It seems every time I turn on the boob tube, it’s more of the same: highspeed mayhem, explosions and an ever-higher body count.
And that’s just the trailer for the latest Mad Max sequel, Fury Road.
I haven’t seen this movie; it doesn’t open until May 15. But I think I’ll skip it. Who needs more of “the old ultra-violence,” as Alex DeLarge, the bowler-hatted hooligan in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange so quaintly put it — when the world is awash with the regular stuff?
Take your pick, from beheadings to mass abductions, drone strikes to the demolishing of entire towns, the 21st Century’s proving itself bottomlessly adept at wedding archaic forms of cruelty with the latest industrial know-how.
Compared to what appears to be going on in Mexico, Syria, Nigeria or Iraq, the daily rat-at-tat of assorted shootings in this country seem like the morsels pretentious restaurants serve between courses as palate fresheners.
I remember when the first Mad Max film came out, in 1979. It was a stark, low budget revenge fantasy — a comic book with live actors that added yet another wrinkle to a new wave of films coming from Australia. The movie’s dystopian fixation on space and speed was inspired by the 1973 oil crisis. As co-screenwriter James McCausland wrote: “George [Miller] and I wrote the script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late.”
Given this context, you could say the movie had a certain metaphoric cache. It also chimed with the theory, embraced fulsomely by successive generations of arrested-adolescent (mostly) males, that film at its best is about nothing so much as unadorned action.
Depictions of violence, of course, are as old as dramatic art itself. The Greeks, from whom we derive our understanding of tragedy and comedy, were forever stabbing, gouging and disemboweling. These acts, or their threat, were ways of showing how much the lies, delusions, and weaknesses of the characters mattered. Violence equaled consequence.
But today it seems violence has become a default mode for lack of imagination. Acts of violence are strung together and called a storyline. This is what overtook the 1980’s Mad Max sequels, Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, wherein high octane bombast was confused with mythmaking. Violence, it turns out, is like noise. The more you use it to get peoples’ attention, the louder it needs to be. In the end, instead of feeling the fear and pity the Greeks tried to evoke, people feel desensitized.
In this, life seems increasingly to imitate art. The idea of hijacking passenger jets and flying them into skyscrapers and other buildings is, at its core, nothing if not cinematic. The 2008 terrorist storming of a luxury hotel in Mumbai weirdly recalled Irwin Allen’s all-star disaster flicks from the 1970’s.
That’s why I’ll skip Fury Road. The trailer tells me more about the future than I can bear.