Mad Max’s Method: Furious Palindrome   Leave a comment

images-3My student was correct; George Miller’s film Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) has, at its heart, a travel palindrome. The heroes go forth & come back by the same route, following the pattern of another literary palindrome. In class we had nearly finished reading Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord & Merrimack Rivers (1849), about a river-trip structured palindromically: the travelers went down the Concord River, up the Merrimack River, climbed up a mountain & pivoted, & then returned by reversing the route: down the mountain, down the Merrimack, & up the Concord. (For more about textual palindromes, check out the last chapter of The Meaning of Rivers.) My student Ben, from the rivers course this semester (thanks, Ben!), wrote excitedly that Mad Max not only featured a palindrome but also involved water. He thought I should probably check it out.

The palindrome in Mad Max differs considerably from Thoreau’s. Max (Tom Hardy) accompanies Furiosa images(Charlize Theron), who is liberating 5 young women — “Breeders” — held captive by a tyrannical warlord. Her plan is to return to “The Green Place,” her motherland, from which she herself was stolen as a child. Chased by the warlord & the leaders of Gas Town & The Bullet Farm, Furiosa leads the escapees across deserts, through a narrow & perilous canyon, over mudflats, & eventually to another desert, where she finds the few surviving women of what is no longer a Green Place. These desolate dunes become the pivot for the escapees, as Max convinces them that their best hope lies in a palindromic return to the only available water source for hundreds of miles: the Citadel from which they’ve fled.

Mad Max’s palindromic return is highlighted by its contrast with the failed return to The Green Place. The latter comes a cropper because it’s a nostalgically guided return to something that no longer exists. We cannot go back to the past. Max’s plan, however, involves going back to the present, informed by knowledge of what lies ahead. Furiosa’s heroic band of Furies go back to where they started, using the return to alter the conditions of the despotic wasteland. In the process of the palindrome, they depose the 3 old men who control gasoline, weapons, and water — the men, we are told, who “killed the world.” Going well beyond “Thunderdome,” the movement of Max & Furiosa describes a furious Palindrome that results in the redistribution of water and power. Thoreau, in A Week, wrote that “good books” are those which make their readers “dangerous to existing institutions.” By that standard, the more recent palindrome might be viewed as a “good film.” Perhaps, though Max’s plan be madness, there is method in it.

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Posted June 2, 2015 by the meaning of rivers in Uncategorized

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