I just got back from watching Mad Max: Fury Road [SPOILER ALERT]. It didn’t take me too long to wonder if I had made a mistake–it’s a bit over the top. The world into which we are dropped is pretty terrible–I expected it to be terrible, but not that gross. But the film makers are building upon so many other movies in this genre since the original post-apocalyptic Mad Max and it’s sequel, Road Warrior, that they obviously felt they needed to ratchet up the terribleness a notch or two. I can’t say that I ever got to the point where I felt all the dirt, defects, and disgusting were worth it, but the movie does make an pretty important and interesting religious statement. Mad Max? Religious? Yes, the terms hope, redemption and salvation are uttered by the characters and the story is built upon these religious ideas.
It’s an allegory. We live in a world that’s pretty horrible–scarcity, exploitation and religious fanaticism are the order of the day. At the top are the exploiters. Their power is maintained through a combination of withholding life giving water, and other physical necessities, occasionally offering a meager “gift” from their bounty and letting people fight each other for it, and through promises of rewards in the afterlife for loyalty and sacrifice in this world. These are the basic evils that concern your average middle class North American.
The allegory continues: Human beings have a longing for a better world–C. S. Lewis uses the German word Sehnsucht to describe this inherent “longing,” or “yearning” that results from knowing we live in a world that we know this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is a character of Sehnsucht; her dissatisfaction with the world comes from a childhood memory of “The Green Place”–read, The Garden of Eden. It is her mission to get back to the green place with four beautiful women who have been used as breeders for the corrupt warlord of The Citadel.
It is interesting that where the Biblical narrative moves from a garden in Genesis to a city in The Book of Revelation, the story in the new Mad Max movie moves from city to garden. This reversal is central to the religious statement the film is making.
One of the things I like about this movie is that the women are actually heroic rather than passive victims waiting to be rescued by a man. This is also a reflection of a positive trend in our culture. There are two men that help out a lot, but the success and fulfillment of the women does not rest solely in the hands of the male heroes. Max and Furiosa are equally heroic and they even swap traditional gender roles; Furiosa is the better shot, where Max is the healer. The rest of the band of heroes are comprised of young and beautiful, but also capable, girls and the old, sandy, wizened, desert women which are also formidable in their fight against the exclusively male band of evil guys.
Firiosa is going to lead her crew, sans Max, across the salt flats where they hope they can find a place to begin life again and perhaps plant the invaluable seeds that they carry. They are going to, allegorically, re-establish the Garden, but, in the context of the movie, the garden is blended into the future hope of Heaven. Max turns them from this goal–interestingly, it’s not certain that this better world, “heaven,” doesn’t exist, but they do know that The Citadel certainly has enough water to begin again. They turn toward certainty–and it is a certainty. As movie goers, we know that some of them will make it and succeed in creating, if not Heaven, at least a garden, on earth.
And that’s exactly what happens.
It is an allegory that describes how a lot of people in our culture understand hope, redemption and salvation. Our world has some big problems and we need salvation from the rich or powerful or religious exploiters if we are going to have a better world. Our redemption will not, likely, come from an afterlife–our only hope is to do something for the here and now. This will take courage and sacrifice (and men and women working together), but we just might have a chance if we get out from under the control of the 1% and the religious leaders who exploit the rest of us for their own personal gain.
Although many found this movie entertaining, I’m afraid they won’t find it satisfying. The Sehnsucht we are experiencing will not be satisfied by crawling out from under the thumbs of the exploiters. Nor will it result from the flight back to the Garden. Our true longings will only be satisfied when we live in the city for which we were made–the City described in Revelation 21.