The opening of Mad Max: Fury Road is just around the corner, and George Miller is on the phone quoting Vancouver writer William Gibson.
“He had this fantastic saying,” the veteran filmmaker says, calling the Georgia Straight from Toronto. “It was about technology. He said, ‘The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed.’ And that’s exactly how the world is today.”
There’s something insanely thrilling about getting these two clairvoyant pop-culture icons into the same sentence. In the mid ’80s, Gibson was inadvertently training our neurons for the Internet. A few years before that, Miller had indelibly envisioned global collapse as a mythic skirmish for the last drops of oil. In both cases, we were handed great pulp, and it stuck.
It’s amazing to contemplate that Miller, now 70, cut his filmmaking teeth on the original Ozploitation classic half a lifetime ago. “And let me put it this way,” he says, chuckling, “I didn’t ever want to make another Mad Max movie. I’d made three.” But here we are, with a new Max in the shape of Tom Hardy, an actor Miller describes as “volcanic”—“I knew, on the one hand, his Venn diagram overlapped a lot with Mel [Gibson]”—and a massively scaled-up, unsettlingly contemporary, $100-million retread of an idea that’s only become more trenchant as the decades and the oil wars have rolled on.
The results are a gas, if you’ll pardon the pun, and not just because Fury Road (which opens on Friday [May 15]) is a sweeping action film on wheels without a hint, mercifully, of green screen (one conspicuous set piece aside). Miller’s latest also works because he’s such a master at “riffing on the Zeitgeist”, as he puts it. When Max Rockatansky stumbles, as he tends to, into a remote feudal society governed by an all-powerful lunatic, Immortan Joe, we’re presented with a striking fun-house-mirror image of our own unevenly distributed future—with a particular focus on the plight of women.
“There’s no question that Immortan Joe is, classically, the patriarchy controlling all the resources,” Miller says. “And that’s a thing we recognize today and in so many cultures, and almost always going back into history. And in this era, it’s much more in people’s consciousness.”
Equally, Fury Road buzzes with its more specifically current influences. Max spends the first quarter of the film as a “human blood bag” used to transfuse one of Joe’s “war boys”—an idea the filmmaker took from the Bosnian conflict. “And it was in India in 2006 or something that I first heard the term water wars,” Miller adds, “when they were fighting up in Kashmir.”
It’s heavy stuff but screamingly good fun when you squeeze it all into an epic chase flick. Arguably, Miller’s film really prevails because he has protected that kernel of gonzo Aussie humour that distinguished the original movies. “Australians for a long time were the masters of irony because everything was upside down, literally,” he says, chuckling again, and recalling that “back in the day” it was de rigueur to refer to your boss as “you old bastard”, which sounds particularly good with the right accent.
“And the tallest man in the town was called Tiny, and if you had red hair, you were always called Bluey,” he continues. “Everything was turned upside down, and I think that seeped into the culture, a kind of subversive humour, and somehow I think that creeps into the Mad Max movies.”