Review of Furious Feminisms: Alternate Routes on Mad Max: Fury Road
Gabriella Colombo Machado
Alexis L. Boylan, Anna Mae Duane, Michael Gill, and Barbara Gurr. Furious Feminisms: Alternate Routes on Mad Max: Fury Road. University of Minnesota Press, 2020. Forerunners: Ideas First, Volume 40. Paperback. 70 pg. $10.00. ISBN 9781517909192.
Furious Feminisms is both a collection of essays and a collaborative text. The book is the latest addition to the Forerunners series published by the University of Minnesota Press. As the title indicates, the guiding framework of the book is feminist theory. However, the authors do not presuppose a singular or unifying conception of what this feminism is, or how it should operate as a critical tool. Moreover, they use feminism in conjunction with other theories, like disability studies or visual arts, to engage with the movie in unique ways. The authors come from different fields, which means that the disciplinary approaches contained in the book are varied. While each of the four essays can stand on its own, each also references and expands on the others. The result is a rich dialogue between disciplines and theories that enlightens readers to the myriad ways one can analyze a single cultural artifact: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).
The first chapter is by Barbara Gurr, a sociologist with an emphasis on women’s and gender studies. Her essay, “Just a Warrior at the End of the World,” posits white hegemonic masculinity as the cause of the apocalypse in the Mad Max universe. As Gurr notes, race in the movie is present through absence, since only white bodies seem to survive the apocalypse. The same white masculinity that killed the world remains unscathed in the seat of power in the figure of Immortan Joe. For Gurr, Fury Road then constructs men as killers and women (in the figures of Furiosa, the Wives, and the Vuvalini) as saviors of the world. Gurr concludes that this dualism is essentialist and as dangerous as the forces that provoked the apocalypse in the first place.
Michael Gill, a disability studies scholar, follows. His essay, entitled “Is the Future Disabled?” is interested in the disabled bodies at the margins of the movie, who testify to the continued inequalities of the post-apocalypse. Gill points out that disabled bodies, today and in the apocalypse, are seen as non-productive and therefore expendable. He argues that the same hegemonic masculinity that created the apocalypse continues to contribute to the suffering of the environment and its people by maintaining in place systems of oppression that generate disablement.
The third essay is by Anna Mae Duane, an American literature scholar. It focuses on the white slavery narrative of Fury Road. Duane demonstrates the similar rhetoric between the white slave narratives that deemed White women “incapable of making the decision to place themselves in the market” (37), thus needing saving, and the immaculate Wives of Fury Road, who are chaperoned by Max and Furiosa through the Wasteland. The defeat of their captor and the takeover of the Citadel seems like a feminist triumph, but Duane underscores that the women seem to be no wiser than Immortan Joe since they let the waters flow freely and ultimately be wasted on the floors of the desert.
Finally, the collection closes with Alexis L. Boylan’s essay about post-post-post beauty. As an art historian, Boylan argues the movie is “a new call for beauty, a new call for some kind of purpose, politics, solidity, and social justice from art and aesthetics” (54). The possibility of this new beauty arises when the War Boys demand that their sacrifice be witnessed. Boylan sees their cries to “Witness me” as radical decentering of the self that can catalyze social meaning and spirituality.
The conclusion to the collection presents itself at once as a collaborative text, an interview, and a dialogue. The authors ask themselves questions and each individually answers them as a way to expand and interact with the other scholars and their ideas. As they explain, this unconventional conclusion is “an invitation to pull our ideas forward and reformulate them as the reader(s) see fit” (59). Ultimately, the innovative format brings out the efforts of the authors to transform the individual pursuit of academic knowledge and writing into a truly collective endeavor.
This book is essential to anyone interested in Mad Max: Fury Road. However, as the authors themselves explain, they are not film scholars and do not wish to contribute to this specific type of scholarship. Thus, film scholars might find this lack of engagement with the medium itself frustrating. Another point of (potential) disappointment for readers looking for more in-depth discussions is that the essays in the collection are rather short, which is a feature of the Forerunners series. Therefore, some arguments are not as fully developed as they could be. The upside of this format is that the text is well-suited for undergraduates who are either studying the movie or writing on it. The essays use approachable language that avoids unnecessary jargon, which makes the book a good choice for students of all levels.
Gabriella Colombo Machado has earned a PhD in English Studies from the University of Montreal. Her dissertation is on the politics of female friendship in contemporary speculative fiction across media. She has earned an MA in Comparative Literature from Western University, and an MA in Literatures in English from VU University Amsterdam. Her research interests are feminist theory, care ethics, science fiction, and graphic novels.