I just watched Mad Max: Fury Road last night and it changed everything.

First, about the movie.  I went in with high expectations.  And why not?  Like many, I’ve impatiently awaited a new Max fix for decades.  Meanwhile, uberdirector George Miller fought an artist’s lifetime of development hell to get this hyperbolic tribute to dystopian auto mania delivered.  And man, does it deliver!

While those mossy years garnered righteous frustration, they also meant plenty of time for Miller to hash and rehash his vision until every crack was caulked, every corner secured.  We writers know how that is, and even those movie fans who aren’t writers have surely heard the lamentations of many a director whose vision was rushed for movie studio mercies.  Director’s Cuts, anyone?

Anyway, those expectations were met, twisted, trounced and exceeded.  Fury Road is the ride of all rides, surpassing Miller’s iconic The Road Warrior with blood-infused, chrome-painted glee.  And lest readers get the wrong idea, it’s not merely 120 minutes of nonstop fury as some professional reviewers would have you believe.  There are some appropriate lulls in the explosive action, down-times where Miller shows off his gift for microcosmic moments of supernova character development.  Charlize Theron’s “Furiosa” character collapses into wind-sheared sand for several seconds, and you instantly share her years’ worth of rage and despair.

But as some reviewers have correctly assessed, this was a Mad Max movie by name only.  The story truly is Furiosa’s, as she dominates the screen in every possible way.

And there’s the rub.

The movie’s release came with common Internet controversy, as militant mens’ groups bewailed the in-your-face strength of female characters.  As if somehow this movie alone defeated the market for misogynistic fare from its premiere forward.

Surely it doesn’t help that Miller appropriately has Max, a desert recluse, almost nonverbal when he’s wrenched violently out of his gecko-munching nomadic existence and into service as a living blood-drip bag.  How completely emasculating!

Meanwhile, female characters are kicking ass, taking names and engaging in plot-carrying dialog that doesn’t reduce to dating, dressing or pop culture gossip.  Well… save one wistful non sequitur about satellite-beamed “shows”.

About two-thirds into the movie I had an unsettling moment of my own, but in the opposite direction of the ironically oversensitive men’s men: I had thought I’d created a strong female main character for my in-process novelette Downtime, but I now realize I had succumbed to the very damsel-in-despair tropes I had hoped to overcome.

Powerful characters are not defined by clever dialog alone; by making rape/torture a critical factor in Leen’s character development, and subsequently having her endure crippling anxiety as a result, I’d reduced her to a paltry two dimensions at best.  While gaping in awe at Charlize Theron’s performance in Fury Road, I felt humbled.  Her character could be strong enough to take on drug-crazed War Boys but at the same time vulnerable to the insecurities we all experience– including those of chest-puffing machismo males.

So… I’m shelving the first draft of Downtime and taking it on a slightly different tack for draft two.  I need to do some serious thinking about how to retool not just Leen but all of the characters, and the story line.  I’m newly-inspired by Fury Road, and starting to understand now why I was at a road block with my story in the first place.

Well done, Mr. Miller.  You will deserve every award thrown your way and then some.


Movie rating: MUST WATCH

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