Last spring, I wrote a series of posts paralleling the film Children of Men to the ancient Fisher King mythology. In that piece, I gave some background on the use of the myth in contemporary stories. Check it out if you’re interested.
When Mad Max: Fury Road hit the screens, and we saw it opening weekend–the final film we’d watch before our second child was born–it was clear George Miller was also adapting the Fisher King mythology. The Fisher King is an injured king who is stuck in stasis suffering. He lives in an otherworldly castle, feasting with his nobility, oblivious to the needs of his kingdom. His injury is linked directly to his kingdom, and while he suffers, his kingdom likewise suffers as a Wasteland. The land is barren and contaminated. The Fisher King needs a questing knight to ask a loaded question that will break the stasis and bring him death. His death will then restore the dynamic circle of life–rebirth follows, and the land is restored to seasonal, cyclical health.
I’m going to delve deeply into how Fury Road parallels the Fisher King mythology, and like with Children of Men, it will take multiple posts. Lets start with the obvious.
The Wasteland aspect of Fury Road is omnipresent. The world is a desert. Nothing grows in the sandy soil. Sand storms arise and block out the sun. Water is hoarded and rationed out, fought over viciously. People are starving. The few who have the power to control the resource of water control everything and everyone. They live as kings above the serfs and foot (car) soldiers beneath them, dependent on their meager gifts of water.
Those serfs and soldiers are not merely thirsty and powerless; they are also dirty, crippled, or sickly. The people shown merely as background populace and those who are named characters are shown as sullied, crippled, and ill. Everyone has at least a thin layer of dust on them. Max has a limp (and a bad case of PTSD). Furiosa is missing an arm. Nux has two tumors slowly killing him. Even the people in power are ill. Immortan Joe must wear an oxygen mask and has a skin disease that requires him to wear a full suit of clear armor. The mayor of Gas Town, The People Eater, suffers from extreme obesity and its complications.
Fertility is scarce and controlled as the greatest commodity. Immortan Joe ensures his power by firmly controlling fertility and reproduction. He has picked the most physically beautiful women to be his wives and baby-makers. Their bodies’ fertility is a commodity to him. The women disagree, declaring in a scrawled message on a wall: “We are not things.” But in the Wasteland, they have become things. The king sees them that way. Meanwhile, other women are milked like cows. Their commodity of fertility is their ability to lactate. Immortan Joe harvests their milk for his soldiers and for bartering for other commodities, like gas. Since livestock cannot be raised in the Wasteland, humans are the only source of milk.
Furiousa takes the wives and sets off for “The Green Place,” a place she remembers seeing in her childhood and believes will be their salvation (and her redemption.) But it turns out that the only green anyone has seen as been in The Citadel, in the form of the tightly controlled greenhouses. Although this is the place she left, it is likewise the place she must reclaim.
To top all that off, George Miller ends the film with an apt quote:
“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves.” -The First History Man
Likewise, Miller has revealed that he would like to title the next film in the series, which is already scripted, Mad Max: The Wasteland.