We Don't Need Another Hero: The Bechdel Test, Furiosa & Fury Road
Thirty years ago Tina Turner told us “we don’t need another hero”, something we believed to be the case when the credits to “Beyond Thunderdome” began to roll. George Miller, returning to the directors chair after a seventeen year absence from live action, proves both Turner and her listening audience wrong with the latest installment in his classic film series where he not only introduces us to a new hero but one of the most unlikely we’re to see in a post apocalyptic world governed by vicious men, a strong woman.
In her 1985 comic strip titled “The Rule”, Allison Bechdel brought attention to the fact that women are under-represented in film. A characters in the strip asserts that she’ll only go to the movies if the film meets the following criteria: 1) The movie has to have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other and 3) about something besides a man. With this, The Bechdel Test was born. By using this criteria to call attention to gender inequality within film it became astonishing to find how many mainstream movies didn’t meet these simple key factors. Enter Mad Max (or should I say Furiosa). Not only does “Fury Road” meet all criteria of the Bechdel Test, it blows it off the road. With the film’s main narrative, Furiosa freeing Immortan Joe’s slave girls, we are presented over and over key scenes featuring numerous women, all interacting with each other, working together to execute their plan. This is taken even further at the beginning of the third act in one particular scene featuring no less than 12 women on screen together, all conversing (the least of which about men). Something tells me Bechdel’s character may have enjoyed that scene.
But The Bechdel Test isn’t the only “shiny” example of gender inequality skewed in “Fury Road”. From the moment the key turns in the ignition the film begins to subtly present images and themes to it’s audience who, unless they’re truly looking for it, wouldn’t notice that what they’re being presented is actually incredibly empowering material. Even at moments that could be considered misogynistic Miller makes it work. The reveal of the slave girls in their skimpy white clothes, bathing with a hose, is at first glance extremely clichéd but it’s a brilliant scene that presents an incredible amount of relevant information. Why are these girls so attractive and dressed so inappropriately for a desert road chase? Why are they wasting so much water? The slave girls are so attractive because they’re breeders; Immortan Joe has captured them because of their beauty, not in spite of it. They’ve never been aloud to leave The Citadel, explaining their ridiculous outfits (dressed by men for men) and not having an understanding of the way the outside world works is their justification for the overuse of water. All these elements are relevant to the narrative, help to drive it forward, and don’t rely on needless sexism and exploitation to exist.
It isn’t just the slave girls that help instill these notions of feminist equality in the film, Furiosa herself proves to be the most “shiny” example. In one key scene her truck is stuck in a bog with a madman racing blindly towards them, firing his gun wildly into the dark. Max readies his aim with her sniper rifle, missing his first two shots. After she explains that they have one shot left Max not only relinquishes the rifle to Furiosa but happily acts as her mount to help steady her shot. Our male hero is actually being used to rest a gun on as our female lead takes out the bad guy. When the rifle fires, Max is no longer the films hero. Miller confirms this a few minutes later when Max heads off down the road to finish off the wounded bad guys. If he truly were our hero we would have been shown a prolonged action sequence in which he kicks ass and takes names, instead we stay with Furiosa. Whatever Max is doing isn’t important, this isn’t his story anymore.
The genius of Miller’s work with “Fury Road” is that unlike this article the film never points out it’s femininity, it merely presents it on screen for those willing to absorb it. It’s true there have been other strong female protagonists in genre film (Sarah Conner, Ellen Ripley) none have reached the heights Miller has with Furiosa (both of Cameron’s strong women end their films in a pseudo-family unit, relying on a man for help, protection and companionship). The most fitting way for Miller to have ended “Fury Road” would to have had Tina Turner’s iconic song blast out from the speakers, because now it is true that “we don’t need another hero”, we have Furiosa.
Written by Chris Swan.