Tag Archives: Charlize Theron

Mad Max and the Bechdel Test: Gender Equality’s 65th Percentile

One matter regarding Mad Max: Fury Road has irritated me since the “Men’s Rights Advocates” first complained about it, all the way back when the trailer was first released. Stanley alluded to it in his second take on the movie. The shallowness of the Bechdel Test is clearly not lost on Stan, but the political ramifications of what, in my mind, is a “the only way to win is not to play” proposition, unnerve me. I’m a few months removed from having seen the film a couple of weeks after it came out, but fortunately for me the matter in question and its relationship with the movie is not particularly nuanced.

From its promotion and unrelentingly after its release, the aforementioned men’s rights advocates have railed against the purported politics of a two hour-long movie which, by my estimations, has between one and one-half minutes of combined dialogue. This started when the first trailer came out, because low-hanging fruit is low-hanging.

Discussion of the film’s feminism belie just how asymmetrical the debate of gender equality has become. For decades, the female audience has been increasingly sought by purveyors of action and carnage, and merely passing the Bechdel Test isn’t an indication, even remotely, of a film’s “feminism,” let alone even a semblance of equality. That literally every film that doesn’t have a contrivance for excluding women from the cast entirely (i.e., military and prison movies, movies about the U.S. legislative branch) or an inordinately small number of speaking parts (for instance, Cube, although that decisively passes the Bechdel Test) can’t pass the Bechdel Test is a reflection of the disastrous discussion in the United States about gender equality, which is as continuously muddled with non-factors and red herrings as similar discussions on racial and LBGT equality.

Feminism can be read into Fury Road. Someone might think: “Oh, hey, the women in this plot aren’t chattel, maybe the director is a feminist.” The women Max encounters have escaped their harem enslavement under the leader of the film’s city, the only real civilization that’s shown in the film. Not only did they escape, they decided to and succeeded all by themselves! Max is more reliant on what they have to offer than vice versa. But this seems less like feminism and more a harem ex machina: a way for the hero to survive an impossible situation and a way for the audience to look at underwear models who are suggestively dousing themselves in water when Max first awakens in their midst.

Charlize Theron’s character, Imperator Furiosa, is the leader of this group, not a member of the harem but the most decorated… I don’t know, war-driver or something of city’s forces. I bet they have a cool automotive-derived name for whatever she is. She liberates the harem, who are relatively feeble compared to her. She is the classic liberator in film, taking others to safety who cannot take themselves. While they prove capable when the noose is tightening in the film’s climactic sequence, this doesn’t read as anything more than an easy way of putting more action into an action film.

This role could have been Max’s, but Max is the wanderer. Only the first Mad Max was about his breakdown as an individual in a world gone mad. In every movie since, Fury Road included, he’s served largely as a more-capable-than-thou apocalypse-dweller. That oil refinery had gas. He just kind of wanted to get the fuck away from Tina Turner and her Thunderdome. This is not a complex character. The first movie shows you why his life is ruined, the other movies are him going through the instinctive motions in response to the threat of dying. Furiosa’s role as the liberator of the harem means her character must convey some authority and power. None of this reads like the setup for a feminist exploitation car movie. Death Proof, this ain’t. But then, Death Proof wasn’t even anything like what it set out to be.

The women scrawl “WE ARE NOT THINGS” on their cells before escaping, which… what? Is this supposed to convey anything beyond the feeling of anyone locked into any fashion of bondage or its derivative abuse, let alone women referred to in this role as “breeders?” Neither they nor Imperator spend the movie spouting anything about the treatment of women where they were, nor about male/female relations, but simply how they were treated and why they escaped.

Is Fury Road a poignant warning about the dark future that awaits women should society crumble? You could choose to view the movie as this huge, overarching framing device for analyzing gender roles, but you could also call Star Wars a deconstruction of the transference of propaganda themes into popular media, which overlooks that the tropes from propaganda films were in Star Wars because the propaganda in question was meant to look intimidating and that fit the tone Lucas was going for in those shots.

I went to Fury Road intent on shutting off my brain. It’s rare an action movie allows me to do this, but Fury Road did even as I spent the better part of it looking for evidence of its “feminism.” What justification are they giving that I’m not seeing here? Is this all not enough? Isn’t it possible George Miller thought “Hey, this is an action movie, you know what would be better than one person punching people? Two people punching people!” and with Imperator already established in this hypothetical nascent plot outline as a strong character, decided she would be his other people-puncher?

Feminist? Mad Max is barely about anything. Which is not to say it doesn’t have an engrossing and well-groomed world: indeed, the continuity and self-assured authenticity of it is why two hours of almost-constant car chases works. It might actually constitute an art piece comprised of car crashes, but culture is a fickle thing, and at best maybe the children of those fortunate enough to have seen Fury Road will see a time where, during driver’s ed, in full costume, ala Rocky Horror screenings, they get to the documentary that’s all gory car crashes and their aftermaths.


A few days ago, the Atlantic ran “How the Standard for Gender Equality in Culture Became Known as the ‘Bechdel Test.'” The article serves mainly as a setup for a pedestrian “ask a smart person about a trivial element of this topic”-type interview, instead of highlighting the idea that gender equality is “achieved” in media by passing the Bechdel Test. As a social imposition of politics upon art, this is nothing short of a disastrous failure of the societal brain’s cognitive functions. Failing the Bechdel Test, save for the aforementioned contrivances, is not an indication that a movie could “use some work” in the female character department: it’s an indication, a very strong one, that the movie is a fucking disaster, featuring female characters with only one setting: vapid.

Fury Road is also an explicitly feminist movie, with Furiosa and Max joining forces to take down a literal patriarchy.” – VICE, “The New Mad Max Movie is Both Badass and Totally Feminist” (But does anyone in the movie actually say the word “patriarchy?” Or any word that even suggests they know what patriarchy is?)

In the title of this essay I call the Bechdel Test the sixty-fifth percentile of gender equality, but really it’s like the twentieth, or the eighth. Failing the Bechdel Test for most movies is a reflection that they’re attempting to engage women so little they’ve basically resorted to negging. It is hard to say if this reflects individual writers or actors, but as I’ve heard it told, Hollywood filmmaking is about pain-in-the-ass compromise and personal politics even more than actual governmental politics is, and compromise reveals nothing better than the will and the enthusiasm of the culture. Art is the energy of the culture that feeds it, and Hollywood is a lot closer to being the best of the best than it is to being the worst of the worst. The zeitgeist is the zeitgeist because it’s the cumulative present, not an arbitrary collection of modernity always somehow derived from the lowest common denominator because, Oh my god, certainly not, have we really gotten that fat? There must be something wrong with this mirror…

The reality is that the lowly Bechdel Test has become our cultural standard of gender equality in creative media because the culture, one of male privilege in just the same manner as the culture of white privilege to which our society has given much discussion of late, wants it that way. Jackasses are much happier trying to argue you away from a standard so low it may as well have been meant as a joke (oh, wait…) than actually having a pointed debate on specific reasons why a film is “feminist.” Feeding into this Bechdel Test crap is starting healthcare negotiations by revealing you don’t want universal healthcare. It’s a compromise position that frames the context of the real debate in a radically uneven way.

The critique of a film as “feminist” for suggesting, essentially, that women may in fact be people too, is already a victory for misogynists of the world: it frames feminism through the cultural stereotype of equal-rights activists as sex-averse second-wave feminists, the sorts that were either always on the fringe or moved further and further to the fringe before the so-called “sex wars” decisively removed them from general conversation amongst the feminist. They represent feminists as a concept no more than South Park‘s Big Gay Al represents gays and often stake claims to feminism the way people using descriptors like “big R Republican” or “big L Libertarian” stake their claims: increasingly contrived No True Scotsman designations that rely on the grade of their contrivance to disguise just how contrived it is. When opponents of gender equality continuously transmit this trope into the cultural perception, this idea that self-appointed “big F” feminists–largely relics of the past at this point–are the only feminists or have ever represented feminism, it degrades the conversation as a whole. When this presumption is the basis of the debate, you’re already losing.


How do we come to cultivate our standards into these shapes and forms? Haven’t we been complaining about Common Core non-stop since the alliterative, media-friendly moniker was first unleashed on us? There’s something about glass houses and stone-throwing in here, but that’s trying to have an even broader conversation than this one which, as said, is tenuous even in its existence. When you’re arguing with a misogynist and the argument revolves around “feminism” in film, application of the Bechdel Test is a quality of either ignorance or outright dialectic malice on the part of at least one of the conversants. For this, I propose a Second Bechdel Test, three simple rules that can be followed in order to make sure you’ve walked into a rational conversation about feminism and its role in a given work.


1) Be familiar with the Bechdel Test in the first place. Since you’ve gotten this far and I haven’t actually bothered to describe it in the text anywhere above, I’ll assume you’re good on this.

2) If you even have to think about if a movie passes the Bechdel Test, it almost certainly can’t possibly be “feminist.” A movie that has an interest and role for the women of its universe will not come remotely close to straddling the line.

3) Remember that the beauty of arguing for equality is the sheer simplicity of the argument you need to make: everything should be the same for everybody, “everybody” depending on the sort of specific equality you’re going after. As such: if a male character in the place of a female character did the thing that caused the female character to be labeled “feminist,” would he be labeled feminist? Characters voting in movies that take place before suffrage do not count.

There is, of course, an important zeroth rule meant to serve as an indicator that a film is feminist: it knows that feminism is an equality movement, not a supremacy movement, and talks about it in a positive light and/or advocates for feminism.

Now, weary travelers: Ride to Valhalla, shiny and chrome!

In The Valley of Elah (2007)

White Americans don’t like to lose boxing matches, and they don’t like to lose wars.

Sometimes it gets reflected in American cinema. No white fighter in the 1960s or 1970s could even come close to beating the great African Americans Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. In the movie Rocky, however, an entirely fictional great white hope played by Sylvester Stallone “goes the distance” with an entirely fictional Muhammad Ali played by Carl Weathers. Rocky was a dreadful film, dull, sexist, and aesthetically unimaginative. Yet it not only beat out Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver for Best Picture. It inspired a sequel where the great white hope becomes the champion, and another where he saves the honor of his country from the Russians. If that weren’t enough, the same actor would then go on to play “Rambo,” a former green beret with almost superhuman abilities who goes back to Vietnam to re-fight the war the United States lost 10 years earlier.

By 2007, it was clear that the United States had lost the war in Iraq. After 5000 dead Americans and over a million dead Iraqis, the country was no more a democracy in 2007 than it had been under Saddam. All the American invasion had accomplished had been to destroy Iraq, make a lot of money for people in Washington with the right political connections, and strengthen Iran as a regional power in the Middle East. The Nixonian MIA/POW cult embodied by Stallone’s Rambo, however, wouldn’t work this time. There weren’t any American POWs or MIAs in 2007. Instead, George W. Bush just sent a few more divisions of American soldiers to Iraq, labeled it “the surge,” and the corporate media dutifully complied, labeling “the surge” a great victory, and taking the defeat in Iraq out of the headlines altogether. Films like The Hurt Locker, Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty, and American Sniper ignored the political defeat of the United States to focus on the (dumb but widely believed) idea that the American soldier was fighting for freedom a far-off land for American civilians too clueless to appreciate what these heroic men (and women) were doing for them.

The film that got the Iraq War right has largely been forgotten.

Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah wasn’t a total flop. It cost $23 million to make and got back $29 million dollars at the box office. But unlike American Sniper or Zero Dark Thirty it has never made much of an impression on the American public. This isn’t entirely the fault of the American public. Haggis is not a great filmmaker. He made the dreadful Crash, the worst film ever to wing Best Picture. In the Valley of Elah is not without it’s flaws. Politically it’s cautious. If you had to sum up Paul Haggis’ views on the war in Iraq on a bumper sticker it would be something along the lines of “support the troops. Bring them home.” Nevertheless, In the Valley of Elah gets one thing entirely right. So far, it’s the only film I can think of that breaks with the Rocky/Rambo model of trying to win on screen what you lost in real life. Haggis forces you to admit that the war in Iraq was an overwhelming defeat that corrupted Americans and killed innocent Iraqis. That’s probably why it’s never been very popular.

White Americans don’t like to lose boxing matches, and they don’t like to lose wars.

In the Valley of Elah is aesthetically conventional. At it’s worst, it comes off a bit too much like a feature length episode of NCIS, only without the popular TV show’s Gung ho patriotism. At its best, however, it reminded me of Costa-Gavras’ great film Missing. In both films, a conservative, white American is forced to admit his country is not what he always thought it was, that it may not only be misguided, but evil. Hank Deerfield’s pain, however, is even greater that Edmund Horman’s. Horman’s son may have been murdered during an American sponsored coup, but it was the Chilean Army, not his fellow Americans who killed him. For Deerfield, on the other hand, the invasion of Iraq not only takes his only remaining son, and undermines whatever faith he may have had left in his country. It destroys his confidence in his fellow soldiers, and even in his fellow men.

Haggis’ film has two great performances. Charlize Theron’s portrayal of an initially clueless, then progressively enlightened police detective demonstrates why she eventually became a feminist icon in Mad Max: Fury Road. Emily Sanders may look a bit like a supermodel without her make up, but she’s tough as nails, shrugging off her colleagues’ sexism off as a mere annoyance. She’s also open-minded and willing to learn. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that gets the process by which we admit we’re wrong so right. There’s an initial resistance. Then you feel a sense of dread. Then you finally admit you’re wrong. Charlize Theron nails the emotions every step along the way, especially in one key scene where the expression on her face registers all of the agony that comes along with the knowledge that her careless indifference may have gotten someone killed.

In the Valley of Elah, however, is Tommy Lee Jones’ movie, his performance as great as Jack Lemon’s in Missing. If Edmund Horman’s disillusionment was that of a liberal, Ivy League northeasterner, Deerfield’s discovery is more painful yet. Hank Deerfield is a southern, American patriot. A Vietnam vet and ex-military-policeman, he embodies red state America. Deerfield can deal with his son dying in a war, even an unjust war. We never quite learn what Deerfield thinks about Vietnam. He might not know himself, but he’s also a clearly gifted police detective who’s been making a living hauling gravel for the past 30 years. What went wrong? Why did he give up his career as a military policeman? Nobody with a face that looks like Tommy Lee Jones’ face can have many illusions about anything.

Yet Hank Deerfield does have one illusion left, the same illusion George W. Bush used to sell the war in Iraq to the American people. Deerfield may have his doubts about the war in Vietnam and the war in Iraq, but up until his son is murdered, he’s never had any doubts about the troops. If he eventually came to believe the war in Vietnam was wrong, he probably got through it the way he hoped his son would get through the war in Iraq, with the idea that he wasn’t fighting for his government, or even his country, but for his fellow soldiers. The grotesque betrayal at the center of In the Valley of Elah does not leave Hank Deerfield with even the hope Edmund Horman had at the end of Missing. The collusion of the American government with Augusto Pinochet is bad enough, but it’s still a collusion between two rotten governments, and Americans have grown used to the idea that the American government, and governments in general, are rotten and corrupt. Indeed, throughout the film, Haggis very cleverly plays on our expectations that the murder is part of a government conspiracy. When it turns out that it’s not, it’s simultaneously shocking and anti-climatic. That Mike Deerfield was a hero after all – not in the way the corporate media likes to label soldiers as “heroes” but a hero nonetheless – and that he’s killed for the pettiest of reasons is almost too much for any father, or any of us, to bear.

Battle in Seattle (2007)

Mainstream films about American political activists are so rare that it’s one of the few genres where it might be possible to see them all in one long weekend. I can only think of a few. There’s The Strawberry Statement, a loose dramatization of the 1968 strike at Columbia University. There’s Zabriskie Point, Michelangelo Antonioni’s very strange English language film set in Southern California. There’s Panther by Mario Van Peebles, Selma by Ava DuVernay, Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X by Spike Lee. That’s about it. So if Battle in Seattle, Stuart Townsend’s depiction of the protests against the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999 is not a great movie, it’s probably still worth seeing, if only because it’s at the very least a competent movie.

As Battle in Seattle opens, Jay, played by Martin Henderson, and Lou, Michelle Rodriguez, are hundreds of feet above downtown Seattle, setting up the famous banner drop. Democracy, an arrow points in one direct, WTO, another points in the opposite. The film shifts to the headquarters of the Seattle Police, where we learn that Lou “burned down her father’s animal research lab, although she wasn’t formally charged,” and that Jay is an environmentalist whose “brother was killed in the Sequoia Forest demonstration.” We are also introduced to Django, André 3000 from Outkast, and Samantha Clayton, Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter.

We also learn why Battle in Seattle could not have been made after Occupy Wall Street. Stuart Townsend is a competent filmmaker and he’s very sympathetic to the 1999 demonstrations in Seattle, but his politics might best be described as “Chris Hedges 2011.” After the police chief tells us that Lou “has participated in black bloc demonstrations that have turned violent,” the film shifts to Jay conducting a teach in. “We are going to shut these areas down,” he says, referring to all the major intersections in downtown Seattle. He asks a question. “How are we going to do it?” He answers the question himself, “non-violently, and by consensus.” Then Townsend shifts back to police headquarters. “Jay and Lou, are not anarchists, as we first thought,” the police chief says.

I can just hear the collective groan from the anarchist community. That Townsend is making a statement about the ignorance of the police is put to rest by the rest of the film. Pretty much everybody in Battle in Seattle, the liberal, Bill de Blasio like mayor played by Ray Liotta, a World Trade Organization delegate with a thick Slavic accent played by Ivana Miličević, and even a Seattle police officer played by Woody Harrelson, are sympathetic. Harrelson’s cop only beats protesters because he’s stressed out working a double shift as a riot cop, and worried about his pregnant wife, Mad Max Fury Road’s Charlize Theron. A TV reporter played by Connie Nielson, who I kept getting mixed up with Charlize Theron — Do all white women look alike? — has a change of heart and actually joins the protests after getting tear gassed. Townsend depicts almost everybody in Seattle in 1999 as at least a sympathetic liberal caught up in events beyond his or her control. There’s only one exception, the black bloc.

While Lou is described early in Battle in Seattle as being a former member of the black bloc, Townsend seems to consider it as a youthful indiscretion. In 1999, he tells us, there was no crossover between the organizers of the WTO protests and the black block itself. Like Chris Hedges in 2011, he presents the black bloc as a fixed group of protesters, not as a tactic used by many protesters of all ideologies. What’s more, all of the “black bloc anarchists” are depicted as sexist assholes and attention whores. One breaks into a department store and terrorizes the pregnant Charlize Theron. Another gets into a shouting match, then a shoving match, with Jay and Lou. “This isn’t anarchy,” Lou shouts. “We’re the ones getting the press,” he shouts back. It’s all right out of the NY Post or Fox News, and almost comically dated. Everything was going fine, Townsend seems to think, until those damned anarchists came along and ruined it.

Nevertheless, Battle in Seattle is enlightening, not in spite of how it’s so dated, but because of how it’s so dated. Sympathetic police officers, corporate TV “news” reporters who quit their jobs on the spur of the moment and join protests, anarchists who terrorize pregnant women, as ridiculous as it all seems today, it’s what many liberals believed in 2007. Battle in Seattle would be a much different film if someone made it in 2015. During the run up to the election of Barack Obama, it was the nostalgic fantasy of the college educated leftist for the “anti-globalization” movement that got derailed by 9/11. In the wake of the Arab Springs, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter, we all know better. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that some of the things we believe in 2015 won’t seem just as silly in 2022.

Final Note: The best thing about Battle in Seattle might be Outkast’s André 3000 as “Django.” It would have been a much better film had he, not Martin Hendrickson, played the lead. He was not only perfectly credible as an environmental activist, he was smarter than his character, and he knew it. Just watching Django handle a TV “news” reporter’s leading questions is almost a tutorial in how to handle the media. He also gets the best line in the whole movie. “Battle in Seattle?” he says. “That sounds like a monster truck show.”

A Second Look at Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Earlier this year, I watched Mad Max: Fury Road, mainly because everybody else was. I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I came away distinctly underwhelmed. I also wrote a review that, in retrospect, is also quite underwhelming. I clearly didn’t get it.

At the same time, writers I admire were singing its praises. Freddie deBoer, for example, called it “a character-driven, intelligent, action-packed, well-developed, romantic, genuinely epic blockbuster film that doesn’t insult its audience or play down to low expectations, a story with high dramatic stakes that are fully earned and an ending that is deeply satisfying and ultimately positive, achieved with real sacrifice.” Chauncey DeVega almost broke his leg getting to the movie theater. He still came away thinking that it was “more amazing and wonderful than even the commercials hinted at.”

So I decided to give Mad Max: Fury Road a second look. The opening, where Max is kidnapped and turned into a living “blood bag” by Immortan Joe’s greatly impressed me. When I saw Imperator Furiosa I began to feel stupid. Charlize Theron is an excellent actress who projects the right combination of strength and vulnerability to make her an almost perfect female action hero. When the film got to the point where Max decides to form an alliance with Furiosa and Immortan Joe’s “breeders,” I was ready to admit I had been wrong, that Mad Max: Fury Road is a legitimately great movie.

But then I looked at the time. There was over an hour left to go. As I watched car chase after car chase, my opinion of the film went down. I also began to zone out. I just couldn’t stay with it. My fingers began to wander along with my mind. I checked out the traffic on my blog, got into a debate on Twitter about the Civilian Conservation Corps, and looked up some of the characters on Wikipedia. I thought the tall blond, “breeder” looked familiar. It was Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the Victoria’s Secret model. In my first review, I had called the breeders “a multi-racial harem of underwear models.” I was right. One of them actually was an underwear model. More importantly, they were all wearing underwear. By the end of Mad Max: Fury Road, I had lost the plot entirely. I know that Furiosa kills Immortan Joe. Then she, Max, and the breeders bring back his corpse to the citadel at skull mountain, where they let his slaves know they’re all free. Max and Furiosa exchange soulful glances before he disappears into the crowd, but I still felt confused and unsatisfied. Intellectually, I understood Mad Max: Fury Road. Emotionally, it left me cold.

In the end, I came to the same conclusion I did in my first review. Mad Max: Fury Road was a good idea ruined by lousy execution. So why did Chauncey DeVega and Freddie deBoer like it so much? Both of them are smart, independent thinkers unlikely to write glowing reviews about a bad movie simply to go along with the crowd. It’s not often that I’m so bored by a movie everybody else rates as one of the ten best films of the year. A gap in perception this wide is a gift that shouldn’t be passed over lightly. Thinking about it lets you ask questions like “what is the purpose of mass culture? Who watches big-budget action movies and why? Can a fundamentally reactionary art form like the Hollywood blockbuster be enlisted in the service of a progressive cause like feminism?”

Mad Max: Fury Road was made with a budget of $150 million. That kind of money allows a director like George Miller to spend a lot of money on set design, stunt people, car chases that don’t depend on cgi, and to hire a good cast of A-list actors like Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. But it also comes with a price. Anybody who can secure $150 million in funding for a film has to come up with a marketing strategy. My guess is that George Miller came to his investors with a plan that looked something like this. Even though Mad Max: Fury Road will be completely different from the The Mad Max franchise that enjoyed great success in the 1980s — The original Mad Max cost about $350,000 and made over $100 million — it’s worth keeping the name “Mad Max.” That will bring in both middle-aged men, who remember the film from their childhood, and their kids, who grew up listening to their parents talk about it. Mel Gibson is far too old to play Max Rockatansky, but Tom Hardy, who is a geek superstar by virtue of his performance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises is, at 35, just about the right age.

Mad Max: Fury Road has car chases, explosions, women in lingerie, and a character that looked a bit like he belonged on the cover of an Iron Maiden album. It has a strong female heroine, and a feminist message. In other words, the script has something for everybody. It could also be fine tuned to let it be marketed on the Internet. It worked better than George Miller, or anybody, could have expected. First of all, some of the very men the car chases and underwear models were supposed to appeal to rebelled. MRAs (Mens Rights Activists) hated Mad Max: Fury Road so much they mounted a campaign against it on social media. None of that, of course, would stop men from seeing a big-budget, widely distributed film that was in every multiplex and discussed on every Facebook page. What’s more, Charlize Theron’s strong performance as an action heroine resonated with women, especially with with younger women in their 20s who grew up with a geek culture that often excluded them. For left-wing men in their 30s like Freddie deBoer and Chauncey DeVega Mad Max:Fury Road was a dream come true. DeBoer, a frequent critic of identity politics, and often labeled a “brocialist” by his political opponents, had found a feminist movie he could love with all his heart. DeVega, in turn, is a black Democrat who despises the white supremacist politics at the heart of the Men’s Rights Movement. He’s also a long time aficionado of geek culture, of professional wrestling and action movies. Mad Max:Fury Road was a very successful, lavishly funded production within a genre he had been following for years that pissed off racist assholes he hated.

None of this, however, explains why I didn’t like it. What are the reasons? Is it because I’m a sexist? That’s possible, but my being a sexist didn’t stop me from enjoying a low-budget feminist classic like Born in Flames or a newer feminist movies Australian desert, like Tracks, which was also, interestingly enough, set in the Australian desert. Is it that I’ve simply never been a fan of geek culture, of comic books, graphic novels, and action movies, all of which Mad Max: Fury Road draws from. That probably hits closer to home. Mad Max hit home with DeVega and deBoer partly, I think, because it was a radical departure from the post-1980s action film. They could appreciate a film that broke the rules of the genre because they knew the rules of the genre. By contrast, I compared Mad Max: Fury Road to classic action films like Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Wages of Fear or Howard Hawk’s Only Angels Have Wings. For me, Mad Max: Fury Road broke rules I consider essential for a good movie. There was, for example, no sense of physical vulnerability. People fall off trucks traveling at 100-mph and don’t break their necks. Pale skinned women like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley wander around in the middle of the Australian desert and don’t get sunburned. Max Rockatansky gets strapped to the front fender of a hot road as a living “blood bag” and yet still seems as strong as an Olympic athlete after he escapes. There’s a shortage of food and water. Yet Immortan Joe’s “war boys” seem almost as invulnerable as human cockroaches. Compared to the scenes in Wages of Fear where Charles Vanel gets trapped in a puddle of oil beneath a moving truck it all seemed vaguely cartoonish. But that was also the point. Mad Max: Fury Road was marketed to fans of graphic novels, not Henri-Georges Clouzot movies.

I also think there’s one other reason why I couldn’t enjoy Mad Max: Fury Road. In his pod cast, Chauncey DeVega talks about going to see a film as a “communal experience.” The fact that he almost broke his leg on the way to the theater probably made the bump and grind of a cinematic car chase that much more realistic. By contrast, I usually watch movies at home on my Dell 24” monitor. Streaming a movie off of Amazon can’t quite compete with seeing it at the multiplex. The small screen privileges narrative over action, quiet moments over car crashes and explosions. Part of the fun of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road on the big screen in the middle of a crowd of drunken frat boys was probably seeing so much loud, aggressive male energy subverted by a feminist screenplay. Film makers rarely spend $150 million to put their movie on a computer screen. If I didn’t understand what all the fuss about Mad Max: Fury Road was, then it may simply be that I was looking at it through the wrong end of the telescope. Next time, I’ll just have to turn it around.