Almost forty years after Mel Gibson set screens alight as Max Rockatansky, director George Miller brought him back to screens for a fourth instalment – this time with Tom Hardy heading up the vehicular carnage. We sat down with the legendary Australian director to talk all things Fury Road, from fan theories and the fate of The Doof Warrior, to Nux’s legacy and the inspiration behind Furiosa.
George Miller hasn’t seen Fury Road in 3D IMAX. But he has watched it on a plane. With the sound off.
Flying across here to London from Australia, Mad Max: Fury Road was on the aeroplane and I just was flicking through and I started to watch, and I watched two-thirds of the movie as a silent movie just interested in just the visual rhythms of the thing, almost like revisiting a song that you might have heard once.
It’s not the Mad Mel: Fury Road that could have been.
It wouldn’t have been the same movie, but the essential unfolding of the movie was the same. It was based on the same storyboards. Over a decade, the technology changed significantly, so we were able to do things that we couldn’t have done even that short time ago. There was nothing like the Edge Arm which was that wonderful vehicle with the crane on it with a three-headed human beast: one a driver, one moving the crane with toggle switches and the other with the camera focused pan and tilt.
It was like being in the middle of a videogame with me sitting in one seat literally in amongst those big battles staged way out there in the African desert. We could not have done that where the camera can swoop inches off the ground right up into, say, Tom Hardy’s face on top of the War Rig or something like that.
Max is recognised throughout mythology.
In Japan, the first Mad Max, they recognised him as a rōnin samurai. In France they said he’s very much like the American Western hero and they called the Mad Max movies Westerns on wheels. In Scandinavia he is the lone Viking, even in indigenous Australian culture which is normally nomadic, there is often stories of the single wanderer, the lone wanderer. So he was there as a kind of everyman in the wasteland. So it’s an opportunity to reinterpret him, his arc tends to be always the same: trying to find a better self. Trying to avoid engagement with others and the reluctant hero in many, many ways. Always about avoidance because engagement with other human beings is too painful.
The Doof Warrior’s guitar is more than a little bespoke.
Every prop, every weapon, every piece of costume, every gesture, every phrase had to have some backstory. The Doof Warrior for instance – we knew exactly where his guitar came from. If you look at the guitar, there’s a hospital bedpan in the middle of it and we knew exactly where that came from. We also had to explain to ourselves how a man who couldn’t see and couldn’t speak could only play guitar. How did he survive in the wasteland and so on. That was one of the benefits of the many delays on the film.
And he could live to strum another day.
I wanted to make sure that the audience knew that the Doof Warrior survived at the very end of that final crash, but somehow just by the guitar coming forward and going back. He could still survive that crash maybe because he’s supported on bungee, but I never actually got a Doof Warrior in there.
Immortan Joe thinks he’s a good guy.
Immortan Joe in his own time was a hero, there’s a whole backstory to him having been a military guy and actually kind of accumulating gangs together as they go essentially, probably on motorbikes across the wasteland. And basically was smart enough to bring in people like the people he did to be the bean counter, to bring in someone like the Doof Warrior who everyone else would have discarded, but saw him as a musical accompaniment to his warfare. But he built this place and he’s aging and he has to hang onto it somehow and he becomes the tyrant. He controls the major resource water and also the gas from Gas Town and the bullets from Bullet Farm and is effectively a tyrant. In his own mind he thinks he’s doing great.
The blood bags derive from genuine wartime tactics.
In Kosovo was the last time I’ve heard of it, where they actually had people with the correct blood types taken prisoner and where they didn’t have refrigeration or the means to actually give blood to someone who might have needed it. It happened right through the 20th century – I learnt the other day that the SS had their blood types tattooed in their armpit and you know, it’s a very, very reasonable thing to do. We all give blood, we go to the blood bank, it’s stored, it’s tagged, it’s refrigerated and then it goes off to someone else. And this is cutting out that middle process. And it basically started with the notion that in the world of the Immortan that everyone is a commodity, everyone carries his logo on the back of their necks and Max is a blood bag, the girls are breeders, the milkers are milked for their mothers’ milk, the War Boys are canon fodder – in fact, at one point Splendid and Capable talk about that very thing.
Nux will go down in War Boy legend.
He goes 180 degrees from his belief in that he ultimately relinquishes his self-interest the most for the greater good for love, really, which is available to him, to the younger people, in contrast to Max and Furiosa who are too basically damaged to even go there very far. But Nux has got the flexibility and just the basic life energy to actually switch from this fanaticism and this intense belief that this is the day he's going to die historic on the fury road to actually, deep disillusionment and failure and then finding another, someone else to believe in.
One of the notions in storytelling is to find the eternal in the now, to be in the moment. So Nux who has no future lives out his moment when he gets to drive the War Rig. He’s always wanted to drive the War Rig! And the great triumph of his life was being able to drag that War Rig out of the bog and he rejoices in that moment. And in that moment when Capable touches his lips, his scarred lips, that’s just purely being in that moment. And that’s all we have really and I think that’s what Nux has learnt and then realising he’s doomed anyway and let’s use it for some greater purpose. So again, that’s one of the things we all face in our own worldview, our own philosophy. All we really have is the present and there’s no guarantee of a future, so be joyful in the sorrow and majesty of life and live it. We try to tell ourselves that everyday and certainly Nux learns that.
Max may not be your typical action hero, but he is incredibly selfless.
You can’t double-up on characters’ arcs and so Max, who wasn’t the ostensible action hero, there was to some degree a subversion of that and it’s Furiosa who is doing more what is the usual in that sense. But to some degree Max had to relinquish self-interest, and by actually having basically given his blood to Nux and everyone else willingly gives it to her is a gesture of regard. Don’t go as far as to say love, but a kind of empathetic human regard to another. The two of them start off when they first meet trying to kill each other. And then somehow they find honour between the two of them. And through that they survive, by that they survive. That was the most Max could do for her and then basically find a green place in the Citadel and say, ‘OK, we’re going to go back there’.
However this doesn’t mean Max is ready to stay with Furiosa and the five wives.
I don’t think he’s ready yet: it’s only been three days since he was the trapped wild animal in the story. And I don’t think he’s ready yet for happy families. He’s given them and her hope, and the world hope, but it’s not for him. And in the classic sense of these guys he moves on, as the first history man said, in search of a better self. He just couldn’t stay. And initially in the very first storyboard draft he went up with them, but it just didn’t seem right. And I remember Tom Hardy and Charlize and everybody just said, ‘something’s wrong with Max’. Nico Lathouris (co-writer) said, ‘he just can’t go up there with them, he’s not ready yet. He hasn’t really earned it’. So off he goes.
Furiosa had the breakout of Immortan Joe’s harem planned for quite some time.
In my mind, in my backstory it’s been a year. Mark Sexton, one of the storyboard artists, and Nico Lathouris and I told the backstory of how she was sent to guard them when they became fertile in a comic book and she was sent to guard them because she’s female. He didn’t dare send in a male guard and that’s why they had the chastity belts which unfortunately is something we see in the medieval world. And the wives got to her, questioning why she would put all those skills in the service of a tyrant? And then she revealed where she came from and, ‘OK, let’s make a break for it’.
Miller isn’t counting out the idea of Furiosa becoming a tyrant leader akin to her predecessor, Immortan Joe.
You look at history and yesterday’s hero is often today’s tyrant. You see that throughout almost all of history. And the cycle begins again when there is another disruptive force that comes along: a revolution, an evolution, a change. And once again it builds up to some sort of orthodoxy and becomes rigid and that cycle goes on and on and on through history. Through corporations, through football teams, through film studios, through filmmakers, through families. It’s a very, very, very common story. So in my mind, I think Furiosa has probably got more going for her than Immortan Joe did when he started this place. Furiosa I think has probably got more bandwidth, more humanity in her and she’s probably got a bigger chance, but she could just as easily become a tyrant.
Furiosa’s character stems from the warrior woman in Mad Max 2.
Given that the MacGuffin was five female breeders fleeing from a warlord trying to make an healthy heir, they needed a road warrior. She kind of grew out of the warrior woman from the second Mad Max – she gets killed in the final chase – and I always thought about how could a female survive in this wasteland, in this medieval world, basically. So once that was there, the rest kind of followed organically out of that basic structure. Where she came from, the Green Place was basically a matriarchal place, hence The Vuvalini, and so on.
I think there’s something out there in the zeitgeist where people are addressing the issue of women, I think you see some cultures in which they’re way too oppressed and there’s a sort of a liberation that’s been going on, it’s not much more than a century old. Unconsciously, I personally grew up in a very male culture. I have no sisters, I’ve got three brothers, I went to all-boys school, I went to medical school where there are not many women. But then as time went on I have a daughter, a partner, a mother, all very, very strong vital women and I think that sort of creeps into one’s personal psyche too. And then you get an actor like Charlize who sort of to me IS Furiosa. When I see that other Charlize with the blonde hair and walking on the red carpet, that’s not Charlize: she’s Furiosa.
Fan theories? Miller is open to suggestion.
For me in Mad Max 2 the feral child becomes the narrator as an old man and says ‘he lives now and in my memory’ at the end because he becomes the leader of the Great Northern Tribe, as they call him. So it never occurred to me that it could possibly be Max, however people have said he could have had these adventures on the way. But you know, these films are allegories and the nature of them is that we can interpret them according to our own worldview. The stories, ultimately, are in the eyes of the beholder and people take from it what in a sense they want or want to see.
I’m surprised actually how many unconscious or unwitting resonances come from movies like this. I never knew, it never even occurred to me that in some cultures the left arm which Furiosa has lost is the female. So she’s lost her female side. Now the only reason she’s lost her left arm is – from my point of view – is that she’s driving on the left-hand side, we’re going to be shooting a lot from the right-hand side and it saved a lot of CG! It’s expensive to create the left arm, so it could always be down by her side. But these things pop up, you see and that’s really interesting. You take from the story what you need.
I’d never thought of it, by the way! The kid was feral and Max is feral, but he does evolve. That was the same jacket in many cases that Mel Gibson wore years before, we dug it out of a chest somewhere – it fit!