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How Mad Max Wrote The Script For The Action Blockbuster

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By Gemma Blackwood

The term “reaching the max” means to reach the top end or the final limit of something; it means to lie on the precise threshold between the possible and the impossible. Beyond this sublime tipping point lies the post-pleasure principle; the death drive; the burnt-out car at the bottom of the rocky cliff.


The philosopher Gilles Deleuze once reflected on how the alcoholic drinker is actually always on the look-out for the second-last or “penultimate drink” rather than the final drink that will lead to unconsciousness or obliteration.

The character Max – played by Mel Gibson in the original Mad Max trilogy (1979-1985) – literally pushes to this penultimate limit, almost to the brink of annihilation. Hence the “madness” and insanity that is attached to his name.

Perhaps it doesn’t really describe a man’s name so much as it pronounces a quality or a value, even of the style of the films themselves. Next week, after a 30-year hiatus, the series soon will be joined by a fourth film – Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Birth Of The Blockbuster Hero

This paradoxical idea of the (usually male) star moving “beyond” the max while still managing to succeed against the odds has become the parodied mainstay of the high concept and hi-tech Hollywood blockbuster that was rising alongside Max in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

To win you must be prepared to “die hard”, and to be “faster and furiouser” than all the others. It was also the moment when the antihero of the road movie genre was starting to turn into the hero – especially one spied through the graphic gaze of Hollywood.

Much has been written on the way that the Mad Max movies managed to blend high-concept mythic and epic narrative with daggy snatches of local humour and down-to-earth dialogue to appeal to both national Australian and overseas audiences.

It is easy enough to see why Mel Gibson’s Max on his legendary suicidal missions serves as a cipher for both the international hard-boiled hero and for the American Western hero.

In local contexts he’s an expression of the taciturn “bush legend” hero, or the Anzac legend. Don’t forget that the fresh-faced Gibson also starred in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli in 1981, a representation that, culturally, fed back into Mad Max and quite blatantly into considerations of national identity and character.

Enduring Appeal

As I watched the films again recently on crisp Blu-Ray transfer, it was clear that despite the era’s kitsch style markers such as high ponytails, saxophones, punk mohawks and mullets, all three of the films have aged remarkably well, certainly a lot better than the romantically-infused Crocodile Dundee (1986-2001) series, Australia’s other high-concept success story of the 1980s. Why is that so?

Perhaps like the latest “cinema of attractions” we are constantly exposed to today – think online imagery, moving gifs, YouTube and vines – the trilogy’s heavy focus on pure movement and sensorial tension in place of complex narrative has worked in its favour.

After the first film, Max doesn’t go so far as think about the possibility for further romantic attachment, so focused is he on mere survival.

The reduction of story into pure sight feels modern. In all of the films, there are large passages of time with almost no, or else very limited, dialogue.

In the chase scenes of all the movies, we find the driver Max sensorially matched by the cinematic mechanics. We watch them now nostalgically as the last actions of a pre-digital filmmaking landscape sputtering gasoline onto the screen.

The brush stroke sketches of character read like cartoon panels; the films take us through impressionistic sequences where we ourselves are taken for a ride.

Each of the films is very beautiful to look at, from the orange landscapes of Broken Hill in The Road Warrior (1981) to the white Coober Pedy desert in Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

The Limits Of The Spectacle

The pleasure of the crowd – and hence the film audience too – finds a commentary in the most recent film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Here, crowds in Bartertown – a place that seems almost radical today in its representation of post-national multiculturalism – go to the spherical Thunderdome to watch death duels. It’s often not safe to do so and accidental deaths in the crowd from the fighters are normal.

Max is called to kill the powerful Master Blaster in a duel and is confronted with the Blaster’s humanity. He refuses to kill his opponent and is booed by the crowd. Here is the moment where Max reaches a moral limit. It is a limit that the spectators in the Thunderdome cannot fathom, so insatiable is the desire for graphic violence and visual entertainment.

Max is no longer “mad”. It is the audience in the Thunderdome – and perhaps us in the cinema – who are shown to have no limits, searching beyond the penultimate for the money shot of spectacular annihilation. So the idea of “reaching a limit” is something that is reflected upon critically within the narrative universe of the film series.

Yes, this is a grandiloquent, over-the-top message, but in Australian cinema it is actually quite rare to find such bombastic and epic pronouncements (the only other recent director to try this form has been Baz Luhrmann).

I am looking forward to what lies in store for Max in the new film, and hope it continues along a similar trajectory, in medias res.

This article is part of The Conversation’s Arts+Culture series.

Gemma Blackwood is a lecturer in Communication Studies at Charles Darwin University.

This article was originally published here on The Conversation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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