The other night I ended up watching Mad Max: Fury Road again. (It’s a long story.) I saw it when it first came out and enjoyed it. But it really struck a chord with me this second time around. And I started thinking about transcendence.
Note: This post contains spoilers.
Fury Road is the fourth installment in the Mad Max franchise, the first of which came out in the late 70s and starred Mel Gibson, as did the two follow up movies.
You can watch Fury Road here.
Fury Road takes place in a devastated future in which war and environmental degradation render most of the earth a desert wasteland. As Max Rockatansky, one of the other main characters of the movie says,
My name is Max. My world is fire and blood. Once, I was a cop. A road warrior searching for a righteous cause. As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken.
In the mayhem that ensues during this apocalypse, a military leader, Immortan Joe eventually seizes control of power and resources. He lives in an imposing group of stone towers–the Citadel–and hoards all the water, occasionally sharing some with the masses of suffering apocalyptic survivors who live in abject misery around the Citadel.
Immortan Joe surrounds himself with military guards and maniacally devoted followers called War Boys. To amass his devotees, Joe selects the healthiest children, male and female, from the suffering hoards living around the citadel. He forces the females to become his “Wives” because he wants to produce a healthy heir. And he indoctrinates the War Boys into his cult of the V8. The War Boys are willing to fight to the death for Immortan Joe. That is because Joe propagandizes the War Boys from an early age that when they die for him, they immediately go to Valhalla.
It is in this context that we meet Imperator Furiosa. Immortan Joe’s followers kidnapped Furiosa as a child from her home, a place she remembered as the Green Place. Joe forced her to become one of The Wives, but she ended up being barren. So she eventually became one of Joe’s most important military personnel, given the job of protecting The Wives. Indoctrinated from the time she was young, Furiosa initially fulfilled her role dutifully and did not question Joe’s regime.
However, the more she spent time with The Wives and got to know them, the more compassion and connection she felt towards them. And she realized that the predicament of the wives, Joe’s empire, and the whole situation was wrong. She realized that she and the Wives had worth apart from Joe and did not belong to him. Thus, Furiosa hatches a plan to rescue the Wives and return with them to the Green Place.
This is my portrayal of Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in the movie. While not a good likeness of Theron, it does, to some degree, capture the strength, tenacity, and hope of Furiosa.
Furiosa says to one of The Wives,
Out here, everything hurts. You wanna get through? Do as I say. Now pick up what you can and run.
And she does successfully abscond with the Wives from the Citadel. But Immortan Joe finds out and chases Furiosa and the Wives across the desert, attempting to retrieve “His Treasures” as he calls The Wives.
This movie captures my imagination for so many reasons. There’s a lot I could write about it. For instance, the director, George Miller, asked his wife Margaret Sixel to edit the footage for the movie. When she asked him why he wanted her to serve as editor, Miller said, “Because if a guy did it, it would look like every other action movie.”
And the movie is, indeed, different from typical action movies. It is artistically and aesthetically-pleasing, despite taking place in an apocalyptic, desert landscape. (Miller filmed it in Namibia.) And this beauty, as well as the characters’ poignant stories, drive the movie. It won six Academy Awards—the only one of the Mad Max movies to do so.
So, I could write about the importance of female-directed films or female-edited films.
I could also write about the technical brilliance of Fury Road. Surprisingly, this film is 80% practically orchestrated rather than CGI orchestrated. This is amazing when you consider the movie’s fantastic action sequences involving high-speed chases through a desert which include circe de soleil moves at high speed, as well as a fire-spewing guitar, played by a guy, riding on the front of a truck (one of the most imaginative touches). Although CGI has its place, I love movies that rely on practical effects over CGI.
I could write about these things, but I want to write instead about Furiosa. Because Furiosa accomplishes something more amazing than high-speed cirque du soleil acrobatics.
Furiosa wakes up.
There is a lot of sand in that movie.
Somehow Furiosa wakes up from the indoctrination she suffered from a young age. And she does so while everyone around her remains asleep. Furthermore, she decides to jeopardize her enviable career (enviable in the Citadel) and possibly lose her life to rescue The Wives. She does this because she has a compelling vision of a different world.
Furiosa is a Transcendant.
I think I just made up the word Transcendant, but it is definitely a thing.
Of course, transcendence is a common word. Transcendence is a state we achieve when we rise above the status quo or our material conditioning and catch a glimpse of something different, beautiful, good, sublime, perhaps sacred.
Something that is transcendent--like an experience or a piece of art–inspires this state of being.
But Transcendant–my neologism–applies the concept of transcendence to a person. As I define it, a Transcendant is a person who is somehow able to move beyond the myopia of their society and cultural group.
Transcendants somehow awaken to the possibility of a better world. In doing so, they become acutely aware of the dehumanizing aspects of their society—aspects that pretty much everyone else in society take as good, necessary, or unavoidable.
For instance, in Furiosa’s world, Immortan Joe, the War Boys, and everyone else takes it for granted that water is scarce and that life is one long stretch of wretched suffering. They take it for granted that goodness and gentleness only exist in the afterlife.
However, Transcendants refuse to accept the way things are, and they believe it is possible to find or discover a better world. By the way, Transcendants show up all throughout history, and they usually start humanizing spiritual movements, like the Buddha, Ghandi, and Mother Theresa did.
Or they lead movements that bring about greater human rights or even land or animal protection. Or they just inspire us to look at the world in a more just and beautiful way. I think of folks like W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rachel Carson, and Maya Angelou when I think of folks who did such work throughout history.