I have a general assumption about mankind that is quite opposite of typical academia. Civilizations rise on the backs of innovative individuals and flourishing capitalism. They decline with more centralized control and absorption of individual achievement into the fabric of a collective society. When an unworthy king or bureaucratic democracy takes over the direction of economic enterprise and invention, a society is in decline. It is due to the hard wiring of human beings trained from their infancy to follow the Giambattista Vico cycle always witnessing societies fall only to be born again in a much regimented pattern. This holds true no matter what the society, whether it be the Mayan people, the Inca, the Mongol, the Roman Empire—all societies so far have followed the Giambattista cycle. This is why anybody with any honesty looks at George Miller’s Mad Max films and declares him a genius. It’s also why it was more than symbolic that Mel Gibson showed up at the premier of Fury Road, the latest Mad Max film now staring Tom Hardy. Studios didn’t want Gibson in the film as the Vico cycle declares that what’s old must be recycled to make way for the young and new. But Gibson showed up to give the young Hardy a bit of support because any Mad Max fan knows that Mel Gibson will always be the iconic Road Warrior. It all started with this movie.
Our current world is not very far from the world of the first Mad Max movie. Police are now being openly murdered and Vico’s final phase of anarchy is fully at hand. What happens next is the rise of a theocratic society followed again by aristocratic, then democratic rule, followed by chaos once again. In the film Fury Road we find that in the period between the first Mad Max film society has devolved into the rise of theocratic civilization. No longer is society concerned with missions to Mars or inventing a new iWatch—now the primary concern as it has been in the past is to establish a new deity figure for the society at large.
I have no doubt that George Miller would agree with this assessment. He knows all too well what he’s doing. He’s not just making a popcorn action thriller with great car stunts and bizarre characters. He’s making a rejection statement against Gambattista’s famed cycle. He may not have set out to be conscious about that statement but rather let his intellect drive those elements of the story along as evolution of the various aspects of the story evolved, but based on the presentation of Fury Road, it is clear he understands what he’s doing all too well. It’s also clear why so many people are excited to see such an apocalyptic story and why after all these years it’s so close to the hearts of so many people. This is not a typical summer blockbuster film.
So, how excited am I for the upcoming Fury Road? Well, let me tell you, I have dedicated this upcoming Friday to seeing it. I will certainly be one of the first, and I will likely see it several times. I love the action, I love Mad Max and all that he stands for, but more than anything I love seeing the Gambattista cycle challenged. The world may have went crazy in relation to the advanced days of invention when oil was being produced to propel cars from city to city, to instigate the growth of economies of various trade. All that can and will fall apart within just a few decades of human development—just like the Maya abandoned their cities apparently very fast—as if they just evaporated. It’s not that such people abandoned their cities because they left earth for alien destinations, the people of Ur did not suddenly become equivalent to the Neanderthal after building hanging gardens and massive temples—they regressed because they emerged into war then reinvented theocracy starting the Vico cycle fresh again losing all that they had gained before. Mad Max is that personality in these George Miller movies who in spite of everything that he has lost and continues to lose, refuses to give up on his heroic past and be the last representation of a time when mankind was truly great.
How many people do you know who would at the drop of a hat become one of the mindless followers of some future attempt at theocratic rule? The current Muslim obsession is but the latest. How many maniacs would kill the masses for a chance at everlasting life in the hereafter because some slug of a wanna’ be king dictated that such a thing would bring redemption to the soul? The answer is probably everyone that you know. Most of the people shopping at the grocery and working in a corner cubical would gladly trade in their suits and ties for a thong and Mohawk if some skull inspired death cult instructed them that through worship of his heavenly presence that someday they too might rise up to greatness if only they adhere to the tenets of collectivism. Miller’s brilliance is that he was able to see such a clear vision from our present age. It’s not easy to see that overweight school levy supporter buying meat at the grocery as a future sex slave to a blood thirsty cult fighting over the worship of water—but Miller does, and with a grand design. It’s not easy to see that corrupt politician kissing babies and whatever else as the skull wearing Immortan Joe hunting down the wives who are desperate to leave him. But in Miller’s films, it is quickly recognizable that most people we know under similar conditions would find themselves as some character in that wasteland. It doesn’t take much to forgo everything we have ever been and throw it away in exchange for basic human necessities, like food, water, and sex.
I am excited for Fury Road, but for reasons that go well beyond the visual spectacle. I love it for the rebellion against Vico. On one hand the Vico cycle is shown in all its brutal honesty, but through the character of Max—using almost no dialogue—Miller beholds the ubermensch—a character that launched the career of Mel Gibson who in almost every movie refused to buckle under the pressure of Vico to decline—but always to advance. Whether it was Riggs from Lethal Weapon or William Wallace from Braveheart, Mel Gibson started as Mad Max, that hero from the past who punched through the Vico cycle with the throttle down and the skill of a Road Warrior as the rest of the world attempted to drag him back into the Stone Age. That’s why Fury Road is more important than a four-year degree in college studying history and the Vico cycle. Because Fury Road shows through art the results of that path—and how treacherously close we always are to falling off the edge of reality into an abyss controlled by maniacs like Immortan Joe—or the Toe Cutter.