Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Drama's milk

Tricia and I got into a textversation today about what may or may not be an underlying theme and/or plot point in Fury Road that had occurred to me for a second or two while sitting in the theater and which I had then discarded (probably under the avalanche of spiked Buzzard-mobiles or something equally menacing.) And that was:

Why is Immortan Joe so determined to retrieve those breeders?

I mentioned the two essential liquids of the Mad Maxian world: fuel and water. I also cited what I felt was a third: blood, as it seemed to me that Joe was trying to ensure his personal legacy by living on through his offspring in the typical fashion of most animals, human and otherwise, and especially monarchs of human history. Furthermore, blood was seen as essential to the war machine that was the very thing that the women of the film were trying to disrupt (and which Max was the unwilling participant in.) At a couple points in the film, it’s revealed that not only is Joe farming breast milk from a number of other breeders but that the war rig that Furiosa is driving is also filled with it, presumably to trade with the other two locations of Joe’s empire (Gas Town and Bullet Farm.) Tricia suggested that that was the 4th crucial liquid of society and that Joe was pursuing Splendid, Toast, and the others because only they could produce it, as potential mothers. Any human can provide blood, but only mothers can provide milk.

But, again, why those mothers? If he already has a stable of producers, why was it so important to retrieve Splendid and the others? Was it a genetic factor? Was Joe old enough to know that he ended up with superior War Boys from certain women? Rictus might have been a superior specimen because of his size and physique or he might have developed to that level from the better conditions afforded Joe’s favorites (nature or nuture.) It seemed that Joe was going for at least a tiny mix of genetic patterns, in that two of the women were blonde, one a brunette, and the last a redhead. Of course, they were all apparent Caucasians or close to it, as almost everyone has been in the Max films, so genetic diversity isn’t that high on the scale, apparently. Toast the Knowing was the lone exception and only because I know that the actress (ZoĆ« Kravitz) is half-black (and half-Jewish.) Also, as Tricia reminded me, the best "breeders" are women with broad hips that can more easily handle delivering something the size of a human infant. None of the women that Furiosa and Max were protecting were particularly broad anywhere, much less below the waist. Thus, the larger women shown in the milk farming room would have been the more reliable breeders over a longer period of time.

Was it simply a figment of control? Joe is the supreme power in his corner of the world and if someone runs off with the women that he considers his possessions, it presumably would be a sign of weakness (not least because the theft was conducted by one of his own lieutenants.) If someone steals your stuff, you try to get it back. If you're trying to maintain your possession, you do so as savagely as possible to try to assure anyone else of what happens if they were to be so foolish. But that seems too simple, especially since Joe made an effort to call Splendid back to him, rather than simply trying to destroy the rig and kill everyone in it once he'd seen how difficult a task the chase was turning into. Simple isn't really Miller's style (this is, after all, a man who signs off on every frame of his films, including the score.)

Instead we're faced with the possibility that Joe may have been motivated by the most essential of dramatic compulsions: love. But was it love for his unborn son? Splendid? All of them? Are they his prized breeders- his prized possessions -because he loves them? Or does he only love having them? Are they his prizes because of lust or because he's actually come to care about them, especially Splendid? It's difficult to differentiate at that level without being inside the minds of the director and the actor (Hugh Keays-Byrne.)

Lust would be an easy answer if we assume that Joe conforms to the common standard of beauty, in which screwing someone like Capable (Riley Keough) or The Dag (Abbey Lee) is assumed to be more interesting to most hetero men than screwing one of the milk women in the Citadel. Again, no way of knowing but, again, Miller is not known for "easy". I think Keays-Byrne played the role fully intending to indicate that Joe desired more from Splendid than just the sex. I think it was clear from the emotion in his voice that he wanted her back for her (and the child) and he felt the loss of her death as the loss of a person, rather than just an asset or a toy. And if we look at much of Miller's other work in the last couple decades (Lorenzo's Oil, Babe, Happy Feet), we see family as a recurrent theme. In this case, we see not only Joe's anguish at the sundering of his family (the loss of his Five Wives and potential (and actual) loss of his unborn son) but we also see the bonding of the women, Furiosa, Nux, and even Max as a unit looking for a place of refuge; a new home, even as Max's continued visions about his lost family are what almost cause him to leave their new unit.

So we circle back to the original debate: Is mother's milk the fourth precious liquid of their society? I think my answer is still "no", if only because Joe's desire for his wives goes beyond their status as simply favored breeders and veers into the deeper question of relationships. Mother's milk is a resource and perhaps a thematic fluid for Miller's theme of family, but I think it remains outside the story's essential resources that define Max's world as the semi-nightmare that it is.

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