(Warning: *SPOILERS* everywhere. Also, why haven’t you seen it yet?)
They are not wrong.
For background, I saw Fury Road under ideal conditions: in the glorious Somerville Theatre, in a rowdy sold-out showing, with some of my favorite art weirdos on the planet (including horror burlesque troupe Slaughterhouse Sweethearts, steamCRUNK heroes Walter Sickert & the ARmy of BRoken TOys, and other unaligned miscreants). The bunch of us pre-gamed by watching Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome in a private theater (leading to many jokes about Mel Gibson’s antisemitism, 80s hair, and starting our own Mad Max daycare center).
There was no joking during Fury Road–only screaming, sobbing, and white-knuckling our armrests, desperately holding on for the ride.
We left the the theater shell-shocked and babbling about the movie IN ALL CAPS (it has that effect–see SB Nations’ review). HEDGEHOG TRUCKS. FURIOSA. DECONSTRUCTION OF TOXIC MASCULINITY. MAD MAX AS HUMAN GUN TRIPOD. FURIOSA. WAR BOYS ON POLES ON CARS. BADASS OLD LESBIAN SEPARATISTS ON BIKES. WE ARE NOT THINGS. NO ROMANTIC SUBPLOT FTW. FIRE GUITAR. WITNESS ME. FURIOSA.
Because I’m me, I obsessively read other reviews to dig up things I had missed during my first viewing (Fury Road basically blows up in your face, so you end up poking around in the shrapnel to find more clues). Most were overwhelmingly positive and both appreciated the cinematic beauty and “got” its genre/gender-breaking plot.
But I am disappointed to see a number of lefty critics insist that Fury Road is not feminist (see The New Statesman and In These Times). Anita Sarkeesian, whose intellect and bravery in the face of GamerGate trolls I very much respect, tweeted that the movie was not feminist because it played into a “glorified” “masculine” violence.
On the question of feminism, I quote Meff of the BRoken TOys: “The theme of the film is literally female liberation and overthrow of a very concrete patriarchy with a matriarchy. They drive a fucking truck full of mother’s milk to a utopian matriarchal motherland, killing literal patriarchs on the way. They then turn around and drive *back* into to the patriarchal Citadel to *overthrow the patriarchal power structure*. If this isn’t feminist (and anarchist), then I musta fell asleep in feminism school.”
On the question of violence: violence does not belong to men alone. It’s not “guy stuff.” All living creatures have the instinct for survival, which including fighting for resources and fighting off predators. Women are not magical beings devoid of this trait. Women have always fought. Violence is not always a tool of oppression–it is also a tool to stay alive.
All kills carried out by the women (and their male allies) of Fury Road are justified–they are directly defending themselves against combatants bent on either murdering them or kidnapping them back into sexual slavery. The heroes do not just use physical weapons to defend themselves–the Wife Splendid uses her pregnant body as a human shield to protect Furiosa. They have mercy on the fanatical War Boy Nux, and the Wife Capable converts him to their side through tenderness and understanding.
(As an aside, I can’t help but wonder if part of the acting fire that fuels Charlize Theron in her portrayal of Furiosa is her own past. One night when Theron was in her teens, her alcoholic father attacked her and mother, shooting up the house and threatening to murder both of them. Theron’s mother fatally shot him–her actions were ruled as self-defense by the courts.)
Is violence always justifiable? No, of course not. But saying that violence is never justifiable is a (metaphorical) slap in the face to every woman who has fought off a rapist, every person of color who has “resisted” arrest by an abusive police officer, every LGBT person who struck back at a queer-basher–in short, every David who knocked out their Goliath.
There are some who may say, “Well, fighting against your attacker is fine in real life, but why have it onscreen? Why have the violence in Fury Road look ‘cool’ rather than horrible?”
Because victims of sexual violence are allowed their cathartic fantasies, too.
If people watch Reese Witherspoon romantic comedies, I’m not going to knock them for watching something that might be unrealistic. I don’t begrudge gamer dorks who imagine themselves in the sandals of Conan the Barbarian. For clarification, I’m not one of those annoying twits who insist “it’s just a movie.” Of course a movie is the product of human minds, with all of its quirks and prejudices. I just think we’re smarter in seeing the layers of real/unreal than we are given credit for.
Years ago, I was sexually assaulted in my sleep, in my own bed, by a stranger. He went to jail (which is a rare occurrence–most rapists never see a day in jail). Some time afterwards, I became obsessed with home invasion movies: The Purge, The Strangers, You’re Next. They were bloody and terrifying, and I watched them like I could actually pick up tips on how to survive such an attack (note: not recommended).
Watching these fictional depictions of home invasions gave me a feeling that a legit personal safety instruction video never could–a feeling of control. A feeling of power. A feeling that I could hold my own against an assailant, rather than cowering in fear.
To cite real-life furious women: in India in 2004, gang leader Akku Yadav was on trial–he faced 24 criminal charges. He had terrorized the community of Kasturba Nagar for years. He and his associates busted into homes to extort money. He kidnapped girls as young as 12 to be gang-raped by his goons to punish and control the girls’ families. He had murdered at least 3 neighbors. Previous times when charges were brought against him, he paid out bribes to authorities and walked. Women who reported Yadav’s crimes to local police told were told that it was their fault and turned them away (“You’re a loose woman. That’s why he raped you.”).
As reported by The Guardian:
“On the day of Yadav’s hearing, 200 women came to the court armed with vegetable knives and chilli powder. As he walked in, Yadav spotted one of the women he had raped. He called her a prostitute and threatened to repeat the crime against her. The police laughed. She took off her sandal and began to hit him, shouting, ‘We can’t both live on this Earth together. It’s you or me.'”
Right there on the floor of the Nagpur district court, 200 women stabbed Yadav to death.
You tell me that those women should have figured out a “gentler” alternative.
If it’s wrong to feel a rush from an unstoppable rapist-murderer gangster getting torn apart by his victims, then I don’t want to be right.
(Note: I was inspired to do a “Fury Road outlaws find the ocean” photoshoot for this blog. My partner E. Stephen was the photographer.)