…Remember, He's on Your Side
By Bert Ehrmann
April 2, 2010
Part 2: "Pray that he's still out there—somewhere"
Part 3: "Two Men Enter, One Man Leaves"
When I was in high school my favorite film was Road Warrior (1981). I think the reason that film appealed to me is that it presented a sort of nihilistic view of the near-future that I've always found interesting that was also being explored in films like Escape from New York (1981), The Terminator (1984) and Alien (1979). The main theme of these films seemed to be that the future might not be as great as we might have once imagined and that this bleak time could be here before we know it.
At the time I didn't realize that Road Warrior was actually a sequel to the movie Mad Max (1979). And though back in high school I didn't much care for Mad Max, lately I've come to realize that between the two Max Max is actually the superior film.
Mad Max takes place just "a few years from now" in and around some sparsely populated hamlets across the Australian Outback. The audience is never quite sure as to what's going on in the outside world but it's clear that things just aren't right. Be it the police officers of the film, the "Main Force Patrol" (MFP), working out of what looks like an abandoned factory or an ominous highway sign that list how many people have recently been killed on that particular stretch of road – the visuals alone make the world of Mad Max seems dangerous and uninviting.
Worst of all of Mad Max are the roaming "road trash" motorcycle gangs who terrorize the countryside in their quest for kicks and fuel. And the only thing standing between these gangs and total anarchy is the MFP and their best officer Max (Mel Gibson in his first starring role).
Though by day Max may chase down these gangs on the highways he's able to keep his professional life separate from his personal with a wife and son. That is until the day Max and the MFP take out a biker who's stolen a police car which causes the rest of the biker's gang to swear vengeance on the MFP and Max in particular.
First they start with Max's best friend Jim Goose whom they find on the highway, wreck then burn alive and then in a heartbreaking scene literally run down Max's wife and child on a lonely stretch of road. Max leaves the force, takes his gear and then goes off to the roads to extract vengeance on these bikers one by one.
Considering that at its core Max Max looks to be a cheap road/motorcycle movie designed to appeal to a drive-in audience craving blood and action, the film is actually quite surreal. The visuals of a world falling apart through neglect and lack of spare parts combined with an element of homoeroticism running through the film all adds to this surreal quality.
In Mad Max, several of the motorcycle gang members are gay, the biggest and meanest looking MFP member smokes cigars and seemingly wears ladies sunglasses and the MFP uniform that consists of tight black leather pants, a black leather jacket and leather gloves. This element is completely unexpected yet adds to the overall tone of a movie where things are just a little bit off. And I think it's these small differences that add to the overall feeling of unease that runs throughout the film.
Also interesting is the title of the film. It both refers to "mad" as in "angry" but also as in "crazy." One really does have to be crazy to do the sorts of things Max does to the bikers in this film.
At it's core, Mad Max asks the question of if a guy like Max does the right thing like killing a gang of bikers who've murdered their way across the countryside for the wrong reasons (cold-blooded revenge, going outside the bounds of a law he's sworn to uphold…) is he still a good person? Can there ever be redemption for Max who's essentially abandoned everything he's once believed in and has adopted the "anything goes" code of the road?
We'll explore that question next time with the final two films of the Mad Max trilogy; Road Warrior and Max Max Beyond Thunderdome.