There has been some criticism of Fury Road as being vague or half-conceived. These assertions prove how lacking in subtly modern film audiences are, and may explain why so many newer films are overly-simplified and artificially written.
The Plot: One argument I’ve heard against Fury Road is that is supposedly has a “lack of plot.” While the characters section from last week dispels that concept easily, there is in fact a main plot it just isn’t an in-your-face, overly intricate, and horribly overly designed story. The makers of the film lay it out like this: The first half of the film is a chase; the second half is a race. That sums it up very well. Theron’s Furiosa kidnaps Immortan Joe’s wives in order to both bring them to freedom and severely and personally hurt Joe himself. Max, used as a living blood transfusion for the sick and dying Nux, is brought along with the Warboy when the Citadel mobilizes for pursuit and all of their paths cross during the action.
Why does this work? Its simplicity is its strong suit. Because the action takes place over such a basic backdrop, the film can focus on characters and the world. As described last week each set of characters has their own subplot, their own story arc which takes place during the film. If the plot was overwritten or absurdly intricate it would have made the plot and all the subplots far too confusing. Or required all of the over-explanation and dialogue exposition that have frequented modern films.
There is nothing wrong with a simple plot, audiences and filmmakers have convinced themselves over the last decade that complexity equals effectiveness. In a lesser film Max would have rescued Furiosa as a child, she’d find out Joe was her father, Nux is her cousin, and two of the wives her half-sisters. And by killing Joe they foil a plot that would have turned all of his followers into mutants. Here the plot is small and personal. The relationships are happenstance and coincidental. It’s as was discussed in the Dredd review: sometimes keeping the story small-scale makes it more relatable to the audience (Dredd’s “Drug bust” line sums this philosophy up perfectly). The world doesn’t need to be in peril if we love the characters enough. Their peril and their stories make it worth it.
The World: This is where the film shines its brightest. The world of Fury Road is incredibly deep and detailed. BUT the detail is never explained it is all inferred, making a fantastical world seem that much more real. What is a “half-life warboy?” What does it mean to be “so shiny, so chrome?” What’s the significance of “McFeasting?” Why do all of these guys spray their mouths with silver before attempting to kill themselves? What does it mean to be “kamikrazee?” What is UP with Joe’s weirdo religious cult? The film never tells you. Well never directly. You can draw the conclusions that will answer all those questions yourself during the movie, but no one ever sits down in an artificial way through strained actors speaking in a way no human beings ever speak with each other. These aspects of life merely are in this world. The characters all seem to understand what they mean and through their actions and context we can figure them out too. Or at least draw educated conclusions.
The character interactions also assist in building the world. No one speaks unless necessary. In a society totally lacking in trust and companionship this would almost certainly be the case and all those who made it to this point would be tough, isolated, survivors. “Imperator” is never defined but we know its significance by the way the others interact with Furiosa. She’s respected and revered. Joe easily calls the leaders of both the Bulletfarm and Gastown, even though it seems to be over their objections. How could this be? Again you can tell this from the context even if no one blatantly says it.
Subtlety is unfortunately lacking in modern cinema. Everything has to be big and operatic. It has to be about your son and revenge and you have to plan and stars align to create remarkable coincidences that are all artificially created of course by the writer. Mad Max’s plot and world deceptively simple. It is quite difficult to make these elements seem random, and random in a way that history supports (more often than not it’s chance that dictates events not fate…) These characters come together to tell a relatively local story of small global impact but high personal import. The story and its characters have weight because of the world in which they inhabit and the value they are all given to us.
In the final post in this series next week we’ll look at the technical aspects of the film and how a modern movie created spectacular scenes using many practical effects.