Finding Hope Without Salvation in Mad Max: Fury Road
by Corin de Freitas, University of British Columbia
The recently released “Mad Max: Fury Road” follows the spectacular escape-turned-insurrection of a rogue warrior named Furiosa and the five enslaved “wives” of a pleonectic, water-hoarding warlord. The film has been lauded (and disparaged) by many as unabashedly feminist, but in a review for Jacobin entitled “Mad Max and the End of the World“, Stephen Maher shrugs off Fury Road’s “supposed feminism”. He argues that the film is rather a reactionary, Orientalist ode to Christianity-mediated modernity as told through a “captivity narrative” of rescuing (white) women from the Other to restore a state of purity. In this essay, which grew out of a reply to Maher, I re-center the analysis on gender because, if nothing else, it takes a lot of … well, let’s say “nerve” to footnote feminism in a film featuring a matriarchal biker society called the “Vuvalini” — a reference so unambiguous that an additional “l” would be redundant. Indeed most of director George Miller’s allusions are likewise unmistakably gendered and thus demand a deliberately feminist investigation.
Through this lens, Fury Road is clearly an autopsy of Northern/Western patriarchy: at once its bare-bones mythology and the culmination of its grim materiality. (To see Orientalism among the entrails, as Maher does, is a failure of both perception and imagination; fanaticism, face paint, and the simultaneous subjugation of multiple women do not the Other make.) The despotic Immortan Joe rules over the Australian Outback-turned-Wasteland from his garrison, The Citadel. A paradigmatic patriarch, his dominion is a landscape of socio-environmental subjugation and the spoils of conquest and capitalism. Joe’s legions of War Boys perform gender as they die crowing “witness me!”, and he has reduced women to their reproductive labour as “Milk Mothers” and “Breeders”.
In the action genre, however, toxic masculinity — whether a condemnation or celebration thereof — is pedestrian fare. What makes the film noteworthy is its female characters: Furiosa, the Vuvalini, and the five escaping women (euphemistically termed “The Wives” in most reviews but referred to herein as “The Women” and by name: The Splendid Angharad, Capable, Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile, and The Dag). As many other reviews have noted, the involvement of the franchise’s titular character, Max, is downright incidental; he is swept up in The Women’s escape while serving as a “Blood Bag”, providing a transfusion for an ailing War Boy named Nux.
Maher’s analysis suffers because although the film takes the women on screen seriously, he does not. Approaching Fury Road with the objective of doing justice to its female characters, I was particularly interested in Furiosa’s non-compliance with audience expectations as she repeatedly bucked formulaic portrayals of both gender and disability. Prompted by Furiosa’s mechanical left arm, I revisited Donna Haraway’s now-classic “A Cyborg Manifesto” in which she asks, “Why should our bodies end at the skin[?] … [M]achines can be prosthetic devices, intimate components, friendly selves. We don’t need organic holism to give impermeable whole-ness…” (1991: 178). Haraway’s cyborg undermines both the totalities and the hierarchical, oppositional dualisms (e.g. self/other, male/female, organism/machine, etc…) that structure Northern/Western thought and undergird its “logics and practices of domination” (1991: 177). The cyborg asserts instead a politics of imperfect connection, heterogeneity, and imagination. The intervening decades have rendered some of Haraway’s observations on technology and epoch simultaneously quaint and quotidian, but in other respects the cyborg is an idea whose time has come. In a cyborg interpretation, Fury Road insists on hope and possibility, on “liberation” as a process of connection, and on common cause taking root in (not in spite of) difference.
Whitewashing the Cyborg
Before exploring the hopeful possibilities of a cyborg interpretation, however, it is necessary to concentrate attention on certain limits. Specifically, Fury Road critiques gendered dynamics of domination and liberation, but its conspicuously flat racial topography sends the film barreling past important intersections of patriarchy and white supremacy.
The film is largely silent on the subject of race and its cast is overwhelmingly white; however, the story itself pivots on themes with particular salience to racialized and colonized women, depicting forms of domination (e.g. captivity, enslavement, rape, and the instrumentalization or “thingification” of bodies) endemic to the international slave trade and processes of colonization. The appropriation of these histories and experiences occludes a much more complex terrain of oppression and resistance, as detailed by Black feminist theorists like Angela Davis (1981) and Patricia Hill Collins (1990). By focusing exclusively on how patriarchy renders all women vulnerable to gendered oppression, the film obscures how in actuality its burdens have always been unevenly distributed across intersecting and co-constitutive privileges and Otherings. Co-opted under the rubric of gender, the film therefore vacates experiences like enslavement and terms like “breeders” of their racialized meanings and racializing effects (both historical and contemporary). Similarly, although Haraway proposes the cyborg as a way to think with feminists of colour, her manifesto does not acknowledge Black women’s objectification as “living machines” (Collins 1990: 45) under slavery and does not interrogate the related liberatory limits of her mechanical metaphors. Fury Road further conflates all gendered oppression by ignoring how, on the basis of race, gender and sexuality are policed and exploited in very different ways. Lastly, the film whitewashes resistance to the forms of domination it depicts. More Underground Railroad than “captivity narrative”, Fury Road riffs on the experiences of those who in fact endured, escaped, and revolted against slavery; who assisted enslaved people seeking freedom; and who formed autonomous maroon communities.
A further problem with the film’s approach is the disproportionate significance that a character of colour’s race acquires against a white backdrop. The few actors of colour with speaking roles are Zoë Kravitz (who is of African-American and Ashkenazi Jewish descent) as Toast the Knowing, Courtney Eaton (whose ancestry is Māori, Cook Islander, Chinese, and European) as Cheedo the Fragile, and Megan Gale (who has Māori and European heritage) as a Vuvalini woman named Valkyrie. Whereas the number of white characters allows Fury Road to depict white embodiments of gender and feminism as realistically heterogeneous, a heavy and homogenizing representational weight falls to Toast, Cheedo, and Valkyrie and undermines Kravitz, Eaton, and Gale’s efforts to portray these characters as specific and complex people.
Compounding the uneven stakes are what Collins (1990) calls “controlling images”: warped (but nevertheless hegemonic) caricatures intended to naturalize and justify the domination of a particular group. White supremacy has, with terrifying thoroughness, stigmatized virtually any trait or behaviour when enacted or embodied by women of colour (e.g. seeking to contort Toast’s strength and resolve into manly belligerence or recalling the infantalization of Indigenous peoples through Cheedo’s “childlike” demeanor). Fury Road lacks the appropriate narrative infrastructure to avoid stranding its isolated characters of colour among such controlling images — and, in some ways, actually indulges them (e.g. the film’s co-optation of Indigeneity via the Vuvalini and conflation of “noble savage” and Earth Mother tropes).
In these respects, Fury Road provides a particularly unambiguous example of how, as Toni Morrison (1992) notes, race is always already part of any narrative — whether or not it is addressed explicitly. Morrison’s critique, although directed specifically at the enforced invisibility of Black bodies and experiences in US American literature, is applicable across modes of storytelling in other societies also structured through Northern/Western conceptualizations of racialized social difference. In the Australian context specifically, the film’s silence on Aboriginal and Asian experiences is problematic. Despite the film’s setting, there are no important characters of Aboriginal descent — thus erasing an Indigenous presence that preceded European settlers by tens of thousands of years and has persisted despite centuries of settler colonial violence. Additionally, the choice to pay no attention whatsoever to Eaton’s Chinese heritage is deeply troubling given Australia’s geographic location, a large Asian Australian community, and enduring anti-Asian politics (particularly in immigration).
Lastly, by neglecting to account for race, Fury Road also mischaracterizes the object of its critique. As many feminists of colour and de-/post-colonial scholars have noted, white supremacy and patriarchy are cognate concepts: descended from the same lineage and logics, interdependent, and mutually reinforcing. In Northern/Western thought, race is crucial to defining gendered boundaries and vice versa. The experiences of women of colour are therefore central and not supplementary to any discussion of gender.
Taking the gendered dynamics of domination and liberation seriously means taking women of colour seriously, and in this way, Fury Road falls dramatically short. In lieu of meaningful representation, the film obscures, appropriates, and ultimately fails to honour the histories and experiences of racialized and colonized women. Fury Road’s greatest danger is therefore not the putative celebration of modernity that Maher perceives but white feminism’s enduring disregard for intersectionality — particularly on matters of race. Bearing these important limitations in mind (as well as Haraway’s own intersectional oversights), a cyborg interpretation of Fury Road nevertheless makes several valuable (if unfinished) contributions to a politics of hope without salvation.
Bodies offer the first evidence of Fury Road’s cyborg sympathies. The film dwells in particular on post-humanist and “post-“gendered bodies. Furiosa’s effortless embodiment across in/organic attributes makes her character the most easily identifiable “cyborg”. Furthermore, her story arc — her childhood abduction from the Vuvalini’s idyllic homeland, the “Green Place”; her subsequent induction into Joe’s war machine; and ultimately her spectacular subversion of his regime — mirrors Haraway’s (1991: 151) description:
[The cyborg] is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence … [The] cyborg defines a technological polis based partly on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household. Nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other. The relationships for forming wholes from parts, including those of polarity and hierarchical domination, are at issue in the cyborg world. Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is, through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate … The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust … [Cyborgs] seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without the vanguard party. The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.
Furiosa, however, is only one of many characters whose bodies obliterate organism/machine dualities. For instance, car parts compose both the leg brace that Max wears and the breathing apparatus of Joe’s younger son, the muscle-bound Rictus Erectus. The War Boys scarify their chests with images of engine parts, and their mechanical affinities are so intense that terms like “chrome” serve as superlatives. Fittingly, the Citadel’s medic — who carries his surgical implements in a bandolier — is known as the “Organic Mechanic”. Even the vehicles are partially constructed from odds-and-ends, some of which lean “human” (such as the respective femur and eyeball gearsticks of Furiosa’s War Rig and Nux’s car). Numerous animal and botanical invocations further blur these distinctions, including Angharad evocatively terming bullets “anti-seed” — “plant one and watch something die”. Yet few of these characters move beyond a morbid version of “boys and their toys”.
Like the skeletal arm painted on the War Rig’s driver-side door, Furiosa points the way forward. In contrast to the War Boys — whose adornments signify both their veneration of the mechanical and their role as components of Joe’s war machine — Furiosa apprehends that “The machine is not an it to be animated, worshipped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes, an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries; we are they” (Haraway 1991: 180). This insight allows her to imagine an alternative trajectory for the War Rig. Furiosa’s agency and sense of accountability thus derive from attention to boundary spaces, from inhabiting and superseding intimate contradictions. Her non-compliance does not make her an “archetypal liberal individual”, as Maher insists; as cyborg, Furiosa confounds the very underpinnings thereof.
Unsettling the gender binary is another cyborg characteristic that permits Furiosa to perceive possible horizons and coalitions obscured by the distinctions structuring Northern/Western subjectivity. Furiosa is a Vuvalini daughter and likely a survivor of gendered violence, but she is also one of the film’s most masculine characters and is treated by men as tacitly masculine. The most obvious marker of her masculinity is the steering wheel, which serves as a phallic analogy throughout the film. Furiosa possesses the War Rig’s detachable steering wheel and, like Joe himself, wears a stylized steering wheel codpiece. The choice of imagery is particularly instructive in that it does not invoke cis-male anatomy or reify its constructed meanings; rather, it references particular privileges that patriarchy awards masculinity (such as relative mobility, autonomy, and control). A scene in which Joe attempts to snatch away the War Rig’s steering wheel illustrates the danger he perceives when Furiosa turns this ultimate masculine signifier against the patriarchy; however, more interesting still is how she allocates the wheel: in contrast to the squabbling War Boys, Furiosa is generous. She begins to share control of the War Rig with Max and Nux as they demonstrate their reliability with respect to The Women’s cause. Furiosa is thus enacting a sort of masculinity without patriarchy, sharing power that would be privilege if used oppressively.
Through Max, Fury Road also unsettles the concept of gender itself — demonstrating that it is simultaneously a noun and a verb, an identity and a process, an experience and an imposition. The cyborg does not covet a law of averages but seeks opportunities for (partial yet potent) connection among these contradictions. The film persistently feminizes Max. In addition to the character being haunted by the death of a child (a trope usually reserved for mothers), Fury Road draws multiple parallels between him and The Women. Max is also a prisoner whose bodily integrity the patriarchy violates and whose agency it denies. Like The Women — and in contrast to other male characters — Max’s body is instrumentalized to produce life rather than death. Fury Road even hints at the eroticization of such violations in a scene in which Max is strapped to the front of Nux’s car while Joe’s forces ride off in pursuit of The Women. The hunt is distinctly orgiastic: the War Boys stand, thrusting, at the backs of their cars — both simulating sex with the machines and treating them like an extension of the phallus. It is clear through the intense and ongoing eye contact between Furiosa and Max in the following moments that she recognizes his situation (even if he does not yet).
Fortunately, the film does not blunder into crass and unproductive competitive comparisons between Max’s experiences and those of The Women; it affords them distinction without disconnection, drawing parallels rather than equivalencies. In the next scene, which Maher describes as “a Victoria’s Secret commercial”, Max — still chained to a now-unconscious Nux — encounters The Women following an epic sandstorm. They are washing away grime and sweat and cutting off their chastity belts after emerging from stifling confinement underneath the cab of the War Rig. In his interpretation of this scene, Maher falls prey to the ultimate “booby trap” — sexualizing a moment that darkly satirizes the audience’s scopophilic socialization towards women’s bodies (in even the most desperate circumstances). If viewers turn a male gaze on The Women, it is not Max’s gaze; he sees what The Women see, and he wants what they want: water, self-determination, and escape. Max demands first the water and then the bolt cutters to release himself from Nux. Lastly, once more enacting the absolutist individualism has rendered his existence a Hobbesian nightmare, he commandeers the War Rig in a solo bid for freedom. He is unsuccessful, however, until he agrees to cooperate with The Women. In this scene, Max is not “reborn” a Christ-like savior, as Maher suggests, but as a member of The Women’s group — their liberation now interdependent.
Liberation, Not Salvation
Fury Road forcefully contests the concept of salvation. Max in particular is haunted by the figure of the savior, his mind swimming with visions and accusations of those he failed to rescue — but mere moments into the film, it becomes clear that Max cannot even save himself. In place of salvation, the film instead pulls its defiant optimism from a connective, processual conceptualization of liberation that straddles both the inter- and intra-personal.
For The Women, liberation is a process that pivots on individuation. Initially like Haraway’s (1991) “goddess” to the cyborg, they represent woman-as-category: defined by attempted totalities such as biology, labour (as social reproduction), and sexual exploitation. At first, they are nearly indistinguishable from one another. With the exception of Angharad, The Women exercise agency jointly and speak simultaneously, generating a sort of motion-dazzle camouflage; however, over the course of the journey, their personalities and preferences emerge. Their developing differences do not splinter the group but produce a complementary ebb and flow that, on more than one occasion, means the difference between life and death.
Max and Nux experience a corresponding transformation; however, unlike The Women, their challenge is to renounce destructive delusions of disconnection and distinction. Max, unable to perform as savior, has retreated into extreme autonomy, while Nux fantasizes about lethal transcendence. The film inaugurates their respective journeys by stripping away implements of oppression. Furiosa persuades Max to cooperate by offering to remove the muzzle that he is forced to wear as a captive “feral”. Maher sees this scene, correctly in my view, as signaling Max’s “movement into the in-group”; however, context matters: Furiosa tosses Max a file and he begins to frantically rasp at the contraption, but he does not succeed in removing it until he stops menacing The Women and starts to collaborate of his own volition.
Nux’s parallel transformation occurs after failing in front of Joe to retrieve The Women, held back by the chains he had previously used to restrain Max. He is holed up in one of the War Rig’s turrets, collapsed under the weight of his terrorized pursuit of utopian masculinity, when Capable finds and quietly befriends him. Shortly thereafter, the War Rig founders in mud with their pursuers drawing nearer. Nux, rallying to The Women’s cause, attempts to use the War Rig’s winch to pull it from the mire, but the cable is too short. Signifying the beginning of his commitment to liberation, Capable cuts away the chain dangling from Nux’s arm to contribute the missing length.
Fury Road makes its most forceful statements against salvation when the protagonists finally reach the margins of the Wasteland and encounter the Vuvalini. They spot an isolated tower hung with flashing mirror shards. A naked women chained to the top pleads for help. Max, the reformed savior, recognizes the trap. The “bait” is herself Vuvalini, and her Many Mothers “sistren” wait among the surrounding dunes to ambush the Wasteland equivalent of “nice guys” unable to resist a “damsel in distress”. Not only does this scene lampoon the savior figure of Maher’s “captivity narrative”, but moments later the group learns that salvation is itself a fiction: the Green Place no longer exists.
This portrayal of salvation is consistent with the figure of the cyborg; as Haraway writes, “the cyborg incarnation is outside salvation history” (1991: 150). Without salvation, the hackneyed formulas of rescuing women from men — or men from themselves — become moot. The cyborg’s inclination is not to save but rather to salvage and reinvent.
Hope and the Commons
In a cyborg interpretation, the search for direction without hope of deliverance is one of Fury Road’s most compelling themes. There is no Eden, but there is another place with both water and green. The proposal sounds ludicrous at first, but a plan emerges as everyone in the group contributes their perspectives; Max and Furiosa shake on it: they will topple Joe and reclaim the Citadel. Their escape now a revolution, Nux declares that “It feels like hope!”.
Maher does not account for the protagonists’ return to the Citadel even though it comprises nearly one-third of their entire journey. He demands instead “Why do we care about these particular women? Why are they worth saving, rather than any of the thousands shown in the film slowly dying of thirst?”. In addition to disregarding The Women’s distinct experiences of abduction, enslavement, repeated rape, and forced pregnancy, his review thus fails to mention that The Women do rejoin the Citadel’s general population. As the protagonists’ objective turns from liberty to liberation, the film offers powerful insights for contemporary justice struggles.
First, having undermined the dualisms structuring the Northern/Western conceptualizations of “self” and “other”, Fury Road attempts to articulate an alternative politics of bodily boundaries and embodied self-determination: an ethics of cyborg “selfness”. Throughout the film, many of the characters — including Angharad, Capable, Cheedo, and Nux — voluntarily revisit and re-script previously enforced roles and compelled actions. Motivated by connection, the self that emerges in each case comes to be not in relation to oppression but through the practice of its disruption and eclipse. These scenes give new meaning to Angharad’s refrain “we are not things” — no longer the reification of “human” versus “non-human” but the rejection of “thingification” as an oppressive process.
Max and Furiosa provide one of the most subtle but important examples. The protagonists decimate Joe’s forces, but Furiosa is badly injured while saving Max from a fall. Barely conscious, her breathing is ragged as air trapped in her chest collapses her lungs. Max picks up a knife and, just before inserting it into her thorax, murmurs “I am so sorry”. Although breathing easier, Furiosa is still slipping away. She has lost too much blood, so Max prepares to perform a transfusion. Before he slides the needle into Furiosa’s arm, he once again apologizes. Max then cradles Furiosa’s head and confesses his name as his blood flows into her body.
This scene not only allows Max to reclaim his body from its former incarnation as Blood Bag but also, more broadly, profoundly re-imagines an action movie staple: the formulaic sexual climax during which the [insert male hero] consummates his Mission Accomplished by claiming and taming his prize of [insert heretofore “strong female character”]. In this scene, Max still literally penetrates Furiosa, yet as he voluntarily obliterates the boundaries between self/other, he demonstrates a keen awareness that — by independently (re)defining the margins of her body — his actions are also a transgression. This is a subtle yet powerful statement on “thingification” in a movie that otherwise examines unequivocal violations such as rape and the possession and instrumentalization of bodies. It is a contradiction without resolution that Max rises to meet, as the cyborg might, by seeking connection. Having withheld his name from Furiosa until now, he tells her: “My name is Max. That’s my name.” The phenomenological self that Max extends to Furiosa has come to exist through his relationships — a significant departure from the Max whose radical autonomy defined him at the beginning of the film, the only other time he speaks his name.
Second, Fury Road is attentive to the shared origins of social and environmental exploitation and proposes a delightfully critical socio-environmental politics in response. One example is the film’s critique of water scarcity narratives. As Toast observes, Joe pumps groundwater “from deep in the earth. He calls it Aqua Cola and claims it all for himself. And because he owns it, he owns all of us”. Joe’s control of water resources demonstrates (as scholars like Lyla Mehta  have noted) that so-called “scarcity” is often a problem of allocation and access that constructs and entrenches marginalization. An exchange between The Dag and the Vuvalini’s Keeper of the Seeds illustrates the stakes:
Eyeing the older woman’s gun, The Dag asks incredulously, “You kill people with that, do ya?”
“Killed everyone I ever met out here. Headshots. All of them. Snap. Right in the medulla”, she replies.
“Thought somehow you girls were above all that”, The Dag sulks.
The Keeper of the Seeds responds by showing The Dag her namesake: an extensive collection of heirloom seeds from the Green Place. “Back then, everyone had their fill”, she instructs the younger woman, “Back then there was no need to snap anybody.”
The return to the Citadel thus is motivated in part by the desire to address the socio-environmental conditions that undergird much of the cruelty and desperation of the Wasteland. The film is not prescriptive with respect to enacting greater socio-environmental justice. Nevertheless, the final scenes of Fury Road hint at promising orientations: Joe’s war machine is in ruins as the surviving protagonists arrive at the Citadel. There, scores of children — War Pups released from their grizzly apprenticeship — show signs of curiosity and playful disobedience: to the surprise of their remaining commanders, they lower a platform for Furiosa and The Women to ascend the steep walls of the Citadel. Higher up on the rock face, the Milk Mothers disconnect themselves from Joe’s breast pumps and turn on enormous spigots, showering life-giving water on the joyous crowd below. In these images, the audience can perceive the contours of the commons and emerging governance changes — the specifics of which Fury Road encourages the audience to imagine for ourselves (in the Wasteland as well as in our own time and space).
Third, this scene provides some clarity on the film’s complicated portrayal of disability. Illness and disability are ubiquitous in Fury Road, but the representation thereof varies widely across characters and their relationships. Potentially the most fraught depictions are of “The Wretched” (another term that, in the work of Frantz Fanon , describes experiences of racialized and colonized people). In Fury Road, The Wretched are the Citadel’s lowliest inhabitants — or, in Maher’s words: “the horribly disfigured, crippled bodies of the unwashed herd, whose utter grotesqueness is played up throughout the film”. Indeed, the film at first seems to goad the audience into coding disability itself as unthinkable and apocalyptic. The final scene, however, marks a shift in Fury Road’s orientation towards these characters: the protagonists can be seen inviting the assembled masses onto the platform as it rises up the Citadel’s cliffs — in sharp contrast to an earlier moment in which the War Boys pry them off.
Joe had divided society between those whose bodies could be used (up) and those whose only purpose was subalterity; however, the ending of the film implies a more equitable and active role for The (formerly) Wretched, demonstrating that their marginalization had not been the result of disability per se but rather of its constructed meanings. Joe’s regime is thus retrospectively revealed to be deeply ableist (as Northern/Western patriarchy indeed is). This insight lends additional clarity to a central plot point: Joe’s quest for an heir. Joe already has adult sons, but neither conform to his ableist expectations of an appropriate successor: Rictus Erectus is physically (more-than-)able but has an intellectual disability while Corpus Colossus is intellectually gifted but has a physical disability. Joe’s “breeding” program is therefore not only an expression of misogyny but also a eugenics scheme (although here, again, Fury Road fails to make a more intersectional critique).
At the film’s close, the figure of the cyborg draws together Fury Road’s insights into gender, disability, and socio-environmental politics. It is clear from earlier scenes that although the Citadel has sufficient water, it will never be a verdant garden — another Green Place. The soil is “sour”, the air is contaminated, and crop production occurs indoors. Even if such conditions are not eternal, they are the building blocks with which the residents of the Citadel must construct their future. It is a process that calls upon one of the cyborg’s most potent abilities; as Haraway writes: “For salamanders, regeneration after injury, such as the loss of a limb, involves regrowth of structure and restoration of function with the constant possibility of twinning or other odd topographical productions at the site of former injury. The regrown limb can be monstrous, duplicated, potent. We have all been injured, profoundly. We require regeneration, not rebirth … ” (1991: 181).
Embodying the cyborg, Furiosa foretells the transformation to come when she kills Joe: as she rips away his mask and part of his face, her mechanical arm is simultaneously torn off. A defiant assertion of renewal rather than “loss”, this moment signals the cyborg’s regenerative potential. The figure of the cyborg thus promises to guide the Citadel towards a future with space for a variety of (more-than-human) bodies, beyond the dualisms of Northern/Western thought.
This scene, however, also demonstrates the film’s squandered potential. Among The Women, Toast and Cheedo’s actions are the most decisive in the final moments of Joe’s downfall. The circumstances are bleak: Toast has been captured, Furiosa has been stabbed, and many of the Vuvalini are dead. In these crucial, desperate seconds, Cheedo sees a way forward by re-scripting her earlier attempt to return to Joe. She allows herself to be taken as a distraction and, once in Joe’s vehicle, reaches out to help Furiosa aboard. As Joe then levels his pistol at Furiosa, Toast grabs his arm. Moments later, Cheedo announces “He’s dead!”, and Toast takes the wheel of Joe’s speeding car, places her foot on the gas, and spits into the yawning wound of Joe’s face. Watching this scene unfold, it is impossible not to wonder what might have been — what more the actions of these women of colour might have symbolized with respect to the destruction of patriarchy if Fury Road had mounted a sustained intersectional critique…
A cyborg interpretation encourages the audience to seek liberatory potential in heterogeneity, contradiction, and connection — even if Fury Road’s execution, by failing to deliver greater intersectionality, does not. The film is, however, as cautionary as it is hopeful: dramatizing the excesses of our present trajectory, the question Fury Road poses is whether our own journey to a more just and equitable future must also wind through the Wasteland.
An enormous “Thank You!” to Katherine McKittrick, Lauren Warbeck, Jeff Whyte, Tom Howard, Karlin Bruegel, and Max Ritts for their thoughtful comments on this piece and to Dawn Hoogeveen and Andy Kent for their help with publishing.
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Morrison T (1992) Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press