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Mad Max: Fury Road and the Hope for Revolution

Thematic Spoilers Ahead, also read Binary Bastard’s review

Films are obsessed with our own demise recently. Whether it be comedy in This Is The End, standard blockbuster fair like Elysium, or The Hunger Games and its copycats, Hollywood found post-apocalyptic scenarios in vogue and is mining it for all its worth. However, Mad Max: Fury Road understands that post-apocalyptic fiction’s power lies in its commentative power. Fury Road excels because it has something to say about its state of affairs, not just use dystopia merely as a backdrop. Like another recent post-apocalytpic film, Snowpiercer, it illustrates to the audience the possibility of revolution.

Most importantly, Fury Road illustrates that we cannot merely escape the exploitative system interlocking systems capitalism and patriarchy (as bell hooks would put it, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy), but we must tear down these exploitative systems and rebuild a more just world. And this is true. As capitalism ravages our environment, our world, we find echoes of Max’s world manifest in our own. The subjugation of women. The exploitation of labor. The decaying world mined until its extinction.

Mad Max: Fury Road offers hope. Not only is it an oasis of exceptional filmmaking in a swath of mediocrity, but it shows the audience that yes, another world is possible, and that we all have the ability to fight for it. Its hope isn’t a cheap sentimentality, a glimmering trinket offered by the worst of tales who merely tell us to wait for “it gets better.” Mad Max: Fury Road illustrates the hope lingering in all of use to transform our world for the better.

Some Notes on Avergers: Age of Ultron

A blogging friend of mine recently gave a glowing review of Mad Max: Fury Road, reminding me once again to never settle for less out of exhaustion. I now feel compelled to write about the latest Avengers flick, only to feel a but nonplussed. What’s there to say? A few observations may help my line of thinking:

1. While the film has a few anti-Bush jabs nestled within (“Every time someone times to stop a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time.”), the film supports hegemonic bourgeois ideology that all military forces exist to do good by its citizens.  The globetrotting Avengers brush against various police and military functionaries trying to protect their nation’s citizens as superhero antics threaten their communities. Especially in the wake of many documented deaths of unarmed black men by police in the U.S., the upholding of police as active do-gooders is upsetting, but unsurprising.

This is contrary to the first Avengers film, which explicitly had law enforcement officials gaze bewildered and borderline incompetent, until Captain America comes to give them direction. Perhaps Marvel want some of those sweet, sweet Pentagon assets, which it was denied for the last Avengers film. As reported by Wired:

“We couldn’t reconcile the unreality of this international organization and our place in it,” Phil Strub, the Defense Department’s Hollywood liaison, tells Danger Room. “To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit that roadblock and decided we couldn’t do anything”

S.H.I.E.L.D. acting without accountability, using advanced technology to surpass citizen privacy and fight “evil”? Surely only America is allowed to do that! Meanwhile, Avengers: Age of Ultron realigns its overarching theme of “superheroes protect people” with a notion that cops do too. A much more palatable notion for the hegemonic powers that be.

2. Monstrosity and Infertility

“You know what my final test was in the Red Room? They sterilized me, said it was one less thing to worry about. You think you’re the only loner on the team?”

There is a slippage that occurs in a scene where Black Widow and Bruce Banner discuss being monsters. Widow calls herself a monster, though whether it’s because she was an assassin, or because she is infertile is unclear. Of course, the two are combined, as sterilization was the final trial to undergo for her assassin training.

While infertility of various kinds is a potent subject to mine, it’s a trope often suffering misuse and abuse in mainstream entertainment. The minimal hype I had for seeing the film as a fun exclusion drained when I heard infertility would be Black Widow’s subplot. It’s really more of a minor character moment, not egregiously mishandled, but concerning nonetheless.

3. Convergence Culture

Disney-Marvel is capitalizing on our advanced technologies of our age to do what The Wachowski siblings tried to do with the Matrix franchise a decade ago: tell an intersecting narrative through various media to satiate rapacious appetites and draw new fans into their media empire. Age of Ultron loses some of its austere characterization from studio mandated scenes to set up further stories down the line. This is a new era of content creation and distribution, where media-savvy consumers are the new norm.

Now, would I recommend the film? For an enjoyable blockbuster experience, yes. It was certainly a sweet indulgence I don’t normally partake, and I have no regrets. Now to marathon the Mad Max films.

A Reflection on the Past and Now

I haven’t been writing recently due to constraints of time and technology. I have things to look forward to, though. I’ll will be attending York University for an M.A. in Cinema and Media Studies in the fall. I regret not writing. Hopefully I’ll rectify this shortly while my beloved finishes their final weeks of undergrad.

I’ve been reflecting on the journey I’ve taken from graduation until now. From Spring 2013 until now, it’s been a constant uphill struggle for me, learning the practicalities of life. I emerged from graduation in 2013 tired and broker, with no jobs lined up and finally stumbling into a housing situation. I scraped by the summer unemployed by donating my plasma, finally landing a job as a cashier in the fall.

I’ve held the position for over a year and a half now. I slowly healed from my mental and physical exhaustion (exacerbated by hours-long commutes the first month), living on auto pilot for a while, because that was all that I could handle. Days after work involved vegging out with snacks for hours, a cycle that finally broke out of scholarly necessity for my partner.

Slowly paying off the daunting school loans and medical debt, I grew to understand the “daily grind” minimum wage labor quickly. It wasn’t until a year later I briefly considered applying for another job here and there. Of course, I have a Savings Plan now with the company, and the amenities which keep me tethered for now.

I have had a stable place in my life financially for a while now, which is a wonderful thing that enables me to do so much more with my life. Part of it came from self education. I’ll write about the various resources I found to help me learn how to manage post-graduate life. But a more substantial part came from the kindness and generosity of friends and family, something that I am greatly privileged to have. The past two years have sometimes feel like waste, and sometimes feel like a necessary time to recollect myself and prepare myself for graduate work. I know now at least that I am eager to leave it behind for better prospects in the future, carrying the hard-earned knowledge with me.

My Dinner With Andre and the Cost of Enlightenment

My Dinner With Andre Two Shot - Wonderfully cinematography to illustrate the characters connecting over conversation

I watched My Dinner With Andre (1981) almost out of a sense of obligation. It’s a generally well-regarded film, and Community did a wonderful parody of it, so it felt that my film knowledge was lacking without what I’m sure is a transformative experience for many viewers.

The film is merely the filming of a conversation, a long one over dinner among two esteemed colleagues, mourning the death of the conversation. Death is what bookends the discussion, for as the film puts it, to truly know life, and therefore really understand reality, is to also know death. In fearing death, we become insular, merely perform roles in our lives, and never truly communicate with anyone on a sincere level in fear of pain, and ultimately, death. For a film directly expressing philosophical beliefs, I am surprised the phrase “hedgehog’s dilemma” never came up.

Of course, the script, written by our two leads Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, essentially playing themselves, is more natural and expressive than a mere philosophical tract. The film is consistently engaging as the two beautifully act their lines, the film making at its bare bones realism to support the words above all else. This doesn’t mean the camera is completely static, but rather, director Louis Malle (Au Revoir Les Enfants [1987]) moves the camera only when necessary. The camera zooms only once, making Andre’s face an inescapable presence as he describes being prepared for death and experience that immanent reality. It shifts to show the waiter preparing to serve the next dinner item. But mostly, this film is composed of faces and torsos, demanding the audience recognize that we are all connected and need that connection for a truly happy life.

While the film laments the lack of good communication and notes the phoniness of everyday life, it fails to fully examine the source of these maladies of society. Only twice does the film brush against the beast of capitalism, in meaningful and articulate ways, but all too brief. Wally mentions feeling rejected when he mentions he’s a playwright of middling success, but never realizing the depravity of capitalism’s mechanical methods of finding worth in human beings. Andre fairs worse, telling tales of friends who merely wander the earth to avoid the phoniness of everyday life, advocating retreat rather than radical change. While Wally grounds his claims with good counterpoints (not everyone can afford to visit Poland, Tibet, and India for their own self-enlightenment, Andre), Andre’s comments dominate the conversation and the film.

The film is essentially two elites (or at least, have connection with cultural elites) unintentionally committing volatile snobbery. They lament the death of the conversation and meekly chastise the unenlightened masses to fight against the consumerist habits that put us to sleep, while speaking from a place of privilege, a place where from a secure sense of life they might have time and energy to think about such things. Rather than a systemic analysis (I.e. how did society get here), the film tends to place the blame on the individual level.

I was reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when watching this film (I suppose it’s nice to hear my intro psychology course was indeed worth something.) As beings whose primary needs are satisfied (physiological, safety, etc.), Wally and Andre have the time and energy to invest into cognitive needs, and ultimately self-actualization. Now, Maslow’s ideas had no scientific backing data whatsoever, and fell out of vogue after the great humanist enthusiasms of the 50s and 60s, but I find some truth here. Of course it’s easier for these two intellectual gentlemen to discuss such high notions of human existence, they aren’t worried about their next meal. Poverty does not tax their brains.

Ultimately, I find Talking Head’s work on Remain in Light (1980), especially “Once in a Lifetime,” going over many of the same concerns about performance in everyday life with a less contemptuous point of view. While My Dinner With Andre does not outright scoff at the unenlightened masses, its lack of systemic analysis results in upholding individual enlightenment as the answer, not realizing that it’s ultimately a privilege of elites.

Notes on Video Revolutions

I recently finished Michael Z. Neuman’s short book Video Revolutions: On the History of a Medium. It’s a quick read (excluding notes, bibliography, and index, it’s just over 100 pages), but the content is an encompassing look at public reception towards the nebulous medium that is video. Neuman takes a cultural approach to his analysis, noting how reception of video changes as the medium and its cohorts (television, cinema) evolve. It’s a brisk, accessible historical overview of how the cultural force changed over time, and reveals the limitations of our own conceptions of media. Is video a tangible thing, like a VHS tape? What about streaming video? As Neuman illustrates, media is a combination of its physical properties and their surrounding cultural scripts.

Neuman’s book serves a general overview to the medium, and illustrates many places where scholarship could and does flourish, such as the democratization and politicization of the medium in the 21st century. It thus serves not only as a good overview text, but could as a launching point for others to explore.

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