choice, not attraction, and it’s marked by sacrifice.

Then I started re-reading C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves to figure out a possible direction for an article. Lewis uses the traditional English translation of agape, “charity,” and describes it as unconditional gift-love, a selfless love that places the best interests of the other person first. And then I thought more about Mad Max: Fury Road. “Wait a minute,” I said to myself, “Isn’t that movie all about this kind of selfless charity?”

Furiosa’s sacrificial love for Immortan Joe’s Five Wives embodies agape. It causes her to abandon her own position of power and influence in order to help them flee.  She risks everything to get these young women to safety. Furiosa initially seems to believe that selfless love can only exist in a specific place, her own birthplace: the utopian, matriarchal Green Place. There, she thinks, the Many Mothers will care for the Brides with selfless charity. However, when we learn that the Green Place is gone, a dissolute wasteland, and that the Many Mothers have been displaced and now scavenge for existence, we come to realize that Furiosa has already embodied this type of love. She’s created a community on wheels with outcasts and runaways.

Part of the reason I think Mad Max: Fury Road has this interest in agape is the length the film goes to undermine any suggestion of romantic love between the two main protagonists. Sure, there’s the romance between the displaced War Boy, Nux, and one of the fugitive Brides; that love—eros—represents a kind of freedom from the authority of Immortan Joe, freedom to choose a partner.  But this type of love is not transformative. It’s secondary to the community-minded love embodied by Furiosa and, later, Max, which is as capable of transforming the wasteland as the water Joe denies his people.

Agape isn’t something you get, it’s something you share.

In “Mad” Max Rockatansky, Furiosa finds a compatriot and friend.  They have no reason to trust the other; their individual experiences have been disappointment and abuse. Their relationship is not characterized by eros, but by mutual respect and a deep trust. Theirs is a love of choice, not attraction, and it’s marked by sacrifice and putting the best interests of the other above the needs of the self. We don’t usually see this type of love in action films, which typically link a hero’s worth to his (almost always his) sexual prowess. Max’s lack of interest in physical love is treated as a joke—at one point we think that Max is staring longingly at one of Joe’s Brides; however, as the camera moves, we realizes he’s actually staring at the water she is using.

After defeating Joe and upsetting the oppressive power structure of The Citadel, Max and Furiosa part. Uninterested in the attention of the crowd, Max slips away after giving Furiosa a parting nod. While the slaves of The Citadel rejoice in the life-giving water that has been withheld from them for so long, Max leaves. This ending might seem odd to an audience expecting the hero who “gets the girl,” but it’s so much more poignant.

Agape isn’t something you get, it’s something you share. It’s not something you run to, it’s something you carry with you. The love that bound that small community together will go forth in Max’s departure; he will take it out to his next adventure and to the next group he meets. That love will be like the water that washes over the dry desert of the Citadel, bringing life and hope.

Michael Boyce

Michael Boyce

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Michael W. Boyce is afflicted with severe boredom because he has a brain the size of a planet and he seldom gets the chance to use it at its full capacity. He boasts of a Ravenclaw education and we consider him to be our Yoda.

Michael teaches English Literature and Film Studies. He is a professor at Booth University College in Winnipeg and his other publications are scholarly works. He's published on Hitchcock, Alec Guinness and James Bond. He likes coffee. A lot. And Jonah Ray follows him on Twitter.
Michael Boyce