Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mad Max: Beyond the Leviathan

The Mad Max series, beginning with a seminal 1979 Australian post-apocalyptic western/action movie, was revolutionary, controversial, violent and hugely significant. The first Mad Max introduced Mel Gibson as an actor, was banned in two countries, polarized critics, and kick-started Australian cinema as well as the now common post-apocalyptic genre. It also held the record for highest cost-to-profit ratio (until the Blair Witch Project) and is now considered one of the best movies of all time, despite being derided for its incomprehensible violence at the time of its release. Its influence on the film world is immense, particularly after its more successful sequel Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. These films helped to define the post-apocalyptic genre as worlds of free-roaming gangs, lawlessness, scavenged goods and technology marked by only the scarcest trappings of civil society. The series also made an impact on other areas of violent cinema (such as horror; Saw's gripping premise of deciding between cutting through an ankle or a chain was used in Mad Max first).

As a brief overview, Mad Max begins as a cop in a decaying world. After witnessing the failure of his corrupt law force to prevent the gangs from inflicting harm on others, he defects and takes vengeance on the gangs himself with the help of his supercharged Pursuit Special. In the sequels, he roves the wasteland and acts as an agent of good in the cruel and vicious world.

Mad Max establishes that without the rule of law, other people are to be feared. It also plays heavily on bondage and S&M themes, which demonstrate that only individuals who possess fearsome personal power can succeed, and they do so by enslaving and humiliating others. The series also, as it develops from a world which is simply lawless to a full-on apocalyptic landscape, demonstrates an agreement with Hobbesian principles of the inherently cruel and evil nature of society in the absence of a strong government and enforced social contract.

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