Monday, October 5, 2015

Analysis: Mad Max

"Immortan", Or, The Nature Of Toxicity

"Mad Max" is a series set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Without resources or civilization, the surviving population devolves into a crude, tribal state. New religions and cultures arise as the children of the survivors forget more and more of the world that came before them. The vacuum of power means that the strong overpower the weak and etch their own will upon the barren remnants of the world.

Which is to say, despite the common presence of "masculine" enemies, Mad Max is a series built on masculinity. Allow me to explain using examples from the series: in Mad Max: Fury Road, the warlord "Immortan Joe" has revitalized the ancient concept of "Valhalla". He promises that any of his followers ("War Boys") who die in glorious combat will ascend to the afterlife and be rewarded for eternity. Which is to say, Immortan Joe's entire religion is built on the core concept that fighting is awesome. By contrast, his enemies (such as Max and Furiosa) are trying to escape his hellish world by any means necessary.

But here's the weird thing about Mad Max, right? Max is a "survivor". But he doesn't ever take refuge, yeah? He keeps wandering. During the course of the movies themselves he's on the run, doing whatever it takes to survive. He usually starts the movie with some level of moral ambiguity, willling to do bad things in order to stay alive and to escape the current situation. Inevitably he then finds himself personally invested in the struggle, and he works with his new allies to overthrow the big bad warlord and allow a new, peaceful world to arise.

And then he leaves.

Mad Max is a survivor first and foremost. Which is why he keeps leaving his safe refuge and his grateful comrades. Because he has to end up in another situation where he's desperate to survive but then becomes morally invested. Because there has to be violence.

As a series, Mad Max condemns patriarchal warlords like Humungus or Immortan Joe. Yet the series is built on those same values - you root for Max because he's strong and capable. He's alpha. Yes, he's eventually more moral than his opponents, but he's not smart or charismatic or capable. He's a snarling, mangy dog backed into a corner. He's a killer.

Max is a War Boy. You, the audience, are War Boys. You're just here for the fight.

"Furiosa", Or, The Nature Of Virtue

Once we've defined evil, how do we define good? Well, we can't look at Max, because he's a lunatic ("Mad", if you will). So we look at Max's allies. Most of Max's allies are trying to make their way in a world gone crazy ("Mad", if you will). They're trying to eke out an existence in a hostile wasteland in a way that Max will absolutely never do. Unlike Max, they have an end goal: peaceful existence.

It's telling, then, that as soon as peaceful existence happens, the story ends. Max leaves. Max doesn't give a shit about peaceful existence, buddy. This is a common trope in movies and games, of course - most plots are centered around conflict, and so when the conflict is over, the audience stops caring. See my earlier point re: "you are War Boys".

A lot of people watched Fury Road and sympathized a lot more with Furiosa, the wives, and the Vuvalini than with Max himself. Max's reasons for being there are loose and weird, whereas everyone else has a clear goal to strive for. They feel capable of winning or losing. But there we run into the irony of the post-apocalyptic world: we want to be there, and they want to be here. None of those characters want to be involved in a highly lethal car chase with explosions and shit. None of them want that. They want to be somewhere safe, with lots of food and water and leisure time. They want your life.

Mad Max is an action movie, though. It's not survival horror. It's a movie about how badass explosions are, even if the characters you sympathize with don't like them. You want them to suffer so you can get a visceral thrill from it. Once again, you are the War Boy. You are here for adrenaline and blood and death. You are here because it is fun to kill and die. WITNESS YOURSELVES.

"Nux", Or, The Nature Of Mercy

Let's get this out there: Fury Road is an unapologetic death movie. It is a movie about cars exploding, people dying in gouts of flame and shrapnel-laden vehicle wrecks. Despite certain parts of its story beats it is first and foremost a movie designed to make the audience feel good about people dying - specifically, raiders dying. It's the traditional trope of "perma-hostiles" who cannot be reasoned with, intimidated, or forced to flee. There's more attempt at explaining it than usual (the War Boys are religious, as opposed to the usual bandit motivation) but it still boils down to the same motivation as an orc in D&D or a thug in Batman. They exist to charge at the hero until the hero kills them.

Except for Nux.

Nux is a luckless War Boy whose failures eventually leave him despondent and hopeless, at which point he joins the "good guys". He is a classic example of a mook-face turn - an individual enemy displaying humanity and joining the "right side", usually because the good guys show kindness and the bad guys do not. However, Nux's "setup" is relatively forced.

There is a scene where Nux sneaks aboard the war rig attempting to capture Furiosa and the five wives. During this scene, Furiosa is ready to kill Nux, but the wives intervene, stating that they "agreed upon" not shedding any blood unnecessarily. There is a justified reason for this: the wives give birth to children who will be raised as War Boys, and in a way, the existing War Boys are spiritual children of the wives. The wives are trying to keep themselves and their children away from bloodshed, and thus it makes sense for them to not want to kill people they see as misguided children.

But only Nux receives that treatment. Only Nux is given that chance. And, of course, he repays them for their mercy by eventually becoming useful and vital to their plans. But he's the only one who receives any mercy. Why is this? Well, to start, Nux's redemption is a "morality moment". It makes the audience feel like they're good guys because this one guy turned his life around. But obviously we can't slow the movie down with that shit every time so the rest of the War Boys get exploded and impaled and shot and stabbed. Hell yeah. Hell yeah. There's so many pale, tumor-ridden cancer victims in Valhalla tonight. It's amazing.

Here's the thing: there's a lot of misogynists who were upset about Fury Road's female characters, and about Max's reduced role. But why would they like the series in the first place, you may ask. "Patriarchal masculinity" has always been a bad thing in Mad Max. There's always been strong female characters. None of this was new in Fury Road. So why did people who were okay with Mad Max this whole time suddenly object to this slightly more overt stuff?

Man, it's almost like Mad Max appeals to masculinity, isn't it? Like its focus on glorifying death and carnage and strong, decisive characters would plug directly into an alpha-bro's brain stem and give him the adrenaline rush he craves? Weird.

Oh, right, and they also drive around in a billion cars despite the world suffering from a gas shortage. That's dumb, guys. You're not thinking that one through.

26 comments:

  1. eh, still a better analysis than mcintosh

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    1. It's the same message you big whiny baby.

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    2. "it's the same message"

      You put it into better words, you sank deeper into the movie's themes and narrative and while this movie wasn't for you, you showed why it wasn't without sounding like you missed the point. On top of that you didn't have to invent a ludicrous term for your review.

      "big whiny baby"

      uh huh sure

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    3. While I'll accept that I went deeper into it in my full-sized article than McIntosh did in a series of tweets (which is *obvious*), the core concepts are the same. He used the term "filmic dissonance", which you deride as ludicrous, but what he was talking about is the exact thing that I was saying: the THEMES of the movie conflict with the FRAMING of the movie. The themes say violence is bad, the framing says violence is good.

      The fact that you think this is controversial, and the fact that hundreds of people were whining about that two-word term, is why you're big whiny babies.

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    4. I found it ludicrous because there's already a word for it, mixed messages. Even then wouldn't thematic dissonance be a slightly better term? Ludonarrative refers to the disconnect to a game's narrative and it's gameplay. What does the filmic refer to? A film has both a theme and a narrative, it can't be disconnect from either, only those two can be.

      I'm also curious as to why you posted this review so late. Hasn't the mad max hype train kinda stopped?

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    5. I agree that the term itself could have been better phrased, but the core concept was easily identifiable, and people jumped on that as though he'd just made something up entirely. Most of the people who were mocking it were people upset at the implicit accusation, not people who genuinely believed in defending the sanctity of filmic nomenclature.

      Also, I posted this because I wanted to, not because I intended to capitalize on anything.

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    6. "Most of the people who were mocking it were people upset at the implicit accusation, not people who genuinely believed in defending the sanctity of filmic nomenclature." you mean like Lindasy Ellis and Dan oslon? you know film critics?

      Also "controversy"? Everybody mocked it, then shortly went back to agreeing with those two. I only see gaters/anti-sjws who already hated him being pissy. I just brought it up cause you mentioned mcintosh and mad max in one of your earlier articles.

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    7. Lindsay Ellis and Dan Olson are "film critics", sure, in the sense that The Nostalgia Critic is a "film critic". By which I mean that they're both pretty dumb and shallow once you escape the immediate surface topics. And I'd also clarify both of them as people who are unwilling to accept the real problems in things they like - in fact, I have PERSONALLY argued with both of them in relevant topics. Ellis defended Ender's Game despite the shitty message and OSC's real-life beliefs. Olson defended Spec Ops The Line even though he couldn't elucidate upon what the real "benefit" of it was. At one point he mocked me for saying that a soldier's autobiography is more of a useful guide to understanding war than a video game is.

      So, yeah, neither of them are really high on my list of "respectable, serious critics". Got anyone else you want to throw out?

      >Everybody mocked it, then shortly went back to agreeing with those two.

      Nah. A good number of "Anti-GGers" have been whiny and pissy about both Sarkeesian and McIntosh as long as there *was* an Anti-GG. I've implied this in earlier articles, but most of them are just regular-ass garbage gamers who have, like, one progressive view about women's armor or something equally simplistic.

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    8. "And I'd also clarify both of them as people who are unwilling to accept the real problems in things they like"

      Are you assuming that they see everything the way you do and just lie about it or is this something else?

      "At one point he mocked me for saying that a soldier's autobiography is more of a useful guide to understanding war than a video game is."

      Yeah I read it on Gamerghazi? I think. I remember him calling you out for what he saw as elitism in your skepticism of emergent storytelling in video games. Not certain games but gaming as a medium. Don't try and spin this as him being a big bad meanie.

      "Nah. A good number of "Anti-GGers" have been whiny and pissy about both Sarkeesian and McIntosh as long as there *was* an Anti-GG"

      Who? do you have names or did you just scan through searches for random people?

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    9. >Are you assuming that they see everything the way you do and just lie about it or is this something else?

      My complaints are about objective hypocrisies. There's no perception involved.

      >Don't try and spin this as him being a big bad meanie.

      I'm not. I'm "spinning" it as him being either intentionally disingenuous, or a moron. I confronted him with facts, he backed out with excuses. "Elitism" has nothing to do with that, unless you think wanting things to make sense is "elitism", in which case, I am proud to be an elitist.

      >do you have names

      are you fucking kidding me

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    10. "My complaints are about objective hypocrisies. There's no perception involved."

      objective hypocrisies? so you think their views of film and media are contradictory and self-defeating?

      "I'm "spinning" it as him being either intentionally disingenuous, or a moron"

      Still sounds like spinning it to me. You just have different opinions on subjects let it go.

      "are you fucking kidding me"

      yeah i kinda pulled that one out of my ass.

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    11. >so you think their views of film and media are contradictory and self-defeating?

      Mad Max is objectively hypocritical. Its writing vilifies violence and its framing glorifies it. This is so absolutely inarguable that I am surprised you're even trying to waste my time with the suggestion of it.

      Also, the use of "opinions" is a tendency with gamers of this generation. The idea that no idea is truly "solid", but instead an amorphous mass that can't be qualified. Well, sorry, that's not the case. This is an argument dealing with facts. Hypocrisy is a factual state of being, not an opinion. You say something, you do something else. That's a contradiction. That's facts.

      I mean - and I've said this before too - you can say what you want about the gross-ass 4chan GGers, but at least they're consistent. They moronically believe that movies don't affect you, which is stupid, but it's a consistent position for the most part. The worst people are the ones who accept that media affects you, but then as soon as it's a movie THEY like they're stammering excuses about how they don't. It's pathetic.

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    12. And I'm pretty sure there are plenty of people who say that what you call "facts" about a movie are really just your opinions. It's true media effects us all but it's not so much individual works as much as everything across the media (tropes, cliches) They thought mad max challenged those ideas and that it wasn't as you described it "A Death Movie",.and you disagreed. Also good to know that you consider them worse than the "4channer's"

      Look we've been at this for hours. I'm done arguing with you and I'm pretty sure you don't want the only comments on your article to be an argument that started from a snarky remark.

      Reply to this all you want, try and get the last word, but I'm out. I got a tabletop game to run.

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    13. >And I'm pretty sure there are plenty of people who say that what you call "facts" about a movie are really just your opinions.

      Those people are morons. Also, they're incorrect. I really don't give a shit if that makes them upset, because they're provably, objectively wrong. Anyone trying to pretend Mad Max doesn't glorify violence is literally fucking delusional.

      >I'm pretty sure you don't want the only comments on your article to be an argument that started from a snarky remark.

      ...have you not seen the comments on my other articles? Shitheads like you are 95% of the comment section.

      >Reply to this all you want, try and get the last word, but

      Ha ha, you made fun of the concept of "trying to get the last word" while trying to get the last word.

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  2. So everything that's wrong about Mad Max, and by extension of logic the action genre as a whole can pretty much be summed up using this pic?

    http://danbooru.donmai.us/posts/406827

    Which IMO seems like a solid example of portraying the nature of Ludonarrative Dissonance. Story tries to convey a message that war and violence are bad, but the gameplay ends up framing it in a way that it can easily be seen as the opposite instead.

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    1. That's pretty much accurate. VC is a good example to use - I've actually written about it before:

      http://exploringbelievability.blogspot.com/2010/12/aggregate-characterization-building.html

      VC's soft tone and approach to gameplay are entirely at odds with its "war is bad" mentality. Another pic that helps illustrate this (NSFW - blood): http://i.imgur.com/rnBd7YO.jpg

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  3. Condemning violence in the narrative and glorifying it through the action is an old, old problem, though I don't think Mad Max or Valkyria Chronicles deserve the dignity of being analyzed with Saving Private Ryan or The Battle Of Algiers.

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    1. While you're certainly correct about the "don't do this cool thing" concept being old as hell, the thing about Mad Max is that it's different - it's not even saying "war is bad", it's saying MASCULINITY is bad, in a way that glorifies behavior and ideas traditionally associated with the worst elements of masculinity. That's why there's so many anti-feminists who are confused about the movie - because it IS masculine, it IS endorsing masculinity, and at the same time it's doing this weak-ass "oh the bad guy is a patriarchal oppressor" shit.

      People were willing to embrace the idea that it's feminist but that was as far as they go. I mean, look back to the original Road Warrior - it's traditional "man tortures and kills thugs to avenge his fridged wife" shit. It's as far from "feminist" as you can get and the only real difference in Fury Road is that the women have a more active role. It's fundamentally the same core concept: Man Creates Death, Death Is Good. People see exactly what they want to see.

      Also, SPR isn't really deserving of any particular "dignity"; it's a great movie from a cinematographic standpoint but Spielberg fucked with the history to create the story he wanted. For all the disgusting viscera of war, the Germans are still bad guys - the one who surrenders is a coward-archetype who ends up turning on his captors after playing the fool, and who gets shot in the end. The Germans are given crew cuts instead of period haircuts to connect them with modern Skinheads. It's a movie about how war is gross and disgusting but it's still glorifying the SHIT out of war. Captain Miller doesn't die randomly, he dies a slow but dignified death where he gets to tell Private Ryan to EARN THIS because OUR TROOPS ARE MAKING THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE FOR OUR FREEDOMS.

      It's propaganda. Well-made propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless. Any "war is glorious" themes one could get out of it are NOT accidental.

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    2. I see your point with SPR. I should've picked "Come and See" as my second example, though that has different propaganda issues.

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    3. I think ultimately any WW2 film is going to be dependent on a good guys / bad guys morality system, which inevitably results in WW2 becoming a "good war" (i.e. the kind of war that it is morally noble to die in). That's going to color the moral no matter what.

      I mean, if I was you, I'd be using Apocalypse Now - a movie that goes over the top to condemn the Vietnam War, but occasionally gets treated as "badass" (like the Ride of the Valkyries stuff) by audiences who genuinely don't see what the problem is.

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  4. Nothing to do with this particular post but do you have any thoughts/anything to say on Undertale?

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    1. Someone else asked me about that recently:

      http://exploringbelievability.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-last-argument.html?showComment=1443146346584#c8899346651178316359

      I like the fact that it focuses on negotiation and non-lethal stuff. Other than that, it's not really my cup of tea, but whatever.

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    2. Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts on the game, "Hatred"?

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/VideoGame/Hatred

      I hadn't (and don't intend to) played it myself, but from the gamer reviews and gameplay videos I thought Hatred presented a rather interesting case study in ludonarrative dissonance. See, on one hand it's just another murder simulator where the player character pretty much just kills everything in sight, but a point of interest for me is how whatever little narrative that exists in the game makes no attempt to ever frame the player character's actions as heroic or in any way morally justified.

      Ergo, the developers made it clear both through interviews and in-game loading screen messages to make no doubts about it, you're playing the bad guy in this game. Which kinda makes sense to the "perma-hostile" enemies in the game. You're playing as a psychopath with an explicit goal to murder every single person that stands in your way - with innocent civilians being your primary target. When faced with someone like that, would it be any surprise that law enforcement or military personnel (or even the occasional plucky bystander) would do whatever it takes to end the player character's rampage? Since it's pretty clear the player character is expressly out for their necks, instead of the more traditional "is going after a specific Plot MacGuffin, but for some reason you're all getting in my way so I'm gonna kill you all."

      So yeah, while the content is still distasteful, but under critical examination it shows that Hatred is strangely free from ludonarrative dissonance. That's my two cents anyway.

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    3. It's honest about what it is, sure. Although there's no explanation for the Hatred character's gameplay-related attributes such as his "videogame health", I assume. I also assume there would be law enforcement and military personnel who'd run instead of staying and dying. That might be in the game, I don't know, I don't intend to look at it.

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  5. I thought I was weird for not seeing how this was a super feminist movie. It didn't seem much better than Sucker Punch, and most women, feminist or not, hated that movie. And the Nux thing bothered me throughout. They killed off Nux's brother(?) like he was some faceless mook, but they wanted me to sympathize with Nux himself. Like, the only difference between Nux and the rest of the War Boys is that Nux embarrassed himself in front of Immortan Joe.

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    1. Well, the justification given in the story is that Nux is cognizant enough to see the error of his ways and overcome his cult programming, but yeah, considering that the War Boys are depicted as brainwashed zealots and the wives leave because they don't want to see their children die horribly, it's pretty hypocritical to be so blase about killing them.

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