The Heroic Masculinity of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Mad Max Fury Road - Max on car

Men Giving Life

Mad Max: Fury Road also flips on its head the idea that masculinity equals destruction, while femininity equals nurturing and creation. Here, the women aren’t the only ones who can give life. From the start of the film, what makes Max extra valuable is his type-O blood — he’s a universal donor. And his heroic journey culminates in a scene where he literally gives life, by injecting blood into Furiosa’s veins to bring her back from the brink of death.

This wouldn’t be an option for all men (blood type compatibility and all), and it’s not Max’s doing that he has type-O blood. Still, it suggests masculine heroism need not solely be about destroying bad guys — it can also be about saving good guys (or good gals, in this case). Nux may not be able to contribute in the same way Max can, but he willingly gives his life so that the others can live.

Meanwhile, Mad Max: Fury Road takes jabs at the cultural association between femininity and life-giving. The female characters in this film are capable of both great destruction and great creation. Sometimes the person doing the destroying and the creating is even one and the same, like the warrior woman who carries plant seeds while distributing “anti-seeds” (bullets) to those who would harm her.


There’s Hope

While Max embodies a positive masculinity throughout the film, Nux very notably does not. His transformation is hard earned. First he fails, repeatedly, to live up to Immortan Joe’s ideals, and then he begins to see Immortan Joe’s promises of glory for the empty lies that they are. Meanwhile, he comes to see the wives as people instead of property. Only then does Nux come around to Furiosa’s side.

Contradicting Max’s lament that “hope is a mistake,” Nux is a ray of hope in this movie. His evolution is a reminder that people can change, and that good and bad are not static traits but choices offered to everyone. When he dies, he does so while fighting for a righteous cause, and he leaves behind people who will miss him. It’s a stark contrast from the dozens of anonymous War Boy casualties.

The hope represented by Nux is reinforced later in the film, when our remaining heroes return to the Citadel. The men in power at a loss for what to do, and it’s the younger War Boys — actual boys, still in training — who choose to let Furiosa and her women ascend. Again, there’s a suggestion there that all is not lost. Even people raised in a toxic culture can change their ways.

Mad Max Fury Road - Max

Conclusions: A Way Forward

In barest terms, the objective in Mad Max: Fury Road is to smash the patriarchy. But what makes this patriarchy so vile isn’t men per se, or masculinity itself —  it’s what these men choose to do with their masculine power. The “breeder” women declare “Our babies will not be warlords,” not “our babies will not be male.”

Nor do the female characters demonstrate any knee-jerk dislike of men. While they strike back at men who would hurt them, they’re quite welcoming toward men who don’t. In turn, the good men are neither threatened by these women’s power, nor eager to take advantage of their vulnerability. They understand that a woman’s strength doesn’t devalue their own.

Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t about a battle of the sexes. It’s about a better way forward. Immortan Joe’s world is a vicious hierarchy, where the strong are encouraged to prey on the weak. The women represent a more egalitarian world, where people see each other as (gasp) people, not sex toys or war machines, and work together to build a better society.

In the real world, the struggle between the two models isn’t quite so dramatic or action-packed. And the specific heroic actions taken by Max and Nux don’t really apply here. (It’s unlikely any modern man will have the need or opportunity to engage in fistfights atop a moving oil rig.) What Mad Max: Fury Road does is suggest a new way of thinking about masculinity, in which it’s used as a way to empower, rather than oppress.

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