Sunday, 29 November 2015

5 Minutes of Mad Max: Fury Road - Introducing Furiosa & Immortan Joe

After a breathtaking opening sequence in which Tom Hardy's Mad Max is chased through the labyrinthine warrens of a hideout full of skeletal-like figures, Fury Road really kicks off after the title appears on screen and we are first introduced to the real star of the film: Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa.

Furiosa is first glimpsed in an over the shoulder shot that puts the branded symbol of the film's big bad villain Immortan Joe front and centre. It has been burned into the back of Furiosa's neck at some point in the past and features a skull in the centre of what looks like a flaming steering wheel. The skull reminds of pirate flags and death, as well as the mask of Immortan Joe himself, which is revealed shortly after. This opening shot also reveals two more critical things about Furiosa; firstly she has a leather strap on her left arm and secondly she has a severe buzz cut. Director George Miller revealed that the haircut was Theron's idea, as the star argued that a woman like this would have no time to deal with having any hair, and therefore would keep it shaved. Theron immediately follows in the footsteps of other female stars such as Demi Moore, Sigourney Weaver and Natalie Portman who went under the clippers for action-heavy roles in the past.

Furiosa introduced
As Furiosa moves away from the camera, we can see that she is walking towards a group of armed vehicles that are being driven by the white-painted men that were seen chasing Max in the first scene. The vehicles include a truck, a car and a motorbike, and the car has a machine gun mounted on it. These vehicles all look old but modified and the visible engine and superchargers suggest these vehicles are prized possessions that are maintained well. The men's stance suggest they are ready for war and looking at Furiosa like a leader who they will follow into battle.

The sound of machinery can be heard, particularly the noise of a pulley system and as the camera tilts upwards, it reveals a tanker being lowered towards the ground. The next shot shows that this tanker is surrounded by the white-painted shirtless men and the pulley system allows a collection of rocks to be lifted as a counter-weight to the descending tanker. This tanker appears to be at the back of the convoy of vehicles that Furiosa was heading towards in the previous shot and there is a huge crowd of people watching as the tanker is lowered. However, this crowd keep a respectful distance from the convoy and have also cleared a path so that it can leave the area easily.

The tanker is lowered
It's clear there is a purpose here. The convoy of armed vehicles is there to protect the tanker by leading the way. The crowd have cleared a path because they know what mission these vehicles are on. Furiosa moves toward the truck with purpose and in the next shot, climbs into the cab. In a close up, we see that she has only her right arm. Her left arm is a mechanical contraption that she can use like a real arm and in this shot, she uses both 'hands' to affix a steering wheel. The steering wheel is the Immortan logo again, showing that not only is Furiosa this character's property, but this rig is also. He controls who is allowed to drive and when and only those who are granted a steering wheel can take charge of a vehicle in his possession.

Property of Immortan Joe
We've met Max. We've met Imperator Furiosa. At first, it seems like Max is the protagonist seeing as he's been running for his life in the opening scene from a bunch of psychopathic freaks. Now we've seen Furiosa is with the people who are holding Max captive, so it's safe to assume that she might be an antagonist. But now we meet the real villain of the film, the man whose logo is branded on Furiosa and was nearly branded on Max. Immortan Joe is introduced with his back to camera, like Furiosa and Max before him. But his back is shirtless, wrinkled and covered in blisters and boils. This is evidence of the skin condition that afflicts many of the people in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. What is more revealing is the way a small boy is positioned behind him. His hands are cupped as if in prayer, but he is also using this gesture to hold white powder which he blows onto Joe's back. This tells us that Immortan is worshiped like a God, but also that he is as (secretly) vulnerable as any other person; the white powder soothes his skin and the branded boy behind him is a slave that ends up as covered in the powder as Immortan. Like Furiosa, the boy is bald and branded with the Immortan logo on the back of his neck.

Introducing Immortan
In the next shot, we see that when the boy blows the powder, much of the powder blows back onto the boy's face. This explains why the men of this tribe are covered in white; they have grown up as slaves to the Immortan, either taking part in this practice of covering him in powder, or simply covering themselves in this powder to emulate the pallid look of their God-like figure. Joe coughs as the powder hits his back, introducing the idea that he also has respiratory problems and reinforcing the presence of diseases that have ravaged the people who live in this polluted dystopian future.

The following sequence of shots show the militaristic way that the white powdered men work as a unit to fix the tanker to the truck. The audible cry of 'We are War Boys' from one of the men, known as Ace, is echoed by his troops shouting 'War Boys' and repeating some of his chants as they work. The rest of the chant includes words like 'Fukushima' and Kama-crazy, both references to Japanese culture. The Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, triggered by the devastating tsunami of that year has left a radioactive wasteland around the site, while the Japanese kamikaze pilots were known for their suicide attacks against allied forces in World War 2. This references that the War Boys are themselves living in a wasteland and suffering from radiation poisoning, at the same time as hinting at the suicidal nature of their attacks to come later in the film. The War Boys appear to work as a well-oiled unit. They are all shirtless, bald and painted in white, with no sense of individuality. This is what the boy who blows powder on Joe will grow up to become.

The War Boys hook another spherical tanker, the caravan for carrying fuel, onto the back of the truck, with Ace crying 'Hooked on'. He then shouts to his men: 'Today,we're heading to Gas Town', to which they all chant in unison, 'Gas Town!' Ace continues that, 'today, we're hauling aqua-cola'. The mission is to trade water, which The Citadel has, for gas, which Gas Town has. As we hear Ace shouting, there is a cut to Furiosa as she flicks switches, indicating that she is preparing to drive the vehicle on this mission. The engine roars to life, with dust blowing from beneath the vehicle, emphasising its power. On the front of the truck are four skulls, trophies no doubt of previous kills of Furiosa or the War Boys.

The War Rig is readied
The sound of Ace's voice becomes quieter as we see Immortan Joe being further prepared to make an appearance to the crowd below. This shows that Ace is far below Joe, while the warlord is having his armour fitted. We can see that it takes four War Boys to help Joe fit his armour. The breathing, the boils, the coughing and the armour all help to demonstrate that Joe is a man who is aging and decaying and while he is dependent on his slaves, they are all in thrall of him and honoured to help him. When it cuts back to the War Boys below still working on the rig, we can hear that Ace has just mentioned that they will be transporting 'Mother's Milk' to Gas Town as well. This alludes to the breeding programme that Joe is running, with women slaves who produce breast milk as a resource at the Citadel.

The front of his presumably bulletproof plexiglass armour is decorated with medals, which reveal that this is a man with a military past. He also has a large metal version of the logo which we have previously seen branded on his human property, which is placed as the final part of his armour. In a sweeping tracking shot that moves us away from the rig, we see the crowds of The Wretched who are cheering on the War Boys as they prepare for the mission out of The Citadel. In the distance, we can see the Immortan's logo carved into the side of one of The Citadel's rock towers, just above three pipes. This is an early indication of how Joe has power over the masses of Wretched below. Many of the people in the crowd hold containers above their heads and the tufts of greenery that are visible on another of the Citadel's rock towers suggests that some life can grow in this Wasteland.

Finally, Immortan Joe's face is revealed as he pulls a mask over his face. The mask is made with horse teeth to give him a skull-like appearance and there are clearly two tubes protruding from it that aid Joe with his respiratory problems. A second shot from behind Joe shows the bellow-like device that is around his shoulders that forces air into his mask and therefore his lungs. The mask is a key part of the costume that demonstrates that Joe is both fragile from his ailments but also determined to look as terrifying as he can to his followers. Joe's own fear of death accounts for his desperation to get his 'wives' back later in the film, particularly one that is carrying his child, and potential worthy heir. It is interesting to note that Joe must be dressed in his armour and mask before he stands before the masses. Only a select few War Boys who are tasked with dressing him see that he is really an old, flabby man who uses the white powder to ease the pain of his skin condition.

The following shot shows the extent of Joe's War Boy army as they amass together around the machinery and pulley system that has lowered the tanker to the ground level. A huge searchlight is pointing upwards so that the War Boys can give even more power and celebrity status to Joe when he will appear. The War Boys are moving into positions where they can see Joe from and then we see the light hit the Immortan logo in the rock face, awaiting Joe's arrival. From inside the mouth of the logo, Joe is helped to his feet by a War Boy, as others kneel before him. The light from outside is blinding and we can see that the teeth of the skull are visible at the top of the entrance. Cutting from the searchlight's beam hitting the logo to Joe moving towards the light gives a sense of the space at The Citadel and how the War Boys are in a tower opposite Joe's tower and all are high above the masses.

Joe is helped to the pulpit by the bulkiest of his comrades, who are notably lacking in white powder. These men look healthy, tanned and muscular, but wear a similar uniform to the rest of the War Boys; black trousers, no shirt. The man who holds Joe's arm the longest is Rictus Erectus, Joe's youngest son. As Joe moves passed the camera menacingly, we are left with the sight of another of Joe's sons, Corpus Colossus, who is played by an actor with Osteogenesis Imperfecta and is a timely reminder of the disabilities that exist in Joe's family, most likely due to radiation poisoning. Behind him, we see the water that Joe is hoarding, helping to keep the masses subservient and desperate.

A shot then sweeps around the shouting crowds of The Wretched who are all looking up at the rock-carved logo for the appearance of Joe. They bang their pots and containers together, clearly desperate for him to emerge and share water with them. He is introduced like a rock star by one of his comrades as they look down on the Wretched. As he steps forward, the camera shrinks away from him, tilted upwards to make him appear as the dominant figure in the Citadel; just the way the crowd below would see him.

An over the shoulder shot reveals just how many people there are in the crowd and how tightly packed they are. It also shows how high above them all Joe is, and that he is not only addressing these Wretched masses, but also the convoy that are about to leave The Citadel. Joe explains what the convoy will be doing, while pointing down at them. In response, the War Boys make a gesture with their arms above their heads, as if praying to their God, the Immortan. When Joe speaks, Rictus holds a microphone to his mouth, and his voice sounds gravelly and stern.The importance of this convoy is again emphasised by the way their path is cleared through the Wretched and how clearly they are addressed by Joe.

The camera moves from outside Furiosa's truck, right up to the passenger side window to show that Furiosa is looking dead ahead, a serious, determined and tense expression on her face. She is ready to drive onto the road ahead. Her eyes are not lifted in reverence to Joe, even as he is saluting and honouring her. This is a woman who is not in thrall to Joe, but is seemingly doing his bidding nonetheless. In contrast, when Joe salutes his 'Half-Life War Boys', they raise their arms and bow their heads in respect, in fear and awe of their master. A further shot reveals that all of the War Boys are saluting Joe in this way as they begin chanting 'V-8' after he mentions that they will ride with him for eternity on the 'highways of Valhalla'. This is the afterlife that all War Boys aspire to reach by dying in combat, and is based in ideas from Norse mythology. The V-8 chant is a sign of the cult of automobile worshipping that the War Boys practice. Their engines give them power and allow them to ride into battle fearlessly.

Joe calls himself a redeemer, the man who will rescue the Wretched from the ashes of this post-apocalyptic wasteland. Jesus is often referred to as a redeemer in Christianity, again positioning Joe as a saviour-like figure to be worshipped. This is further emphasised by his ability to silence the crowd with a wave of his arms. The crowd are dirty and skinny and all of their eyes are turned upwards towards Joe, with their hands clasping containers. When the crowd goes silent, only the buzzing of flies can be heard, again alluding to how dirty these people are. The people begin to mutter, 'yes, yes' as they cannot contain their excitement at the prospect of water any longer.

The next series of shots shows Joe unleash the water from the pipes below him. It pours down on the roaring crowd who rush at the gushing water in joy and desperation. This is not an efficient way to distribute a precious resource to the people. It is a spectacle; designed to make Joe look generous, but powerful; merciful but also in complete control. The music swells to create an emotional response in the viewer. Likewise, a wide shot showing the green at the top of the Citadel's towers and the huge crowd that are nowhere near getting to the relatively small waterfall stresses the hopelessness and sadness of this bleak vision of a future where the masses have barely any access to water.

Joe watches as the people scramble for water, before shutting the pipes off. In a few simple shots, we see how much power he has over the people, and how limited his generosity is. He only gives them enough to make him look like a saviour, but he also ensures that they will keep looking up to him for more in the future. When the pipes dry up, the sound of the crowd turns to cries and sobs. It is a show of strength and greed.

It is only now when the water is shut off that Furiosa leans forward in her seat to peer up at Joe. She is framed with the supercharger of her rig in the foreground, a reminder that she is the driver of this highly powered vehicle that she will remain in charge of for the majority of the film. Her face suggests that she despises Joe, but the sound of the engine reminds that she is still working for him.

Joe then issues a warning to the people to not become addicted to water. It cuts between him speaking from his tower and the people below fighting for the last drops of water. The next few shots show Furiosa setting off as the convoy leave the Citadel with war Boys riding all over the tanker. As the remaining War Boys at the Citadel begin to lift the platform that the tanker was lowered to the ground on back up again, the Wretched attempt to cling to the platform. They are violently removed by the War Boys that ride the platform and Joe turns back into his cave now that the show is over. He does not really care for them; the spectacle has served its purpose.

The camera now cruises alongside the convoy on the Fury Road between the Citadel and Gas Town; one car in front and the tanker close behind moving at a high speed through the bright yellow of the desert wasteland. A black cloud of smoke can be glimpsed in the distance, signifying the polluted air of Gas Town that Furiosa is heading towards.

The next shot of Furiosa's hands on the wheel reminds of the fact that she only has one real arm, that she is working for the Immortan whose truck and steering wheel this is, and that she is in control of this vehicle. If it doesn't make it to Gas Town, it is Furiosa who will be punished by Joe. The town is clearly straight ahead, so any deviation from this path will cause immediate suspicion, particularly from the War Boys who are riding with her.

Finally, we get a close-up of our protagonist. Until this point, we have possibly been wrong-footed by director George Miller. The film is called Mad Max: Fury Road. It opened with Max, with his voiceover and with his capture and subsequent attempt to escape. Now, with this close-up of Furiosa, it becomes very clear that she is the hero of this film, not Max. It is her plan that is being set in motion. She is the one with the goal to achieve, not Max. It is her who has caused the plot to kick into motion and she is behind the steering wheel, not only of the truck, but of the direction of the narrative. Her eyes are slightly upturned to the right of her, as if she is looking in a rear view mirror. She is thinking about what she has left; what is behind her. Then her eyes move to the road in front of her. She is thinking about her plan; the risky maneuver she is about to pull off.

We don't get a point-of-view shot to show her looking from the mirror to the road ahead, but the next shot reveals the convoy speeding down the road from the front. The Citadel is already very distant, its towers very small in the background. The rig is clearly covered in War Boys. The landscape is completely barren on all sides. As the vehicles move past the camera, a light flickers from the Citadel; a signal to Gas Town that the convoy is on its way. Whatever Furiosa is up to, she is caught between two enemies and has an army of potentially hostile men all over her vehicle. If she means to defy Immortan Joe, the odds are stacked highly against her.

Moments later, Furiosa makes her decisive move and turns off the road to Gas Town. From that moment on, the chase begins and Mad Max: Fury Road barely pauses for a single second.

If you haven't seen it yet, find it, buy it, get it on the biggest screen you can find with the best sound system and enjoy!

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If you think I missed mentioning anything important, please let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading and don't forget to share!

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