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What was it behind Mad Max: Fury Road that made it resonate so deeply in many people who watched the movie? Was it the incredible special effects culminating in several epic fight scenes? Was it that George Miller released this fourth installment 30 years after the original trilogy? Or was it the pronounced symbolism of the ruling patriarchy and the voice of the female fighting back in this Hobbesian dystopia?

Well, it really was not any of those. Of course these features and motifs alone give the film great character, but where Hollywood is trying to revive previous reposed blockbusters, Mad Max: Fury Road stands above as one of the few that remain above par. Why is that? There must be some profound impact on the audience to cause this movie to receive such praise.

Honestly, this question baffled me for quite some time. Like most of you, I was totally thrilled when I saw this in theaters, and at the time I had not thought much about why this movie was so great. Later I began to diagnose film and pull out the abstract philosophical and psychological components, those things that lie further down than the themes often discussed. There were a few movies that have stayed with me as my favorites, this being one of them, and I sought to understand the deeper implications. One night very recently, I was watching the movie and it finally hit me.

I will break this down to the basics first. In 1949, scholar Joseph Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He spent years studying mythology across all religions and cultures, including Greek, Roman, Christian, Hindu, Native American, Islam, Buddhism, Norse, etc. A fan of Carl Jung, he strongly believed in Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious- that is we as individuals store ideas from ancestral memory and experience, and these ideas are found in all humankind. We then further develop these into archetypes that appear across various myths, such as the evil mother, the old wise man, the flood, etc. Campbell proved and extracted the archetypes of the collective unconscious when he studied mythology.

From there, Campbell identified the Monomyth or the Hero’s Journey. These are traits and processes that any individual experiences in a mythological tale in which they are transformed and ultimately become a hero. We may experience a catharsis when reading or watching a tale told based on this cycle because it is an inherent part of our unconscious mind, and therefore we, as part of our super ego, want to become the hero. Often times we are too.

This Hero’s Journey has been adapted and processed into many different films. In fact, Hollywood has broken it down into a smaller process in which many screenwriters reference today. Some do it better than others but I’ll keep my opinion out of that for now. Star Wars was actually the first film franchise to use the Monomyth. George Lucas read Campbell’s writings and was so influenced by it, he wrote an entire trilogy based on the mold. If you are ever wondering why Star Wars was such a huge hit, well, there’s your answer.

Not surprisingly, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior was also written based on the Hero’s Journey and other Jungian ideas, hence why it too became a hit. However, the Hero’s Journey as a simple construct has lost its savor in recent film, with many critics noting that current films need new ideas to spice things up. George Miller did just that.

Okay, he did not completely get away from the Monomyth. Clearly Furiosa and Nux at the very least had their own personal transformations, and that process is necessary as a backdrop, at least in a fantasy/dystopia adventure world such as this. It is a diagnosis of one particular idea within the Monomyth that garnered this movie its success, and that is its portrayal of androgyny.

What is androgyny? Some of you may know, but it is the perfect balance of the male and female gender within one individual. In recent years it has been used to reference a specific gender identity especially in gender politics, but there is a much more profound meaning than what we commonly see in current political commentary.

The analytical portion of the idea stems from Jung’s idea of the anima/animus. Part of what leaves us insecure as human beings are the ideas we are trying to grapple with in our unconscious minds. Some are better at achieving actualization while others sublimate their repressions into acceptable adult behaviors. One popular idea is the shadow, that person we will become if we give in to our deepest idolatry desires. Think Golum as Frodo’s shadow in the Lord of the Rings or Bucky as Captain America’s shadow.

There are other components in this repression such as the persona, ego, and self, but we are specifically talking about the anima/animus. The anima is the male desire to understand his feminine qualities and the animus is the female desire to understand her male qualities. We begin to understand these components during the process of individuation, and individuals who grapple and accept their qualities eventually go on to reach their apotheosis. A very common real world application is a man who surrounds himself with very manly things, like guns, trucks, alcohol, and may even use certain epithets to describe effeminate features of something as a turnoff to his own ideas. This stereotypical individual is actually severely repressing his female identity. Likewise, a woman who refuses to do certain acts or deeds with the reasoning that, “It’s a man’s job,” is also repressing her male identity.

There are actually a ton of specific examples of the anima/animus and androgyny in mythology. The most gleaning example comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the story of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus. Mercury (Hermes) and Venus (Aphrodite) have a child named Hermaphroditus. He is such a beautiful boy that they hide his face in a remote cave, to be taken care of by naiads. When he is 15 years old, he leaves the cave and heads towards a river. There, Salmacis is absolutely in awe of this boy’s beauty. She advances on him, but he spurns her, wanting to jump into the river and bathe. He waits for her to leave, and while she is walking away, she slips behind a bush to spy on him. Hermaphroditus, thinking she has left and no one is watching, strips off his clothes and jumps into the river. Moments later, Salmacis slips out of her hiding place, doffs her clothes, and jumps in after him. Immediately she wraps her arms around him and prays to the gods to let her keep him in her arms forever. The prayer does not fall on deaf ears, thus the two bodies become one and the first hermaphrodite is born.

Other stories that represent the coming together of the male and female gender include Crocus and Smilax, T’ai Yuan (the Chinese myth that created Ying and Yang), Pyramis and Thisbe (sorry Shakespeare buffs but this was the original Romeo and Juliet), and Adam and Eve. The original Christian creation story actually sets a precedence for gender in early Christian mythology. Adam was created in the image of God, meaning he stored all knowledge, all power, all of everything we associate with God, including gender. The first form of Adam was androgynous. Then God removed the female portion from Adam and created Eve. Campbell points out this is the fall from perfection and the creation of duality. By this story’s inference, the perfect state in any transformation is when the individual can self-identify with both genders equally.

 How does this relate to Mad Max: Fury Road? You are probably saying no two people turned into one, completing the balance of this duality. Actually, they did, metaphorically. Let me explain.

This step actually occurs during initiation and apotheosis of the Hero’s Journey, with the eventual marriage with the god or goddess. These stories referenced above show some divine or magical power separating or conjoining two people. Of course there are many other ways to go about showing this, and George Miller did that, twice.

The first time occurs between Max and Furiosa during the shoot out in the canyon. There are two representations of male in the scene: 1) the cad male who wants to compete, take risks, and has little or no room for the female (has not negotiated his anima) and, 2) the balanced male who will turn his energies towards the female and, eventually, family (has negotiated his anima). The cad male is actually represented by the biker gang and Immortan Joe. I will explain more on this later. The balanced male, however, is Max. In his fight for survival, he reaches his apotheosis with Furiosa to protect the rig and the women on board, which are his metaphoric family. It is preposterous to think that Max and Furiosa can fight with so much syncopation having never battled beside each other before, unless there is some divine or cosmic power guiding them, hence they have reached the state of androgyny. Miller takes this relationship one step further, ostensibly, when Max donates his blood to Furiosa at the end. Now a physical part of his livelihood, represented by blood, is inside of her.

Nux and Capable represent the second occurrence of androgyny. Nux has been living in a world where men continue to compete and fight with other men, all for the sole reason of meeting at the gates of Valhalla. It’s a cruel world, one that Nux does not want any part. On two occasions he fails Immortan Joe, and after the second time he is shown compassion by Capable, likely for the first time in his life. His devotions change quickly and he fights with Furiosa and the wives. His apotheosis is made apparent at the end of his life, when he voices the ode ‘remember me’ to Capable as he sacrifices his life to stop the trailing enemy convoy. He doesn’t voice his ode to any god or anyone else, because Capable has become his spiritual partner, and Valhalla has become a fabricated after-life to sate the immature minds of Joe’s following.

As I said above, Immortan Joe represents another side of the coin. There is a duality present here, and that is the cad male, that being the male whose interests lie in competing with other men and gaining glorification for his feats. Immortan Joe and every one of his lackeys are just this. There are also myths that represent a forced androgyny, and what consequences are faced when this happens. From Greek mythology, Actaeon was hunting in the woods with his boys when he separated from the pack in order to relieve himself. While doing so, he inadvertently stumbled upon Artemis and her nymphs bathing. Actaeon, who did not have much integrity, decided to sneak a peek. After a few moments, Artemis caught him spying on them, invariably angry, turned him into a stag and sent him back to his hunting crew. The story ends with Actaeon unknowingly slayed by his hunting party.

The story of Daphne and Apollo also represents this, albeit with a little push from Eros (Cupid). The ultimate suggestion is that if the anima/animus has not been properly assimilated, then other forced methods will result in tragedy. In Mad Max: Fury Road, this is represented with Immortan Joe.

Joe uses rather abusive and controlling methods to reach what he desires. He does this with little to no integrity, and the quest for power is absolute centric in his methods. His control is exerted over the people at the Citadel, the wives, and his soldiers, and he has no qualms to protect his power at any costs, such as gasoline, soldier lives, ammunition, and restricting water usage. Immortan Joe is the leader that never reached apotheosis, because he could never assimilate his anima, and therefore surrounded himself with things that make him a ‘manly man’.

Yet he forces relationships with several women who obviously are oppressed and opposed to his grueling ways. During the story, one wife is pregnant: Angharad. She is the only one of the wives who actually dies, and it is imperative that she does so unless Joe can accept his anima. At this point in the game, it is too late. I think the strongest and most important moment in the movie comes when Joe runs over Angharad. This is Joe’s defeat, and the beginning to the end of his tragedy. His meeting of the goddess should be the child Angharad is carrying, that represents androgyny and therefore means Joe has the opportunity to achieve apotheosis. Invariably he never makes amends with his unconscious, and he never will become a hero, because he represses ideas his unconscious mind cannot grapple with, and is defeated where his defeat is due. It comes at the cost of Angharad’s life, because he had to kill what he did not deserve.

Finally, the Vuvalini make the final statement to gender and androgyny. They live in a former place that was a safe haven, a protected area of sorts. Yet that area has since deteriorated and succumbed to the plight of the dystopia. Why? Because it was ruled by women who could not assimilate their animus, and therefore believed they could make a future without the male identity. In the final road scene, all members of the Vuvalini die. This is imperative to the Citadel’s future because they are casting off the toxic relationships that stagnate growth and progress. Therefore, assuming that Furiosa takes reign of the Citadel, they have a whole leader who will help the society progress and move on, instead of decaying with the continued blight.

There is a lot going on throughout the movie that represents these ideas. Quite frankly it’s perfectly executed, and does not surprise me why it has become such a popular movie. George Miller may not have even intended to deploy this message directly, as William Faulkner once pointed out that great writers are often guided by some invisible hand. So long as they develop a character, that character will guide them throughout the writing process, and the full message of their story isn’t revealed to them until after they’ve finished.

I also want to point out that the themes of survival, feminism, etc. also should not be overlooked. These are separate from the psychology but still are important in any great work of art. Likewise these themes have developed great discussion. It is very difficult to include psychological motifs in general discourse because these are such abstract ideas, but our minds instantly gravitate towards art that unknowingly tells us something about ourselves and how we interact with the world around us.

Disclaimer: This is a blog for an auto dealership. These ideas are my own and do not reflect on Spangler Subaru. I would rather publish this here rather than creating my own blog.

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