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Fabulously FURIOSA: Love and the Origins of a Female Leader

George Miller’s futuristic dystopian film FURIOSA is a prequel to 2015’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, a production that won six Academy Awards and created a new feminist action icon in Charlize Theron. FURIOSA is the fifth installment in the franchise that began in 1979.

Premiering at Cannes on 15 May 2024, the Warner Brother’s release tells the story of Imperator Praetorian Furiosa Jabassa’s childhood and explains her psychological development and leadership philosophy. Kidnapped from her homeland, the Green Place of Many Mothers, Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) is taken to the desert wasteland kingdom of biker warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth).

Timothy Black Donohoo reports that since its release FURIOSA has made an “underwhelming” 145 million, falling far short of its 168-million-dollar budget (CBR, 12 June 2024). Thus, the film is at risk of becoming a commercial failure. However, it is not a critical failure, having received largely positive audience and critical response, including a 90% ROTTEN TOMATOES score as of 13 June 2024. Therefore, this reviewer suggests that one ignore the finances and focus on the plot and theme: this is a must-see summer flick!

However, however brief, any discussion of earnings and popularity immediately raises the more important question of why DUNE, a male-centric bildungsroman did so well in late 2021 (Part 1) and early 2024 (Part 2), while this similarly-desert-set but female-focused coming-of -age story languishes. Obviously, there is the consideration of almost ten-year time lapse between MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and FURIOSA. The star power of the ensemble casts could also be compared, as could the notoriety and renown of the franchises themselves. But gender-concerns should still be raised, as angry women have never been tolerated well (much less lauded) n Hollywood.

Let’s look at the mythic origins and allusions of this character. The Furies were Roman goddesses of vengeance who lived in the underworld and exacted cruel but fair punishments to sinners. The sisters’ names were Alecto, unceasing; Megaera, grudging; and Tisiphone, avenging. Thus, Furiosa’s lifepath is set early on: she is vengeance and retribution personified. Her very existence—and her survival—is both threat and promise in the barren landscape and burned-out society.

The incredible cruelty of this hyper-masculine, death-culture is underscored by a reference to another myth, one that reverses violence done to women and that blames them for their attempt to protect themselves from the male gaze—and reach.

Before Dementus conquers him and takes over the plant, the Guardian of Gastown (Peter Stephens) is shown assiduously copying a painting, Hylas and the Nymphs, by John William Waterhouse. from an old art history text. That painting re-tells the story of Hylas’ search for water and reinforces the sinister nature of naiads who (like mermaids) are portrayed as luring him into the water—into either a union-marriage or death.

Furiosa comes from a women-centered utopia that her kidnappers can neither understand nor name. They can only refer to as a “place of abundance.” Although she is forcibly taken from this place, her mother attempts to rescue her and leaves her with a magical seed and the directive to--at all costs--return home. The gift and the command give Furiosa hope and purpose, and in what may be the worst years of her young life, she maps the way home on her inner forearm.

Furiosa is smart, strong, and resourceful. In a world where men preen and primp over destructive war toys and symbols of domination, where War Boys are always ready for suicide missions, and where Dementus and Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme) deny the possibility of hope or compassion, Furiosa determinedly remembers and thus offers tranquility and community.

One of the most compelling sequences is that of Furiosa’s days driving the food delivery truck with Praetoria Jack (Tom Burke).  The two form an alliance, and he is willing to sacrifice his own goals—and his safety—to support what he sees as Furiosa’s valid mission to find her way home. She, in turn, surrenders her chance to escape in an opportunity to save him. Their friendship and near-romance in their nihilistic world is surprisingly refreshing, and touchingly portrayed.

It is a long film, and it is a violent one, but it is well-paced and well-developed. Filmed in New South Wales, Australia, the film relies on live-action stunts. CGI was used to enhance landscape, and non-generative AI was used to regularize/transition the appearances of the child Furiosa (Alyla Browne) and the young adult Imperator (Anya Taylor-Joy). Tom Holkenborg ‘s score offers a much more subtle and introspective feel than his blasting FURY ROAD rock opera soundtrack.

 

 

Reviewed by Merry L. Byrd, 14 June 2024

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