Psycho Grid | The Symbols in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
If at this point you still haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road, run. You’ve certainly heard a lot of warm praise around there, and George Miller’s return to the Road Warrior’s universe truly is masterful, proving to be one of the greatest action movies of the last years. Watch it, seriously.
And also, this article will discuss some major spoilers.
It’s a solid fact that Fury Road doesn’t have a fully elaborated, twist-and-turn, complex plot. However, that doesn’t make the movie poor in content; just the opposite. The simple and linear narrative allows George Miller and his crew to create some of the most insane action scenes you’ll ever see, and at the same time, the opportunity to dedicate a huge visual effort. The art directing is hands down the department with the larger amount of details, whether if it’s on costumes, vehicles, guns or any other sort of object. However, one of them has really caught my eye – and not just for being absolutely awesome: Max Rockatansky’s muzzler.
Let’s make the basic set up: on the beginning, Max is captured in the desert by tyranic Immortan Joe’s War Boys. He’s tied, marked as an animal and confined to a muzzler mask that looks pretty uncomfortable, in order to control his violent resistance while serving as “blood bag” on mutant Nux (Nicholas Hoult)’s vehicle. But there is something very distinct about this reproachful object: the front snout is clearly shaped as trident. Now, the trident takes us to two credible references in the film: Poseidon’s trident (considering water as one of the major elements during the story) and the subject of this article, which is the Psychology symbol.
Well, I’m not an expert on the matter, but my much more competent girlfriend provided me with a basic on some of the different meanings of the trident:
– The three pulsions: Sexuality, Self Conservation and Spirituality
– Theoric Forces of Psychology: Humanism, Behavorism and Psychoanalysis
– Freud Theory: Ego, Superego and Id
If we choose to follow a more mytical interpretation, we’ll be faced – again – with the mythical presence of Poseidon, and even the Christian figure of Satan, who also carries an iconical trident. On both figures, the logical reference is the villain Immortan Joe: not only is he the water’s detainer in the Citadel, but also a nasty, manipulator creature, but he’s also worshiped as a god – owning slaves, women forced to give him their breast milk and a truly impish guitar player. That’s one of the symbols.
Now, back to Max’s trap mask. Mad Max, as the franchise’s titles tell us. Rockatansky is a man who is truly disturbed by the loss of his family, and the memories of those he was unable to save in his career as a police officer. Hallucinations and voices inside his head clearly indicate us that this character isn’t mentally ballanced. During his capture and confinement in the muzzler, we can find some sorth of “shock treatment”, given the presence of the trident and all the changes faced by Max. He’s a lone, individualist guy, just minding his own business in a hostile future, but the tide turns when he’s thrown in Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron)’s wild quest to escape Immortan Joe’s Citadel with his Wives.
When Max first meets Furiosa, he’s literally in a leash, chained to his muzzler and through Nux’s wristle. George Miller himself stated that he sees Max as a rabid dog that requires retention, so when Furiosa decides to help him get rid of the object, the process continues in two lines: mental study and animalization. In the moment Max agrees to aid Furiosa in her quest, he finds a way to “fix” his past failures and achieve some sort of redemption (which is also the main goal for Imperator), at the same time he “tames” his inside beast. Similarly, Furiosa also learns how to “tame” the beast in Max, right when she hands him an instrument to open the muzzler, which ultimately leads to the revealing scene in which the ex-cop burrows his shoulder to Furiosa, so that she can use it as a support for her sniper – therefore, recognizing her superiority as a shooter, in just one of the many rates of the strong presence of Feminism in the film.
And having seen the movie twice, I can certainly tell that the voices and hallucinations that haunt Max during the first act doesn’t show up after his liberation from the muzzler, except for two very specific scenes: when Max decides to take his own path after Furiosa’s frustration in the ruin of her home land (and Miller even gives us a fine visual rhyme to the film’s first shot) and the almost lethal arrow he takes in the forehead, throwing him in an “almost-death” state, culminating in a quick apparition of his dead daughter (Max almost joins her, after all). I’m not saying the muzzler is some type of magical artifact, but a metaphor for the following transformation.
During the triumphant final scene, Max successfully accompanies Furiosa, the Wives and the Mothers back to the Citadel, where they’re received with glorious acclaim from the population, specially after Immortan Joe’s death. Furiosa rises, and Max quietly blends into the crowd and follows his lonely path (after all, Max was always the hiker that gets caught up in someone else’s story) after exchanging accomplishment looks with his partner. His mission is accomplished, and we get nothing from Max’s hallucinations, which means his redemption was finally acchieved and, at least in this story (future sequels can prove me wrong, of course), the protagonist’s mental disturbance has come to an end. The trident muzzler was a mere symbol, but by the hands of Furiosa and his own actions to help her, maybe Mad Max isn’t as mad anymore.
So, what does this analysis reveals us? The importance of a solid work of customization and art directing, beacuse even if Miller himself didn’t have the slightest intent to provoke this discussion, he certainly was aware of the sort of symbol he’d put there (in fact, there are a tone of references in Fury Road, from echology to Norse Mythology), and that is more than enought to guarantee even more merit to the film.
That’s a hell of a lot more than one can expect from a movie that’s basically a car chase.
Action can be Art, too.