SPOILER WARNING, friends: If you’re yet to see Mad Max, I’m about to talk about the content a little bit.

I should probably start with another disclaimer, I’m not much of a film-goer. My heart’s been worn thin by people continuously recommending I see films like The Avengers and The Hurt Locker when all I really like are The Court Jester and The Little Mermaid.

But all the noise around Mad Max: Furious Wang-or-whatever was so thrusty that I just got suckered right in: “The greatest Australian film of all time”; “A feminist masterpiece”; “6 stars” etc.

We’re downright frothing for it.

Doing my best to give it a chance by forgetting the reviews that took me there in the first place, I really enjoyed Mad Max for the there-and-back murderfest that it is. A fantastic setting; the wonderful dystopian ideas of its forebears; beautifully made; well acted; and brave, artistic characterisations. It’s a really good film.

But a feminist masterpiece? Fucking absurd.

Here are the key reasons people are trading to proffer this bad idea, and some notes to help us both in dismissing them:

1. A strong woman is the main character

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa is a strong character and the standout lead in the film. It’s really nice that the franchise is called Mad Max, but this film is actually all about her and her quest.

The problem here is that we’re conflating “women at all” with “feminism”.

That there is excitement around one of the leads being a woman in a world quite choc-a-block full of women is a very low bar indeed. But in 2015, this excitement flags the sad reality that the percentage of female leads in films, already absurdly low, is somehow even still on the decline.

Only 12% of the top 100 films of the last year were about a woman who wasn’t just a sex object or silent model — which brings us to …

2. The women aren’t just sex objects or silent models

There are bunch of rad desert women who fight in Fury’s quest to bring down the patriarchal war society. It is genuinely refreshing to see a matriarchal war society in any film. Equality! Women as free as men! … to kill and be killed in a world split by gendered violence.

But we probably can, and certainly should, aspire to more than that.

Like so much good sci-fi, the world created is a hyper-realisation of our own, and a sad song of human nature. But we already know the problem. Let’s look to the leaders who would dissolve it.

I want films where the scripts are finished before the genders are picked, by flipping a coin. Or better yet, by throwing darts at a spectrum (which is still just a false, subjective construct [gender is hard {writing about it is terrifying}]).

But reviews everywhere reiterate:

3. The women aren’t just sex objects or silent models (rpt.)

Not just. But they still are.

These are the sex slaves at the centre of all the conflict:

You will note that they are scantily clad younglings with but little agency and few spoken lines. Their chief role in the film is to be babe-meat.

And where models have been cast in these roles, the equivalent male roles are mostly played by actors. And it really is just the best to see Angus Sampson and the bad guy from Rake in a major action film. Hopefully, Miller can sneak Annabel Crabb and Judith Lucy into the next one.

4. Men’s rights activists are angry

I’m all for this one. But. Well. Do you know what else makes men’s rights activists angry?

Seemingly anything.

And now I’m meant to factor these idiots and their sorry opinions into what I think of art?

I’d sooner leave my labradoodle for a weekend of dog-sitting at the Joyce family residence.

There’s no doubt that Mad Max is rare in its genre for passing even some of the Bechdel Test, but holding it up as an example of some gender-subverting masterwork is on par with praising Paddle Pop’s lick-a-prize for its role in ending world hunger.

For mine, a useful feminist narrative will have nothing to do with whether women are the “warriors” or the “sex trophies”. In Fury Road, the women get to be both, but the men only get to be one.

I’m ultimately happy to see the unique praise for Mad Max as a positive symptom for our time that we are at least continuously discussing the Stone Age of segregation that we’ve inherited. It’s heartening that so many of us are looking for heroes, but we’re coming from a long way behind, and I’m surely not alone in being greedy for more than gains in mere increments.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey