Mad Max: Fury Road – DMFS Best of 2015
Des Moines Film Society asked some of our favorite local writers and film fanatics to pick their favorite film of 2015. You can read them all at DMFS: Best of 2015.
What am I to make of the fact that George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road is the best film of the year? This is virtually the definition of a popcorn movie–a big, loud, spectacle which isn’t so much about something as it is about how it’s about something. It’s what Roger Ebert used to call a bruised forearm movie. What does it say that it’s also the best movie of the year? Has it been a bad year for Hollywood? It has. Has it been a bad year for movies? Not really. Then what does it mean that the best 2015 gave us was a dusty, sweaty, post-apocalyptic action sequel with about as much in common with reality as Donald Trump?
See, as much as I love being the snot with his nose in the air, as much as I’d love to propose a small, underseen foreign film as the movie of the year so I could lord it over you that I’ve seen it and you haven’t (Phoenix and Taxi, both excellent, could have easily fit this bill) there is an impulse in me, a plague since childhood, that all the Tarkovsky and Godard in the world can’t seem to scrub completely clean. This impulse informs me that, above all, movies should be fun. And I had more fun seeing Mad Max: Fury Road than any other movie in 2015. No images stuck with me longer, no set-pieces ignited my imagination more fully, no mise-en-scene captured my attention more completely. We live in the age of sequels but whereas the season’s other marquee follow-ups felt like standing on the shoulders of giants, Fury Road created a new giant of its own. The pleasures of watching Adam Driver’s feline face creep over a prone Daisy Ridley, or seeing Chris Pratt motorcycle among velociraptors were conditional, they registered on the strength of their franchises. If there were pleasures in watching Avengers: Age of Ultron (my God, did that really come out just last year?) they, like the rest of my experience with that movie, are lost to memory. But Fury Road generated its own energy, one that wrapped me up, chewed me up for 120 minutes and spit me out, gasping and grinning like a kid stumbling out of the Coney Island Cyclone catching his breath to cry “Again! Again!”
Vibrating with an energy that denotes a filmmaker half his age, Miller creates a world of detail and substance, one that doesn’t only seem lived-in but died-in as well. He is not interested in letting us drink in his world, either, he drops us in headfirst and scrambling away, running for our lives alongside our hero. The entire movie feels like a mad dash for air–and certainly, we are on the move for virtually the whole thing, giving a new meaning to the concept of “running time”–and when we finally get to catch our breath, it feels like we’ve achieved something.
This subversive movie, a movie that stars a man (Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky) who is literally chased by his own demons, clinging to sanity even while he’s clinging to a fast moving truck, a movie that chooses for its hero not the title character, who spends too much time tied up or otherwise captive, but a fierce insurgent (Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa) who understands that in a barren wasteland real power isn’t the person who controls the water or the oil but the person who determines the next generation, a movie that gives us a villain so twisted (Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe), he needs to wear a hideous mask to be palatable, a movie so warped but well-defined that its logic dictates that a material-starved society must have a flame-throwing guitar accompaniment. And yet, there is something so familiar about its originality, something so central to the wonder of movies. While the other sequels of 2015 were more than happy to rip off themselves, Miller uses his post-apocalyptic fantasy to forge a new chapter in the American West. This is John Ford by way of Alejandro Jodorowsky. This is supreme image making. This is the best movie of the year.