At first glance, it might not be clear why two films such as MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and EX MACHINA share the title of this piece. It is my hope to show that they actually share much more than that. In fact, there seems to be an interesting thematic conversation happening between these two films which I'll explore, while discussing some other elements of each movie along the way. (For those who haven’t seen these two films, this will contain spoilers!)
An interesting device employed by Alex Garland (EX MACHINA) and George Miller (FURY ROAD) is the introduction of a male character, seemingly the protagonist, that actually is there to bring the viewer to the story of the female character who we are meant to empathize with (Ava in EX MACHINA, Furiosa in FURY ROAD). Although Garland states in an interview that Ava has no gender and is simply a machine acting as a female to manipulate Caleb, for the purposes of this piece Ava will be considered as a female. As Hollywood (and America at large) has long been dominated by the powerful-male-protagonist cliche, using Caleb and Max as vehicles to peer into the journeys of two strong female main characters was as refreshing as it was subversive. Ava and Furiosa’s stories have many similarities as well. In EX MACHINA, Ava manipulates Caleb into helping her escape Nathan’s clutches, whereas in FURY ROAD it is mutually beneficial for Furiosa and Max to work together to escape from Immortan Joe. Both female protagonists utilize the male characters (whom we were introduced to first) in their personal journeys for freedom. On top of that, there is no romantic relationship in either film! Ava manipulates Caleb into falling for her, and Furiosa and Max never achieve any level of intimacy. As opposed to having a strong male character as the protagonist who saves a damsel-in-distress or is seduced and manipulated by a femme fatale, Garland and Miller reverse the conventions of action/thriller/sci-fi movies in a culturally significant manner, placing women in the spotlight of a genre that has not typically given their characters much agency.
Furthermore, both films feature prominent female characters who begin as sex slaves to their
male creator/master, but end up rebelling and killing their captors. Once again the not-sounderstated
feminism in both films makes itself apparent: these women don’t need a hero to come save them, they’re saving themselves, simultaneously defeating and cooperating with other (secondary) male characters. Given that EX MACHINA and FURY ROAD take place in pre- and post-apocalyptic settings respectively, the fact that the women in both films are struggling against their perverted captors who use them as objects of sexual pleasure made me wonder: Is the fight for women’s equality and bodily rights one that will continue to endure across time due to the inherently sexual nature of man or is it one that humans as a species will one day overcome?
The antagonists to Ava and Furiosa, Nathan and Immortan Joe, share some striking similarities
as well. Both keep a group of sex slaves: Nathan’s being his A.I. that he designs to look and
behave like young attractive women, and Immortan Joe’s “breeders” (young attractive human
women). Both characters have an unjustified “god complex”, leading them to believe they can
own other people (the breeders, Ava, Furiosa, the war boys), and both eventually meet their
downfall from the ones they sought to keep under their control. Immortan Joe’s costume and
demeanor provide a visual source for fear as he rules over his dehydrated desert kingdom, but
Nathan is pretty scary too: an incredibly smart, egotistical, unstable (suicidal?) genius who owns
the world’s largest search engine (BlueBook) and designs what he believes is the beginning of
the end for mankind because he believes it is an inevitable step in the evolutionary process.
In 2016, that should definitely send a chill up your spine.
The Role of Technology and Women
Since 2003, Japanese scientists have been developing androids that look and behave like
humans (nicknamed “actroids’). These “actroids" are close to passing something called the
“uncanny valley”: a level of A.I. that lies somewhere between a smartphone and a human
person. In other words, there is some level of A.I. present, but the mannerisms, behavior, and
speech patterns are clearly not those of a human being, which gives a rather “uncanny” feeling.
Once this “valley” has been surpassed, it will only be a matter of time (and a short one I’m sure),
before A.I. such as the ones Nathan designs in EX MACHINA (which have pleasure sensors and
are capable of having sex) are developed for similar purposes.
See what I mean? If you search “actroid” on YouTube, you can see the amazing technological
prowess of modern scientists by clicking on any video, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to
find hundreds of comments like this one, as one of these YouTube users so kindly points out. Is
this the future we’re headed for?
In the future wasteland where FURY ROAD takes place, the “breeders” are being held as sex
slaves for for Immortan Joe, complete with spiked chastity belts presumably only removed when
he is ready to have sex with them. When Immortan Joe realizes that Furiosa has stolen his
precious breeders in search of a better life, the viewer sees a couple phrases painted by the
breeders before they departed: “Our babies will not be warlords”, “Who killed the world?” and
“We are not things”. The first and third phrases are pretty straightforward, but the second one is
a little more ambiguous.
Angharad: Breeding stock! Battle fodder!
Nux: No, I am awaited!
Angharad: You're an old man's battle fodder!
Angharad: Killing everyone and everything!
Nux: We're not to blame!
Angharad: Then who killed the world?
That question has already sparked several articles about who is responsible for the apocalypse
in Miller’s world and what analogies may be present, but to me what’s interesting here is that the vast majority of the population that we see in this film (as represented by Nux)believes that they are not to blame for the end of the world. Nathan actually feels pretty much the same way in EX MACHINA: his refusal towards recognizing Ava and the other androids as people and belief that it didn’t really matter if he invented A.I. or not because someone was eventually going to do it both strike on the themes of the objectification of women and the unwillingness to accept responsibility for the destruction of man.
Isn’t it plausible that present attitudes towards women combined with rapid technological
advances as shown in EX MACHINA could be the “before” of some apocalyptic event that leads to
the “after” world of MAD MAX where the inhabitants have been brainwashed to believe they have
no responsibility for the apocalypse and healthy, fertile women are held as breeding slaves by a
tyrant who controls what scarce natural resources are left?
I don’t know about you, but that idea definitely gives me the chills as an all-too-real possibility.
To hear more of Anuj's apocalyptic predictions check out his film podcast @ itunes.com/impromptumovienight