The Heroic Masculinity of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Mad Max Fury Road - road battle

Toxic Masculinity vs. Men

It is immediately obvious that the toxic culture established by Immortan Joe is harmful for women, but Mad Max: Fury Road makes a point of showing us that it’s no picnic for men, either. Nux and his War Boy brethren aren’t enslaved like the women are, and they’re entrusted with guns and cars. However, they’re similarly treated as objects — as weapons and tools — rather than people.

In the midst of one battle, a leader wonders aloud, “All this for a family squabble?” There’s a bit more to it than that — healthy babies are apparently hard to come by in this world, making strong breeders and viable fetuses valuable. But Immortan Joe’s fight certainly isn’t about the sanctity of life; he’s perfectly willing to let dozens of his followers die for him.

What keeps the War Boys in line isn’t locks or chains, but something more insidious. Immortan Joe has manipulated them into worshipping him, to the extent that they believe dying for his cause is their ultimate calling. Even when Immortan Joe isn’t around, that warrior mentality is reinforced by other War Boys, who follow his lead and promote a culture of violence, destruction, and aggression.

Mad Max Fury Road - Max and Furiosa

Good Men Among Women

Within the confines of War Boy culture, it’s hard to imagine a different way. But we, as the audience, get to see a different way, as Max and Nux continue their journey with the women (i.e., Furiosa, the wives, and the Vuvalini). Notably, Max and Nux don’t take charge, and they don’t expect sex or power in return for their services.

It’s a depressingly common trope for white male characters to come charging into a situation they know nothing about, and immediately become the One who can fix everything. (See: The Matrix, The Lego Movie, The Maze Runner, etc.) So it’s refreshing that in Mad Max: Fury Road, Max and Nux realize this isn’t their mission, that they’re there to help instead of lead.

Mad Max: Fury Road also bucks the trope of the action hero “getting the girl.” Yes, Max and Nux befriend Furiosa and Capable, respectively. But there’s never any expectation that these women, or any others, owe them sex or romance. Contrast that to Skyfall, in which James Bond is rewarded with sex after rescuing a woman from sexual slavery.

Mad Max Fury Road - Max and the wives

Heroic Motivations

This isn’t to say Max and Nux submit blindly or become emasculated. The film never takes away their agency. Max offers a better suggestion when Furiosa embarks on what he can see is a fool’s errand. Nux switches sides of his own volition, not because Furiosa or anyone else forced him to. But it’s rare to see white male action heroes willing to let someone else drive, metaphorically and literally.

So if they’re not getting sex, love, or even gushing gratitude for their services, what are they getting out of all of this? Well, the same thing the women are. They get to fight for a cause they care about (or at least, come to care about) alongside people they care about. They get to tear down a society that has used them for ill. Since the movie never robs Max and Nux of their power, it’s clear they find this to be a perfectly satisfactory deal.

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