“Who killed the world?” The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) asks in Mad Max’s (Tom Hardy) post-apocalyptic world of fire and blood. The answer to her question floats across the white noise that accompanies the starting credits of Mad Max: Fury Road:
“We are killing for gasoline.
“The world is actually running out of water”
“Now there are the water wars “.
If greed killed the world, it didn’t die with the thermonuclear apocalypse. As the earth soured, capitalism mutated and entrenched itself further. By naming the three main habitations in the film, George Miller perhaps (un) consciously refers to a corporate-military-fossil industry complex where the Citadel produces water (aka Aqua Cola) and trades it with Gas Town and Bullet Farm.
In this nightmare that is left behind, men still rule how things get produced, owned, traded and consumed. The Citadel is a repository of fresh water, control of which makes Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) a powerful overlord. But the Citadel is also a factory where women’s socially productive labour is exploited as ‘produce’. Young women in the citadel are ‘breeders’, who are forcibly impregnated to swell the ranks of Immortan Joe’s army of ‘war boys’; and their breast milk is stockpiled as ‘mothers milk’ and traded. In the Citadel, the control on commodification of nature and women go hand in hand.
Interestingly, this echoes closely with what ecofeminist scholar Ariel Salleh argues to be one of the key premise of ecofeminism, which is that the “objectification, exploitation, and destruction of nature will not be remedied without addressing the parallel structural resourcing of women”.
Mad Max: Fury Road is anchored around the escape of a group of prized “breeders” from the Citadel and their search for the Green Place. While the Citadel is masculinist, violent and thrives on exploitation, it is juxtaposed with the Green Place of Many Mothers, a place where women grow food and rule their own territory. This escape from “man-capital-human” to “woman –labour-nature” reflects closely the ideological dualism that Salleh points at in ecofeminist discourse. But after reaching the Green Place of Many Mothers, it dawns on the group that it no longer exists. The earth has soured and contamination displaced the Many Mothers of whom only a handful has survived. However, instead of going further on, they decide to return to the Citadel with the remaining Many Mothers to recapture it. I personally believe that this turning point of the film is also a political one. It recognises that for women, there is no ecofeminist utopia that exists out there, but it’s a political struggle that has to take place at the heart of the male dominated military industrial complex that the world is.
This escape and return constitutes a high octane hold-on-to-your –seats chase sequence that never allows a single dull moment to creep in. The film is remarkably parsimonious on dialogue for a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster, but still manages to squeeze in serious ecological and feminist messages. Within the Many Mothers, is a character called the “Keeper of Seeds” (Melissa Jeffer). Her collection of seeds is hope for nurturing and healing the world. The relation between women and nature, where the former act as seed keepers is often discussed by Vandana Shiva in her ecofeminist writings on India and the Global South. It may seem a bit romanticized, but this discussion on seeds and hope is juxtaposed with the Many Mothers being badass hell’s angel’s bikers who shoot to kill. The coming together of the Many Mothers and the ‘breeders’ is a great plot device, where it brings together two binaries, and shows that solidarity can develop between two groups of women, each from a completely different context. The development of this ‘sisterhood’ is dealt with sensitively, and is one of the rare moments when human emotions are seen to survive in an inhuman world.
In many ways, Mad Max: Fury Road is a deviation from its earlier male centred narrative around Max and puts Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in the lead. With a number of female protagonists sharing centre stage, and the theme it deals with, the film is a testimony to how current discourses on feminism and gender have embedded itself into film making.
Unfortunately, in the making of the film, the filmmakers stand accused of damaging the fragile ecosystem of the Dorob national park, in the Namib Desert in Nambia. Given the ecological messages in the film, it is indeed disappointing that Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t walk the talk.