Mad Max – The Liberation of Nux

These last few weeks there has been much praise and much criticism of the feminist aspects of the new film Mad Max – Fury Road, and last week we posted how the film is The Greatest Feminist Action Movie Ever! There has been a lot of focus on the character of Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the Wives, and the Vuvalini warrior women, but what completes the theme of gender equality is the way the film treats both sexes. There is a wealth of strong female characters in the film, but the character who under goes the greatest character arc is a supporting character, the War Boy called Nux.

Nux Lovely Day

Nux immediately caught audience’s attention from the film’s trailer with the much quoted line, “What a day. What a lovely Day!” and he posed an enigma as to whether he was a good guy, or one of the bad guys. From various images we knew that he would have some connection with Max, Furiosa, and the Wives, but early on in the movie we first meet him getting a blood transfusion from the captive Max. Nux has been weakened, “running on empty,” but still manages to garner enough respect from his fellow warriors to allow him to drive despite this. There is a macabre humor each time Nux addresses Max as “Blood Bag,” and there is something infectious about Nux’s zealous belief that death in battle will gain him passage to the Roads of Valhalla.

Nicholas_Hoult_2009For British actor Nicholas Hoult, Nux’s appearance is an extreme transformation from previous roles; more recently he has been the younger Beast in the X-Men series, R in Warm Bodies, Tony Stonem in the original version of TV show Skins, and his first major role was with Hugh Grant back in 2002 as Marcus Brewer, the actual boy from the film About a Boy.

Unlike previous Mad Max movies, the only characters to be spared from the grittiness of the post-apocalyptic world are the Wives, which is a logical part of the narrative. Nux bears the iconic look of the film’s War Boys, shaved head, powder white skin, blacked eye sockets, and branded scar tattoos which include his lips. The overall effect of the War Boy look is a warrior skeleton, a symbol of death and an acknowledgement that they are condemned to a “half life” due to the toxicity of their environment.

As we see from the War Pups, pre-pubescent boys in training to be War Boys, this is an institutionalized indoctrination of child soldiers who are religious in their belief that Immortan Joe is a god, and that their greatest aspiration is to die in battle and ride the road to Valhalla where everything is clean and “chrome.” Without any exposition we see the rituals in action when each War Boy claims a steering wheel from an alter, and most prominently when a fatally injured War Boy sprays his teeth with chrome paint and cries out “Witness me!” The other War Boys watch on with elation to “witness” the dying War Boys final gesture of a suicidal attack on an enemy car. For the War Boys this is a glorious moment, and at the start of the film is Nux’s greatest aspiration.

mad-max-witness-me

Nux’s religious war chant is “I live. I die. I live again.” and three times “the gate of Valhalla” are opened to him, but he fails to die the glorious death for which he has wished. The third failure is in full view of his idol, Immortan Joe, who disdainfully labels Nux as “Mediocre!” It is, however, Nux’s failure to die that leads to his liberation from this warrior indoctrination that represents the old order of Patriarchy. After the overwhelming disaster of failing Immortan Joe, having his “Blood Bag” be the driver of the truck that led to the death of Immortan Joe’s favored “wife,” and other mistakes, Nux feels condemned and essentially excommunicated from a faith that up until then has been his philosophy of existence.

Immortan Joe

Immortan Joe (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who was also Toecutter in the first Mad Max film back in 1979), is the embodiment of the Citadel’s patriarchal system. The adjacent settlements of the Bullet Farm and Gas Town are also ruled by old men and play a huge part in the theme of gender equality by represented the imbalance of power that led to the world’s destruction. The question “Who killed the world?” is heard a couple of times in the film, and the clear answer is that the world was destroyed by the patriarchs fighting over power, wealth, and resources. In interviews, George Miller claims that there was not an intended feminist agenda for the film, but that the theme just naturally emerged from the telling of the story. Miller, however, was more direct in stating that one focus of the film is the manner in which young idealistic men are manipulated by older powerful men into dying for agendas that profit old men. Historically wars have been started by older men who send the nation’s young men into death, but Miller is presenting us with an alternative. It is most ironic that a movie packed with action, violence, and fighting should be such an intelligent deconstruction of what leads to societal violence.

Nux and Furiosa

Understandably, Furiosa first instinct is to kill Nux; she is a warrior, he has been trying to kill her, she is seeking liberation, he is part of the institution from which she trying to escape, but it is the Wives who convince her to spare Nux’s life. “No unnessary deaths!” and “He’s just a boy!” are the arguments provided by the Wives; they are operating under a philosophy that is in polar opposition to that of Immortan Joe and the patriarchy, something to which the unsung hero of Miss Giddy (Jennifer Hagan) deserves a lot of credit as she was the educator and subversive mentor to the Wives. The Wives’ philosophy is also highlighted by their surprise at the warrior natures of the Vuvalini; they expected something a bit more nurturing, but this is quickly negated by the pragmatic explanation from the Keeper of the Seeds (Melissa Jaffer) about the need to protect the things that spawn life.

It is the women’s compassion and ability to empathize with Nux that allows him to opportunity to develop as a character. They show him a different way of living and through this interaction Nux learns a different way of dying. His previous belief in Valhalla and a glorious death centers on an egotistic notion of self glory, living for the moment in which a fantastic death will bring fame, recognition, and reward, but with the women Nux’s motivation is their safety, especially Capable (played by Riley Keough, granddaughter of Elvis Presley) with whom he develops a romantic connection.

Capable and Nux

As with all the other subtleties of Fury Road, Miller manages to build a romantic narrative without being heavy handed about it with overt dialogue. Aside from Max’s marriage in the initial 1979 film there have not been any love stories in the Mad Max saga, and this one is a further facet of the feminist theme. Capable is the one to discover Nux after his final failure and is the one to provide him with empathy; she is also the one to initiate the romance. Capable does not need him because he is a man, Nux does not have any claim over her, but she is the one to find qualities in Nux that motivate her form a bond with him; it is a mutually healthy relationship, even if only brief.

Nux and Capable

While violence does not leave the narrative, the motives behind the violence are what drastically change, and Nux is the character through whom this paradigm shift is presented. Simply put, it is the dichotomy of defensive violence versus offensive violence; Nux moves from an aggressor to that of defender. By the end of the film Nux’s reason to die has become a selfless sacrifice, no promises of rewards in the afterlife, just a passionate wish that Capable and the other women escape from the armies of Immortan Joe. One of the most emotionally wrenching moments of the film only has two words. Nux has his hands on the wheel of the war rig, realizes that he must wreck the semi-truck to allow the escape of the women, and with piercing eye contact with Capable, whispers the phrase “Witness me.”

Nux Witness Me

Unlike the shouts of “Witness me!” that we see throughout the film, Nux’s last words are filled with love and compassion. Nux’s death is the moment of noble self sacrifice, the “Go on without me!” moment, but somehow Miller managed to present this common action movie trope in a refreshing manner. Perhaps because the moment comes suddenly without much build up; perhaps because it was not marred with hammy dialogue, or overt lamentation afterwards. Either way, Nux gets to be the ultimate hero of the film and in many ways is the character who does the most to transform the audience’s opinions of violence. In movie theaters across the world, we have paid “witness” to a young man’s sacrifice.


 

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