Mad Max - Mental Health in the Post Apocalypse

There is this scene in Mad Max Fury Road that resonated with me, much more so than the rest of the film already did. Max and Furiosa have led the escape from Immortan Joe and Max is driving the War-Rig through the desert. It's a long journey but eventually the group comes across a transmission tower. The ruins of the old world are already sparse in the Wasteland, we saw some oil derricks and flare stacks at the start of the film but that's it, so this relic of the old world already stands out. What makes the situation even more strange is the fact that there's a naked woman atop the tower.

 It's Megan Gale, butt-naked, in the middle of no where... if that doesn't set off alarm bells.

It's Megan Gale, butt-naked, in the middle of no where... if that doesn't set off alarm bells.

The thing is, Max takes one look at this scene and shakes his head... because he's not having any of it. 

 Nope!

Nope!

Now, you could pass if off as Max's survival instincts being so finely tuned that he can spot a trap a mile away, but I think there's more to it than that. See, if this whole scene was to simply showcase how crafty Max is, they could have placed anything as bait - food, fuel or weapons. The sorts of things that Max, and any man, would *need.* But the trap wasn't set with a bait that a man would need, it was set with a bait that most men would *want.* This is where the writers got it right and where the Vuvalini got it wrong.

(Side note - Can I just point out how bad it is that this trap was even set in the first place? You never really stop to think about it while watching the movie, because the outcome is averted... but look at the intended situation. There's a woman as bait, which means the intended victim was a man. This man would walk along, see a naked woman (who was screaming for help, mind you... so, as unlikely as it is in the Wasteland, he could genuinely want to help her) and go towards her. The trap would spring, Valkyrie would cease to be a helpless maiden and become the warrior-goddess she is and, backed up by the other Vuvalini, would proceed to kill this random guy. It's a subtle nod to the fact that the Vuvalini aren't much better than any of the men in the film. This is backed up by something The Dag says later on, but I'll get to that another day.)

 Brutal survivalists to the last, nobody is innocent in the Wasteland.

Brutal survivalists to the last, nobody is innocent in the Wasteland.

Max is someone who is haunted by his past, by the things he's done and by the things done to him, hence the title of the franchise. All throughout Fury Road we see him being hounded by visions of friends and family, those he's lost along his journey. In particular, there is a little girl that haunts him every step of the way. The only hint we get at Max's relationship with this little girl is when Immortan Joe's favorite wife, Splendid, falls from the War-Rig and is run over by Immortan Joe himself. There is a momentary flash, to Max's past.

 This is what we see - Max cradling the little girl, as she lay dead or dying. 

This is what we see - Max cradling the little girl, as she lay dead or dying. 

This is actually a very important scene in the movie, with the apparent death of one character bringing back memories of the death of another character. Throughout the film we're hearing whispers and seeing flashes of people who are long dead, they meld into the world and seem to harry and haunt at Max at every turn and this scene shows them for what they are - invasive thoughts. Max is someone who is traumatized by his past, to the extent that memories of his past will flash in his brain continuously and without warning. He's lost people close to him, so losing more people makes him think of the people he's already lost, and so he avoids people at all cost. 

"Here they come again. Worming their way into the black matter of my brain. I tell myself they cannot touch me. They are long dead. I am the one who runs from both the living and the dead. Hunted by scavengers. Haunted by those I could not protect. So I exist in this wasteland. A man reduced to a single instinct - survive."

When Max sees Valkyrie standing naked atop the transmission tower, he's not making an intellectual observation about it being a trap. His brain is activating self defense protocols and throwing up walls, telling him it's a trap to protect him from potentially getting close to someone only to lose them later on. There's a reason the Vuvalini used a naked woman as bait, they know that most men will want a woman - as a potential partner, for base physical release or even simply as a meal. The problem here is that Max is having none of that, we can see this early on in the film when he first meets Furiosa and the Wives.

 Six babes... and all he can see is the water.

Six babes... and all he can see is the water.

Max is not interested in getting close to any of these people, he even tries to ditch them before being forced to let them on the War-Rig with him. It's part of his whole story arc; having to learn to stop running, face what happened to him, and let others get close to him again. Max's brain isn't allowing him to even remotely consider relationships, let alone sex, at this stage in his life. He's been so traumatized by losing others that his brain is operating under the assumption that the safest path now is to avoid all emotional connections, for fear of subsequent pain.

So when he saw Valkyrie sitting there, he thought the same thing that any guy would think. But then that thought was overridden by the urge to get as far away from that as possible, simply to escape the possibility of more pain in his life. It takes a certain level of trauma for a guy to see a naked woman and think "threat" instead of "awesome!" And this is why this scene resonated with me, because I've actually been through something similar. Anyone who has read my book, Days Too Dark, probably knows that it's largely based on my life - which, as I always put it, has been "interesting." 

Back when I was eighteen I came home from work one night, I stepped into my bedroom and found two random girls in bikinis laying on my bed. I would like to say that I turned on the charm and tried my best to woo them, because that's what any normal teenage guy should have done... but that just wasn't what I was. No, my initial reaction was spin around and throw up my fists, then stalk through the house looking for the people that were obviously trying to kill me. I saw two scantly clad babes laying on my bed and alarm bells started blaring in my head.

 "Threat! Threat! Threat!" 

"Threat! Threat! Threat!" 

You lose people, you get betrayed, you get abused - your brain blows any potential risk way out of proportion and does its best to protect you. And why shouldn't it? That's what it's there for. If our ancestors saw a sabertooth tiger out in the wilds, they didn't stop to wonder if it was dangerous, they just fucking ran. This is because those that didn't run never got the chance to breed, simply because they were too busy getting shat out a few days later. Our brains are good at making shortcuts to save time and increase our chances of survival... which sometimes leads to overreactions in the modern world. If a situation, perhaps one involving other people, consistently results in mass amounts of pain and suffering then your brain is going to do it's best to get you out of similar situations.

The problem here is that once those shortcuts are ingrained they're very hard to get rid of, and this is where mental and emotional health issues result. You still want a connection with others, but your brain is operating under the assumption that it's going to result in pain and/or suffering, so it puts a stop to it. Max saw a naked woman standing alone in the desert and his brain perceived the situation as a threat. I saw two hot chicks in bikinis on my bed and my brain perceived the situation as a threat. Both of these reactions are the result of past traumas and they take a lot of time and effort to work through, to undo the lines of defense that your brain has erected... for your protection. 

I'd tell you what happened with the two girls in the bikinis, but that will ruin a part of the story in the sequel to Days Too Dark... needless to say, it didn't go how you'd expect. Although I didn't get the movie treatment, where a character can move on from all their issues within the time-frame of a single movie, I did spend the time, effort and money to move on from a lot of these issues. And I think that's important, because without help it's entirely possible to end up as someone like Mad Max - someone who runs from the living, and the dead. And I can tell you from personal experiences, that it's not as cool or as badass as it sounds. 

 There's nothing cool about always looking over your shoulder for something that's never there.

There's nothing cool about always looking over your shoulder for something that's never there.

Mad Max Fury Road was a fantastic film that had so many layers of plot and backstory written into it, I truly believe that it's one of those films that will stand the test of time. Max's character was so well written, I keep coming back to him over and over just to bask in how flawed he is and how meaningful his character growth is. Far too often we see characters, such as Wolverine and Batman, that are said to have deep-seeded issues resulting from personal trauma... but then they're also shown to be these suave love machines that bed almost every woman they meet. You can't have it both ways, you can't have the cause without the effect... if they're not fucked up by what happened, then it obviously wasn't that big of a deal. Trauma isn't just a trait you can throw onto a character to make them seem dark and brooding, it has to have real and debilitating consequences in the story. Trauma has to be something that characters need to overcome... otherwise, what's the point? 

It was nice to finally see a male character with emotional issues portrayed in a fashion that's more realistic, and it was nice to see him make some headway towards better mental health.  

 He's still got a long road ahead of him, but it's a start.

He's still got a long road ahead of him, but it's a start.