May 31, 2015


Oftentimes I am sure I'm going to like a movie and am very disappointed. Rarely am I sure I will detest a movie and turn out liking it. "Mad Max: Fury Road" is one of those latter films.
Although named for "Mad Max," this is not his movie. It's really Imperator Furiosa's (Charlize Theron) story. With her shaved head, calm, take-charge determination and hurt-but-gentle eyes, she quietly steals the movie from Max (the superb Tom Hardy--once again with a mask on his face) as the filmmakers no doubt intended. Indeed, Max's name is only revealed at the end of the film, and his backstory is never supplied. Theron carefully avoids falling into a one-note angry feminist rut in her portrayal.


The world of Furiosa and Max is dystopian with a capital "D." A hideous warlord, Immortan Joe, enslaves everyone: men and boys are warriors and laborers, women are warrior-breeders and milk-providers for the warriors (ISIS, anyone?). Immortan Joe controls the water supply in the arid desert and is beyond miserly with rationing. Furiosa attempts to rescue women chosen as breeders, racing across the desert in her "war rig." Max is strapped to the front of an enemy vehicle hot in pursuit as the "blood bag" (hooked up to a direct intravenous line) of Immortan's crazed and ambitious foot soldier, Nux (Nicholas Hoult, Hollywood's go-to ghoul). Max eventually joins forces with Furiosa, spurred on by vision of a little girl who calls him "Daddy."

The film is a non-stop war on wheels. The incredible chase scenes filmed in the Namib desert include trucking it into a massive (visual effects) sandstorm. There are pauses to regroup, reconfigure, catch one's breath, but I wish they didn't use the sparse fades-to-black at all. Completely broke the tension and took us out of the movie. The pace is hoof-pounding, but not heart-stopping, so we could've handled seamless transitions throughout the entire film.


The plot and dialogue are campy but high-minded comic book fare, with deep primal, mythical, Judaeo-Christian roots. There's A LOT to unpack here. Theology of the Body? Everywhere, and not always far off the mark, either. At one point, I realized this film would have been fine with almost no dialogue--it is that stunningly visual of a story. In some ways it reminded me of the brutal elegance of the war-fest that is the film "300," although very different in design. "Fury Road" could easily win Oscars for set design, FX, cinematography and editing. The soundtrack is spot-on with unique drums and beats and strains and sound effects that blend hand-in-glove with the action, except for a few trite melodramatic scorings. (Once again, from the reviews I read, I thought it would be over-the-top, ear-punishing cacophony, but it was not.) The pulse and action can be relentless, but it's not big and dumb, it's clever and mesmerizing. Luxurious attention is given to passing details. You blink, you lose.

The comedy exudes from the meticulously inventive world and characters that have been created. My favorite is the heavy metal guitarist dangling, marionette-like, from the front of one of the vehicles, who strikes up the soundtrack to each battle on cue--not so unrealistic, as we know music has carried troops into battle from time immemorial. My second favorite comedic relief is the half-gazelle, half-giraffe, supermodel breeder women who are inept damsels in distress one minute and mechanics and fighters the next.


One reviewer noted that there's "no sex." True, no sex (the verb). But there is so much about the sexual difference and procreation standing at the crux of the film. This is also a film about life and hope and the rawest of human survival. Furiosa and the women are heading to a garden that once existed, the land of greenery, the land of "mothers." The women are the keepers of seeds of all kinds. Indeed, so much of women's heroism involves living things, growing things, giving "the new person" a chance, protecting life, cherishing life, carrying life, nourishing life, bringing life to birth and fruition. These tasks are not presented as "women's burden" in "Fury Road," in fact they are presented as extremely valuable and privileged, simply that women should not be treated as "things," as the women's rebellious graffiti declares: "We are not things!" "Our babies will not be warlords!"

We have the two extremes in our world today: Women voluntarily and ideologically eschewing their bodies and motherhood as de facto slavery and some kind of biological tyranny on one hand; and semblances of the scenarios in "Mad Max" and "The Handmaid's Tale" perpetrated by the likes of sex traffickers, ISIS, and Boko Haram on the other.


The women are all good. The men? It depends. There are both male and female elders. Like "Maleficent" and "Frozen," "Fury Road" is women saving women (except that there is indispensable collaboration with men who are smart, good and necessary). But this is not a battle of the sexes. It's a battle of the good against the bad and ultimately against a despotic regime.

The body count is quite high, but the gore is minimal (or am I just jaded) and we don't see aftermaths of the extreme violence. The body-abuse is also huge to our heroes and our villains, so much so that out of the oh, 150 blows each receives, we know that just one would have polished each character off. All I could think of was how a career-ending concussion sustained by an athlete could also possibly shorten life or impair quality of life for good. But, of course, this is pure surreal fantasy that's ALL action.

The takeaway? Some things will never change. Men and women are indispensable to life, to each other, to society and human flourishing. But it's really not necessary to look like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley to be a part of that.


--"There's a power that comes with having a child. You've done something incredible that no man could ever do or understand." --Megan Fox

--"Fury Road" passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

"The woman...[is] reflected in the figure of Mary. It is the figure that embraces society, the figure that contains it, the mother of the community. The woman has the gift of maternity, of tenderness; if all these riches are not integrated, a religious community not only transforms into a chauvinist society, but also into one that is austere, hard and hardly sacred."

"Christ is betrothed to the Church, a woman. The place where it receives the most attacks, where it receives the most punches, is always the most important. The enemy of nature--Satan--hits hardest where there is more salvation, more transmission of life, and the woman--as an existential place--has proven to be the most attacked in history. She has been the object of use, of profit, of slavery, and was relegated to the background; but in the Scriptures we have cases of heroic women that have transmitted to us what God thinks about them, like Ruth, Judith...."
--Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio

May 16, 2015


Fans of "Pride and Prejudice" will love the new adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1874 novel, "Far From the Madding Crowd." It's a romance of class divisions as well as gender divisions (in the sense that a fiercely independent and independently wealthy female sees no "need" for a husband). Miss Bathsheba Everdene* (the astute and expressive Carey Mulligan) is also a very proud woman by nature, which both serves her and trips her up.


"Madding" starts off with a bold proposal of marriage, but fans of the "Twilight" series will love the fact that Miss Everdene has her pick of not two, but three suitors: the farmer/shepherd (Gabriel Oak, played by the hunky, strong and silent Matthias Schoenaerts), the older, socially awkward, paternal squire (Mr. Boldwood, played with precision by Michael Sheen), and the playboy soldier (Sergeant Troy, played with rascality by Tom Sturridge). Which man will she choose, if any? These fully-developed characters are brought to life by a harmonious cast.

It's curious why Hardy would make an assertive, commitment-phobic (she really is) woman like this his protagonist, and not having read the book myself, I don't know if she was given any kind of modern upgrade for the screen. Perhaps Hardy was trying to explore the female heart, trying to understand women and women's motivations. Does he succeed? On some fronts, yes. On others, no. But I believe we always have to remember that when we're watching a film, a statement is not necessarily being made about all women, but this particular woman, this particular character. A statement is not necessarily being made about all men, but this particular man, this particular character.


What Hardy does seem to know very well is a man's heart, what it's like when a man truly loves a woman. Perhaps this is really a man's romantic story. Or maybe it's just both a man's and woman's romance, as movies used to be. All three men truly love a woman. Hardy seems also to know what it's like when a woman plays with a man's heart. Although Miss Everdene states that "it's not women who jilt men, it's men who jilt us," she is inexplicably fickle in her affections and desires. At times she seems completely disloyal, even to herself. She seems to have contracted our contemporary disease of wanting to endlessly sample, never settle down, never be sure, never make a firm decision, always have a "wandering eye." A clue to why she is so afraid of trusting, of making the wrong choice, or of being rejected might be captured in a song she sings at a dinner for her farming staff. (This same song is repeated during one of the trailers for the film and the credits at the end of the film, so the filmmakers must be trying to make a point.) The words of the song are addressed to a young woman: "Let no man steal your thyme," because when your time has passed, he'll get rid of you.

The men in "Madding" are incredibly loyal and fiercely protective of the women they love. Even though Miss Everdene can take care of herself in many ways, she does need these men for many reasons (as the men need her for many reasons). These are not utilitarian needs, but rather those of a truly human community and communion. Helpmates. (See 1 Corinthians 11:11.) "Madding" shows us glimpses of how the male/female collaboration can be a peaceful and beautiful synergy on many levels. Since the setting is pastoral, and Miss Everdene is an equestrian, there's a lot more than tea drinking and mincing about going on in the film.


Had "Madding" been shot on film, we'd enjoy beautiful landscapes and rich colors everywhere. But, alas, it was not, and one drawback to the film is the paltry, pedestrian color palette. The fine soundtrack, however, is blissfully rich and audibly "invisible."

These men and women of "Madding" were bred/taught how to relate properly and well with each other from their youngest years, no matter their state or status in life. Do we teach any kind of proper, becoming, humble, gracious behavior anymore? The question simply is: what kind of a society do we want to live in? In today's world of instant gratification, it's hard to imagine the protocols, manners and restraint displayed in "Madding," but the actors inhabit this 19th century milieu convincingly. Personally, I find all the refinement quite civilized, charming, refreshing, and massively appealing.
*Yes, a most unfortunate name. "Miss Everdene" sounds far too much like "Katniss Everdeen."


--I always thought it was "maddening."

--"It is difficult for a woman to express her feelings in a language designed chiefly by men." --Miss Everdeen (But WAS language "designed by men" or was it co-designed?)

--At a certain point, Miss Everdene appears to be genuinely confused about whom to marry. When she asks what to do about it, she is told: "Do the right thing." It becomes apparent who is the "right" one for her, her strong match, or as we say in screenwriting "a worthy opponent." "A strong man of God is not afraid of a strong woman of God." --Pastor Rick Warren

--According to the novel's Wikipedia entry, several plot points have been left out of the film, but it works quite well without them.

--In spite of the deceptions, there is also a very plain and sincere way that people speak to each other in "Madding."

--A few strange camera moments.

--Another curiosity which seems to have been a custom of the day is that the proposal of marriage could be very abrupt, before the man and woman really knew each other, and it seems a response had to be immediate (a deferred answer seems to be unusual).

--Thank you, thank you, thank you to whomever got this film made. Period pieces show us that there are different ways to be human besides life according to YouTubers.

--I would say the moral here for women is: don't play with a good man's heart. I've known women who played this risky game and lost the love of their lives.

--The "meet cute" with the soldier was a bit unbelievable, but not her reasons for being attracted to him.

--Even the dog has a stage name. "Old George" was played by "Sparky."