Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Best of 2015, #4: Mad Max: Fury Road

This movie does one of those things I hate, but it gets away with it, so let’s try to figure out why. I’ve complained in the past about movies in which the hero’s motivation is a tragedy from the past that we see in tiny glimpses of flashback. Why? Several reasons:
  • It feels like a cheat to place the motivation and emotional investment outside the bounds of the present story. It highlights the fact that the writer has failed to generate enough reason to care or act based on what the hero sees or experiences in the current storyline. We want to be on the hero’s shoulder and go on an emotional journey together. We want to share the motivation and emotional investment as it arrives. We want to feel it at the same time. We don’t want to be told, “Oh, sorry, you missed all that, but we’ll give you glimpses of it.”
  • It doesn’t really feel emotionally true for a hero to carry feelings about one group of good guys and bad guys over to another group of good guys and bad guys. Have you ever said, “I’m helping you because you remind me of someone”? No, that only happens in movies.
And yet, in this movie, it works. Why? Most obviously, because it takes advantage of the remake/sequel confusion, working in such a way that it can either be a flashback to the first movie (despite the fact that Tom Hardy looks nothing like Mel Gibson) or a brand-new character introduction. But would it work if this wasn’t a semi-sequel? I think so. Why?
  • In movies such as John Carter, the whole “trauma from the past” element comes in late, as a way to prop up the story once the original motivation turns out to be too thin. In this movie, we get the flashbacks right away at the beginning: It’s his initial motivation, not supplemental.
  • It takes advantage of the dystopian setting and writer/director George Miller’s ability to create surreal, iconic mythology. He convinces us that life has entered an elemental state in which “victim” and “victimizer” are both spelled with a capital-v. Max need not save his own family or confront their killers, because all good and all evil have become universal monolithic entities: Saving anybody saves his family, and fighting any evil become fighting all evil.
Based on a few quick glances of the past, we instantly get what happened to his family, how he feels about that, and why he would resolve to keeping it from happening to someone else. We buy it.

Next time: More girl power!


Brian Malbon said...

One more thing about the flashbacks that personally makes me just fine with them from a story standpoint - they don't just pop up as his motivation and then disappear, bit actually have an effect on the outcome.

Every time Max hallucinate his dead daughter he freezes and jolts back as if struck in the face. The first time we see it happen it hurts him and allows him to be captured by the War Boys, but the final time, when he isn't running but fighting for something bigger, that hallucinate-freeze-flinch reaction actually winds up saving his life. I don't know if you'd call it hackneyed or contrived,but that kind of callback always gives me a feeling of closure, of all elements coming back together.

Matt Bird said...

Great point.

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