Fast and Furiosa, Or: Foiling this Fiend’s Foul Plots

Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)

Just to be clear, the Mad Max of the title should not be confused with that other Max.

But basically we have a feature-length episode of Wacky Races directed by whoever did those Lynx adverts. Only feminist. Honest.

Because that woman who did The Vagina Monologues helped out.

In Road Runner country — although actually it’s a whitewashed Namibia.

It’s post apocalypse time and Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is kidnapped and dragged back to a citadel that produces water and mother’s milk to be used as a blood bank to Tony from Skins (OK, Nux (Nicholas Hoult)).  Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has been employed to drive a tanker to a refinery, only this is an escape bid for her and the wives of citadel leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). The citadel sends out its best warriors and drivers to catch them.

Presumably one of the genetic abnormalities caused by the apocalypse is pale skin, because almost everyone at the citadel looks pasty. The women are of various ethnicities, and presumably mutant free, and I’m guessing they had been kidnapped.

The chasers include Dux, with Max doing a Bane impersonation on the front of his vehicle and a guy with a flame-throwing, double-necked Fender guitar because, hey, in this scarcity world we can afford to waste gas like that. And someone’s been looking at too many heavy metal album covers. Seeing a means of escape, Max jumps ship from the notably rubbish chasers and joins Furiosa, along with Nux.

There’s a bizarre encounter in a canyon — somehow Furiosa has communicated long distance that she can have free passage in return for gasoline, and nobody noticed that she set off to the refinery with a lot of gasoline — and then a pretty sandstorm and then a mudflat (gloriously macabre) and then a meeting with more women, I assume the surviving lifetime subscribers to Spare Rib. And then everyone heads home, somehow avoiding the mudflat.

The action hardly gives you a chance to breathe, although it is mostly followable even if it takes a big dollops of suspension of disbelief. Max is reluctant to give his name, but then I caught barely any of the women’s names.

And somewhere, as you try to work out if the Bechdel Test might be passed in a multi-million dollar franchise, you wonder whether it might not be a much better movie without young Max. He’s clearly heroic and knows both ends of a Glasgow kiss, grunts appealingly and can’t make eye contact in a Heather Ledger/Brad-Pitt-in-Twelve Monkeys kind of way,  but is he necessary for anything other than getting the project green lit, twenty years after first mooted. There’s Ethan Edwards and Shane in the mix of course, as well as the man with no name.

However, whilst the plot is about women being more than baby factories, there is a tendency to slide back to being the hope for the future and the seeds of life to come and female as nature. There is a degree of objectification — but less so than say Princess elia by the time of being chained up in Return of the Jedi. They do seem to be able to hold their own in a fight and there is a minimum of love interest as characterisation. If there’s little character development for them then that’s true of all but Furiosa.

Curious this: a film in which at least three characters find redemption, one way or another, but no character is especially changed.

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28 Dogs Later

“Dogs are not an alibi for other themes [… C]ontrary to lots of dangerous and unethical projection in the Western world that make domestic canines into furry children, dogs are not about oneself. Indeed, that is the beauty of dogs.”

pumpkin
Fehér isten (White God (Kornél Mundruczó, 2014))

I was thrown at first by the nature of the dogastrophe. If we are indeed post-adogalypse, would the headlights on the abandoned car still be on? Would the traffic lights still work?

But still, a pleasingly deserted town, a girl (Zsófia Psotta) cycling in a blue hoodie on the motorway and then a pack of mixed breed dogs chasing her through the streets towards and beyond Aldi.

Flashback.

Dániel (Sándor Zsótér), a former professor (of what?) is inspecting an abattoir (gruesome) and then takes on his daughter (the girl, Lili) and her dog Hagen (Luke and Body, effortlessly doubling) as his ex-wife and her mother heads to Sydney for a conference. Dogs aren’t welcome in the apartment and the dogcatcher (Robert Helpmann Gergely Bánki) soon turns up. The conductor of the orchestra Lili plays in is even less sympathetic. Before you know it, Hagen is abandoned by the roadside. Whilst Lili does search for Hagen, she mainly descends into sex (ish) and drugs and rock’n’roll (or house stuff). Hagen has to avoid the dogcatcher and certain death, but falls instead into the murky world of dog fights and training for them (stop humming the Rocky theme at the back) and is renamed Max. And just when you think he’s hit rock bottom, there is dogalution.

Mad Max: Furry Road.

Oh, please yourselves.

I think I could have lived without the human sections — not that Psotta, Zsótér and others don’t put in fine performances, but it was largely handheld in a shakycam. It veered between the dystopian and the soapian. Ah, but the dog narrative — more Steadicam — did hold my interest, and I presume that soon there will be an American remake with Russell Crowe as Hagen:

My name is Maximus Dogious Magyarus, commander of the Hounds of the North, General of the Canine Packs and loyal servant to the TRUE owner, Lili. Son to a neutered Alsatian, husband to a murdered pooch. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Hagen, it turns out, is a legendary Burgundian hero, who shows up in Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, and his Tannhäuser becomes a plot point late on. Redemption through love.

Or games of fetch.

Inevitably there is the whiff of allegory and mettaffa — Mundruczó has spoken about the backlash against immigrants, there’s an anti-gypsy/Romany thread running through and the dog shelter with chimneys had a prisoner of war/concentration camp vibe. I had a sense of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thompson, 1972), although as with that mythos you worry about the political implications of arguing that gorillas “are” Blacks and so forth.

I suspect, however, there is at the end a sense that Donna Haraway would be a way to unlock this film — a sense of not quite supplication, but mutual supplication. It’s not a comfortable film to watch — although the cast outacted Channing Tatum — and I confess I am ambivalent about dogs. I could have done without being handed a certain flier: nighttime

Spinning Plates Ride Again

So, let’s look at the to-do list based on 26 January  2015, updated 15 March 2015 and last updated 3 April 2015:

  • chapter to write for companion — submitted
  • a  submitted chapter that needs editorial queries answering
  • a keynote to write for the SF postgrad conference
  • chapter to write for another companion — no further than Christmas
  • an article that’s been bounced from a special issue but has been taken up and needs another thousand words adding
  • two a conference papers to convert to an article
  • a book to read for review
  • a book proposal to finish — I’ve had some ideas
  • a book manuscript to rescue — I printed out chapter one…
  • several reference book entries that are missing in actionchased and waiting
  • *new*: an appreciation of Pratchett — published

I note that after a year of researching stuff that has invoked sexism, racism, homophobia and so forth (and some great books and films [and Quest for Love]), I want to go fluffy when I next have an idea.

Speech for Arthur C. Clarke Award, 6 May 2015

There was a moment in the final judging meeting for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award when we invoked W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts”:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

It was something about the ordinariness of suffering and disaster, its everydayness. Because we’d realised that each of the books we had chosen, in quite different ways, was about the end of the world.

I’d also been rereading one of Freud’s case studies, in which the patient – not, in fact one of Freud’s patients – imagined that he was living after the end of the world:

At the climax of his illness, […] Schreber became convinced of the imminence of a great catastrophe, of the end of the world. Voices told him that the work of the past 14,000 years had now come to nothing, and that the earth’s allotted span was only 212 years more; and […] he believed that that period had already elapsed. He himself was ‘the only real man left alive’, and the few human shapes that he still saw – the doctor, the attendants, the other patients – he explained as being ‘miracled up, cursorily improvised men’. […] He had various theories of the cause of the catastrophe. At one time he had in mind a process of glaciation owing to the withdrawal of the sun; at another it was to be destruction by an earthquake

Disasters are not new, of course; taking a middle ground definition of science fiction we can see the end of the world in Mary Shelley’s other sf novel, The Last Man, and come close to it in H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. We have the so-called cosy catastrophes of Wyndham and Christopher, Ballard’s ecological psychological disasters. They are perhaps innoculations of fear of the real world ending in disaster – whether it is the ongoing fall out from the economic crash of 2008 with default always just round the corner or the latest salvo in the ongoing culture wars.

Six visions of the end of the world – three women, three men, a range of nationalities, a variety of publishers and a work – sort of – in translation. My thanks to the judges who chose the books and discussed them so passionately at four epic meetings.

Our judges found Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August to be “An unusual take on time travel with communication across generations [and] a metaphor for our lives”. Harry August lives his life over and over again, each time with his memories of the last life intact, trying to get things right. But the end of the world is coming, he is told, and the apocalypse seems to be getting closer all the time. One judge found it “Incredibly immersive” and “didn’t want it to finish”.

Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn is a “soft apocalypse”, a vision of a near-future Europe, Balkanising. Estonian chef Rudi is drawn into a shadowy organisation, whether he likes it or not, and there seems no way out. One judge called it “A novel about fragmentation – [with Europe] both becoming more localised and globalised.” We noted a minor character shared the name and some of the interests of one of our judges – coincidence we hope – and felt that it avoided “a lot of the probable pitfalls” of the near-future, international thriller.

Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things the judges found “Very Ken MacLeod but not MacLeod”, it was “Understated and unsettling and absolutely absorbing”. Christian pastor Peter Leigh is sent on a secretive mission to an alien planet where the indigenous species want to hear the gospel; he is not the first priest to do so, but no one will tell him what went wrong last time. Meanwhile, back on Earth, things are falling apart. We can’t help but read this with memories of Mary Dorian Russell’s The Sparrow, of course, and before that James Blish’s A Case of Conscience.

Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven straddles the apocalypse, both the Georgia flu that begins to wipe out 99% of humanity and the survivors twenty years later. The judges noted that it is “A feel good post apocalypse” and, while many post-apocalypse novels focus on the survival of humanity, this focuses on the survival of culture. According to Auden, “We must love one another or die.” Later he rewrote the line “We must love one another and die.” This novel for the judges, was “An elegy for the hyperglobalised present“.

M.R. Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts is in the early days of the postapocalypse, some kind of zombie plague where our protagonist or antagonist – the eponymous girl – is among a group of child zombies being experimented on by uninfected survivors. She might hold the answer to humanity’s plight. The judges found it “Very emotional and suspenseful, truly horrifying” and note its move “from humanity to posthumanity” and how it “Worked through its sfnal premise logically”.

And finally, Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water takes us to several generations after some kind of disaster, where water has become scarce, and the protagonist’s father is a tea master, gifted with extra water, but under the constant suspicious eyes of an occupying force. Noria Kaitio looks likely to succeed her father, despite being a woman, but secrets, both of her parents and the half-forgotten pre-apocalypse put her at risk. The judges praised the “Beautiful writing” and “The strength of the relationship” at the heart of the novel. It is “intensely focused, narrow-ranging, almost flawless on its own terms.”

My job here, of course, is to draw connections, but we do have six very different apocalypses, sometimes quite mundane apocalypses, lived apocalypses. I’ll quote Auden again. The Old Masters:

never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

And then, of course, we have something amazing – not thankfully a boy falling out of the sky, but a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award.