Max is haunted by his past, and turned into nothing more than a body by Immortan Joe. But here’s the key: in the opening scenes we root for him against the powdered boys who are attacking him. As the chase begins we are rooting for him and Furiosa, and cheer as War Boys bite it. I went in blind, so I assumed Nux was dead after the crash, and thought that Miller was going for the sick joke of Max being tied to a corpse for half the movie. But no–Nux wakes up. So then I thought he was going to be the secondary antagonist, clinging to the truck and striking at Furiosa and the women from within. But no–after he fails to assassinate Furiosa and humiliates himself in front of Joe, he’s just a kid. A traumatized, enslaved kid who’s been duped into craving Joe’s approval over all else. He loses his reason for living when he fails, and has to remake himself on the run, just as the women are. Just as Max is. As the chase continues, more and more of his paint fades away, until we see the real face underneath. And this comes to mean even more as the cars continue to explode: under the paint and the war cries, every boy on those trucks is a kid just like Nux. All the drummers. Coma-Doof. Even the horrible Rictus Erectus manages to sound sweet and vulnerable as he shares the news of his brother. Miller has subverted the story again: other than Joe (and possibly The Bullet Farmer and The People Eater…), there aren’t really any villains here.
And then he takes that a step further as well. Nux has been trained to live for a fiery death, and he gets it–but he gets it on his own new terms. Having experienced something like real love with Capable, he sacrifices himself to kill Rictus and save the woman he was maybe starting to hope he had a future with. This is terrible, and I felt it more than any of the other deaths in the film, but it also allows him to transform his destiny. Rather than being a slave to Joe’s war machine, he is a free and independent young man who sacrifices himself for others by his own choice.
....Furiosa is terribly wounded during the storm on the Citadel, and is clearly dying. Given all the other deaths in the film I figured this was it for her, and she’d be the grand sacrificial figure. Instead, Max tells her his name–which I think marks the first time in the series that he’s chosen to tell someone his name?–and then, like Nux, takes the role Immortan Joe forced on him and transforms it into something better. Having been turned into a Blood Bag against his will, he chooses to give his blood to Furiosa, and the thing that seemed like just a sick joke/dystopian objectification at the beginning of the film is turned into an act of healing. He is doing it purely to save her, but in doing it makes a new connection to humanity, and to the better part of himself, just as Nux did in his sacrifice. He becomes a hero through this healing act, not through fighting.
....Much as silent film used to be able to reach across cultures and languages, Miller’s focus on action and emotion over dialogue and exposition allows us to experience the story in a direct, intimate way. The people who referred to this film as a “Trojan Horse” were completely correct—but Miller wasn’t smuggling feminist propaganda, he was disguising a story of healing as a fun summer blockbuster. By choosing to tell a story about how a bunch of traumatized, brainwashed, enslaved, objectified humans reclaim their lives as a balls-out feminist car chase epic with occasional moments of twisted humor, George Miller has subverted every single genre, and given us a story that will only gain resonance with time.
-- Leah Schnelbach