#TBT Classic Movie: Mad Max

My big Christmas present in 2015 was a PlayStation 4, my first gaming console since my brother got a Nintendo when we were in high school. As an adult, I’ve tended to play music rather than video games, so gaming does not come naturally to me; I’ve probably bought 20 games on the system so far, just trying to find something that I can get in to. So far, only a few have captivated me, mostly appealing to my nerd nature: Tron Run/R, a digital age racing game with a killer soundtrack; Injustice: Gods Among Us (until I went online, and promptly had my ass handed to me by someone who spent more time playing games than music); LEGO Marvel Superheroes (the best LEGO game I’ve tried; LEGO The Hobbit just isn’t nearly as much fun, and Batman 3: Beyond Gotham has too much, well, Batman); and Mad Max.

I’ve been obsessed with Mad Max since the beginning of July. I scream obscenities at the TV when I can only kill 8 of the 15 men attacking me with my hands; I think I’ve uninstalled and reinstalled the game three times when it pisses me off too much. I try to convince myself that it’s good to delete the game, because the level of pure, unadulterated violence it contains must be unhealthy; then I acknowledge that sometimes pure, unadulterated violence is exactly what I want. Right now, I’m stuck on the Gastown race, so I’m going around trying Death Runs to improve my racing skills.

The game is a standalone, but it’s clearly based on 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. I didn’t see Fury Road when it came out; I didn’t realize that George Miller was still running the franchise, and I assumed it was yet another example of Hollywood’s dearth of original ideas, and continued redefinition and remaking of my childhood – or, increasingly, of my dad’s childhood, as evidenced in the Star Trek reboots (which admittedly are really good), or the upcoming The Magnificent Seven. I’ve caught The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome on TV and Netflix a few times, but I can’t remember the last time I saw the original Mad Max.

I’ve picked up all the movies as I fuel my fascination with the world of Mad Max. The Road Warrior was exactly what I remembered – a wasteland survivor who decides to help a scrappy community against the barbarous Lord Humungus, a character who would be as at home in S&M porn as he is on the wasteland. I’ve always liked Beyond Thunderdome, but kind of forgot that Max has nothing to do with driving in the movie, and instead ends up leading a group of Lost Boys (and Girls) who mistakenly left Neverland, in a battle against Tina Turner. Fury Road is a violent, vibrant assault on the senses, and one of the most fantastically conceived action movies ever made. All take place in the wasteland.

By comparison, Mad Max is set “before the fall.” The first thing that struck me in re-watching the film is how much green there is – and how normal life is (relatively). People eat in diners, they go on vacations, they go out for ice cream. Society is starting to break down – the Nightrider and the Toecutter are able to operate with relative freedom. However, “law and order” still is in control, as Max Rockatansky is an Interceptor in the Main Force Patrol. In this not quite dystopian near future, “police brutality” is not an issue, as the criminals are increasingly brutal. But the brutality is still news even as it becomes more accepted, and the brutality is just part of Max’s job – at the beginning of the saga, Max is able to separate the violence of his work from the relative tranquility of his home life: after the violence of the explosion of the Nightrider, the news is background noise as Max’s wife plays for him on her saxophone.

Max is not yet “mad” when the movie starts, but he begins to see the seeds of madness in the violence of his job, and he attempts to leave – he sees that as he continues, the line between himself and the criminals he pursues blurs. He can cling to his decency, but once Toecutter crosses the line and involves Max’s family, Max chooses to cross the line.

Of the three original movies, the first has the strongest impact, because it doesn’t reveal the beginning of the breakdown in society – and society doesn’t look all that different from our own. From The Road Warrior through Fury Road, the world is so different that we can separate ourselves from the films (and the bleak future makes them fit into a post-apocalypse sci-fi sub-genre). Thunderdome is the justice in Bartertown: “Two men enter, once man leaves.” “Break a deal, face the Wheel.” But how different is the world of Mad Max from Milwaukee in August 2016? How often in our justice system do we lose cases when victims and witnesses fail to appear for key court dates? Mad Max is what both presidential candidates tell us the world will be if we vote for their opponent.

So whether inspired by a video game, or a desire to see where Fury Road got its start, give Mad Max another view. You may be surprised how different it is from what you remember.

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