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Mad Max: The Furies

The Furies.jpgAs I've mentioned on Facebook, I've really been enjoying the discussion that has exploded around the new Mad Max movie, Mad Max: Fury Road. The link there is to the review I wrote after I saw the film for the first time, and I've since seen it twice more. Yesterday I read a bunch of blog posts and articles about the movie. I was very pleased to see that Liz Bourke, like me, sees Suzy McKee Charnas' fingerprints: "It draws so much of its arc from 1970s/early 80s feminist science fiction I mean it sort of IS Suzy McKee Charnas. Its arc is a compressed version of the narrative arc of her Motherlines series (REALLY HORRIFIC DYSTOPIA) done as an action film with extra added DEATH CAR STUNTS." In particular, when we discover (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) that Furiosa was raised by two mothers in a tribe that Bourke describes as a "lesbian separatist commune," I immediately flashed on Charnas' novel Motherlines. And when the women with their two damaged male partners take the war to the patriarchy, I was reminded of The Furies, which is the savage and exciting sequel to Motherlines.

After I'd gotten through a whole wodge of posts and comments celebrating the feminism of Fury Road, I did begin to feel like I'd eaten too much ice cream. I mean, I obviously love the movie enough to have seen it three times in five days, but still, all squee and no squall make Max a dull boy. So it was good to read Alyssa Rosenberg's typically questioning analysis this morning: "‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and the political limits of action movies". Rosenberg has written about the political limits of superhero stories before, and the analysis here is similar. As she points out, "There might well be a sequel that explores Furiosa and the wives’ attempts to govern the Citadel now that they’ve liberated it. But these would be very different from the tense, spare chase and race that make “Mad Max: Fury Road” such an effective action spectacle." And that reminded me of Charnas' sequel to The Furies, The Conqueror's Child, which for me was by far the least compelling book in the series. I think it's just inherently hard to write about an imaginary post-revolutionary world, although that of course immediately makes me think of Le Guin's The Dispossessed, which does a better job than Charnas' book of conceiving an ambiguous utopia. Charnas tries to explore the contradictions in the ideologies and agendas of the conquering feminists, but my memory is that it felt schematic, cautious, and dramatically flat. It lacked the bravura of Motherlines and The Furies. (The first book in the series, Walk to the End of the World, is very powerful in its own right, but I believe it was her first novel, so it wasn't quite as well written as the middle two books.)

So yeah, it's easy to imagine that if George Miller made a sequel that focused on Furiosa's new government, it might not be as good as the revolutionary Fury Road. The ellipses in the exposition that allow so much room for "speculative reading" (my phrase for the fannish love of creating rationales for what isn't explicit in the text) would probably be filled with the usual fantasyland bollocks. But it's still worth celebrating what it does accomplish: expanding the roles of women in a big-budget action blockbuster, and not coincidentally modifying the possibilities for heroic male roles at the same time. It certainly doesn't solve the political problems of the world, but it still feels like something to savor. We'll see if it still feels that way after the adrenaline rush wears off.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2015 11:57 pm (UTC)
I have mixed feelings about this. A quick check of Charnas' website shows it not updated since 2011, and she was obviously having some age-related problems then. I know only too well how rapidly such Problems advance, so.... *sigh*

May. 28th, 2015 12:30 am (UTC)
I see her posting to Facebook, and I just saw a picture of her at Wiscon, too. Not sure whether she's still writing fiction.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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