While Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that reaches towards a vague sense of redemption with potential Christian imagery, does it really open itself to that imagery or use it for the sake of something else? I think the latter.
Mad Max: Fury Road is an extended car chase that brilliantly weaves together many religious themes, especially on eschatology (or the point towards which we are all heading, individually and collectively) and our current cultural predicament.This post-apocalyptic film is a metal-crunching, engine revving myth about liberation that finds its place under the umbrella of eschatology influenced by the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. As many scholars have shown, this form of eschatology is an offshoot of Christian eschatology, taking many of its elements but problematically and unintentionally placing them in the dynamics of the agon of ancient myth that has resurfaced in modernity’s competitive ontologies. The movie begins with the laconic Max narrating, “My world is reduced to a single instinct: Survive.” Such a world is without the theological virtues (faith, hope and love) because nothing greater than a primordial struggle (agon) has been unveiled. Love is not a possibility; everything and everyone has been reduced to a “thing” that struggles for survival in the wasteland. In response to Furiosa’s hope that something better, and more humane, is beyond the horizon, Max says, “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.” Max has lost all hope. For him, there are no true people anymore. We are simply animals fighting for survival. Nevertheless, Furiosa continues in her pursuit, not giving up hope of liberation from the Satanic figure of Immortan Joe who has reduced the world and humanity to the realm of things at the mercy of his technical mastery and control. The odyssey is about fleeing objectification (“We are not things”) and reclaiming the dignity of one’s humanity. Furiosa’s hope eventually inspires Max once he starts listening to the images that haunt him instead of running from them. Somehow his insanity helps and guides him lead the group of seekers to “redemption” by going back into the darkness they sought to escape.
The reason to place this film, at first glance, in the eschatological categories of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution is because there is ultimately no mention of a transcendent horizon that grounds the desires and hopes of each of the characters. There is only the “world.” And the problem with that is that the humane dignity they are after by escaping their objectification is not possible without transcendence. The world is a dog-eat-dog world. We are reminded of that here at Mundelein when the hawks come out and terrorize the campus! When one of the Wives says, “who killed the world?” she is not getting at the real reason for the lack of respect for her. The world treats everything as things. Only the Trinitarian God can unveil the dignity of the person. Even Kant’s Categorical Imperative finds its best sense in a Christian context. But if we assume the “world” to be creation (i.e. the realm of inter-connectivity and relationship, finding its source and center in God) we are on much better ground to base the dignity of the person. However, in the movie creation is obliterated leaving in its place the wandering individual in the wasteland (Max) seeking nothing but survival. The desert tornado that Furiosa ventures into literally represents the chaos of the world. The endless chase and the tornado bring to mind an image of chaos from Nietzsche’s Parable of the Madman:
“But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?”
This is a directionless world that has been cast into nothingness. But there are glimmers of hope.
While there are hints that communion is at the end, the movie does not fully deliver. Like Marxism, it places hope in transforming the here and now (the Citadel) because there is ultimately no escape to “Green Place” or Heaven of Valhalla. Unexpectedly, the “Green Place” is at the heart of the Citadel, the bastion of slavery. They must journey back to the Citadel to expose the mortality of Immortan Joe and unlock the vitality that Immortan Joe was despotically using only for himself. The film ends with Redeemer Furiosa and her band of liberated Wives being lifted up into Immortan Joe’s heavenly palace. These courageous, heavenly Olympian goddesses overtake the ugly, greedy white clay gods (Immortan Joe and his War Boys), giving the under trodden the waters of life. Max, who is a figure for mankind, disappears into the crowd only to wander the wasteland into which he has been thrown. Aware of the brute, competitive reality of all things, he walks alone. No family. No home. No salvation. And, ultimately, no love.
The seminary has a different vision to offer that would ultimately deliver the redemption and human dignity this movie is chasing after. Part of the formation at the seminary is training the men into celibacy, and celibacy is not just a refusal but an affirmation of the other as other. Celibacy is a sign of the dignity of the other. It witnesses to the truth that people are not just things to be manipulated according to desire, whim or the hope of future progeny. The witness of the virgin or celibate is a radiation of love. Think of how the virgin martyrs transformed the ancient city of Rome, a bastion of lust and domination. While Christians may have continued to treat others as property, the message of the Gospel, which takes time for the Church to understand, as Cardinal Newman stressed, does not allow this. Christ proclaims the goodness of the other as other, especially in His great act of laying down his life for His Bride, the Church, and in the light of His Trinitarian identity. The witness of celibacy is something the Church proclaims to the city, hopefully transforming it from within. It is silly to expect this depth from an action flick, but it would answer the drive of the movie.
This movie offers much food for thought. If you want to study the themes offered by this action flick, read Nietzsche’s Parable of the Madman, Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology, Greek Mythology and the CDF’s Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation. Kudos to George Miller for fitting this all into a film about a car chase.