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We Are All “Furiosa”: The World of Mad Max Through a Virginian Environmentalist’s Lens

We Are All “Furiosa”: The World of Mad Max Through a Virginian Environmentalist’s Lens

by James Closs, CCAN Volunteer and Donor

Mad Max is a series of films known for depicting a world of extreme scarcity and environmental disaster. In this series, mankind wars over the world’s last drops of water and gasoline, and whoever has a few spare bullets usually walks away the winner. The latest film in George Miller’s renowned series, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” continues to expand the world by delving into the early days of Furiosa, the title character of this film and a smash hit when introduced and portrayed by Charlize Theron in the previous film “Mad Max: Fury Road”.  

Now some might say “Wait, environmentalism? I thought Mad Max was a warning against nuclear war.” and I would say in part, yes, however; George Miller has said the OPEC Oil Crisis of the early 1970’s was a source of inspiration, a situation in which scarcity of resources drove civilized people to the breaking point.  He pointed out in a recent Vanity Fair interview that it only took ten days before someone fired a gun in the air to warn a person against cutting in line for gas, also pointing out that this was Australia where there isn’t much of a gun culture.  He then continued the thought experiment of what might happen after a hundred days, or longer, and that contributed to “Road Warrior”, the second Mad Max film.  For the Cold War era, there was more nuclear messaging, but in Furiosa, one can see far more environmental and green messaging.

Now, I won’t be delving into spoilers for “Furiosa”, but I do need to reference the opening scenes of the film as one sees some of the clearest Green messaging there, and I will be assuming readers have watched “Mad Max Fury Road” or don’t mind me talking about the plot and world of the nine-year-old movie.  As the film opens, long-time Mad Max fans will be surprised to see a lush, green place.  A child climbs a peach tree and contends with bees.  Like Adam or Eve plucking forbidden fruit in Eden, this child is clearly disobeying a rule, and in so doing invites trouble to their garden, which ultimately results in raiders killing her horse. She knows if they see her she’ll be next, but also she is brave, perhaps foolhardy, and tries to sabotage their vehicles stealthily.  When this inevitably fails, she blows a signal whistle, and we see her home where adults mount a rescue in haste.  

When I saw this, I thought to myself, “Oh, Miller is appealing to the Green crowd!”  Furiosa’s home is a hidden valley, decked out in solar panels, wind power, and gardens everywhere you look.  Idyllic.  Solarpunk.  This is unheard of in Mad Max where people live and die by the dozens for a barrel of oil, but, nonetheless, a small enclave lives in peace so long as their rule of absolute secrecy remains intact.  A rule our young Furiosa has just jeopardized.

The rest of the plot I’ll leave for viewers to uncover, but now that we know of this Green Valley, let’s compare them to the enclaves we visited in Fury Road:  The Citadel, which holds all the water and food and the best warriors; Gas Town, the only functioning oil refinery sitting on a field of oil; and The Bullet Farm, a mine and forge where ammunition is made.  These three enclaves work together under our antagonist: Immortan Joe, a man who rules through fear and forced deprivation.  However, for the masses who cannot provide for themselves, he offers a haven in the wasteland.  They might suffer, but they’ll survive, and he is demonstrably too strong for them to stand up to.

In America, we have our own Immortan Joes. In Virginia, it’s Dominion Energy.  Even now, they’re trying to convince us we need to stay in the past, in Gas Town, by setting up a fracking gas plant in Chesterfield.  “It will bring jobs”, they say, and “we need more power in our grid for the data centers”, but at what cost to the health of the citizens and the continuing warming of our planet?  We live in a more civilized era than Mad Max and Furiosa, so Dominion doesn’t need a Bullet Farm.  No, what they have is a lawyer farm, and lock-and-load lobbyists ready to fire off the latest powerpoints, buzzwords, and catchphrases down in Richmond to make sure Dominion stays in control, and electricity flows through the state the way they want.

So who is Furiosa? She is every one of us. I grew up believing the world was a green and lovely place of abundance. I knew bad things existed but I thought they were out far, far away.  But then, I realized that we are already entering the wasteland of climate disasters – including heat domes, droughts, wildfires, floods, and more – and that we must either resign ourselves to living under the tyranny of the fossil fuel industry OR taking action to make our own way.  

What does this mean for our lives? Furiosa lives in The Citadel under Immortan Joe’s rule for many years.  In Fury Road, she is introduced as one of Immortan Joe’s most trusted drivers. She doesn’t brashly try to attack him or sabotage the water supply which is the source of his power, because the people need that water to live. But she doesn’t live in fear: she takes action in small ways, builds her strength, and ultimately emerges as the leader of a transformative movement. Together with her followers, she helps put our world on a path back to that green utopia; a “life beyond Thunderdome.”  And we can do it, too, if we step forward now and take action to fight climate change!

James Closs, pictured to the right, is a donor and volunteer with CCAN.

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