Robot Movie of the Week: The Road Warrior (January 23 - 29)

Images courtesy of Warner Bros.

The Road Warrior, directed by George Miller, was the film that launched Mel Gibson's career in America.  The vision of a post-apocalyptic world depicted in this film inspired dozens of films, music videos, and books, some of which (such as the cult anime film Fist of the North Star) can be construed as explicit ripoffs of the Mad Max franchise of films.  Indeed, The Road Warrior is the sequel to the original Australian film Mad Max, a film with a similar aesthetic and message, but whose iconic place was yielded to its sequel.  Mel Gibson's current status as persona non grata aside, the actor's minimalist performance holds the messy masterpiece together; the Australian cast as a whole shines in the setting of the Outback.  Anyone that has watched the film will remark that robots are not present but, thematically, The Road Warrior is notable as much for the absence of robots as it would have been for their presence.  The motif of Man vs. his own creation is as poignant here as it is in any film in which thinking machines are present.

The "Vermin Have Inherited The Earth" in The Road Warrior

"My life fades, my vision dims.  All that remains are memories.  I remember a time of chaos..."  This the voice of the narrator, a man that recalls the lives and times of the Road Warrior, and this is how the film begins.  Max traverses the road on the endless search for fuel, a necessity for life in the desolate expanse of the Australian outback in Max's time, just as much as it is today.  Max runs into soldiers of Lord Humungus's gang while he is recovering fuel from a downed truck.  Max and a pilot he runs into (called the Gyro Captain) watch as Lord Humungus's gang attacks a convoy from the desert camp where most of the people in the surrounding region live.  Max watches helpless as a woman in the convoy is brutally raped, but there is one survivor and after the gang leaves Max agrees to take the survivor back to the camp in exchange for his promise for fuel.  When Max reaches the camp, the residents view him as an outlaw and place him in handcuffs.  Soon after, Lord Humungus attacks the camp and warns the residents that he shall return if they do not surrender an oil tanker in their posession.  At this point, we meet the Feral Child, a boy raised in the wastleand who is unable to speak, but is very adept at using a boomerang; with a toss of the weapon, the child kills one of Humungus's gang and takes off the fingers on one hand of another.

The Feral Child.  As in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, the kids love Max.

Max leaves the camp to recover fuel in preparation for a siege by Humungus, and when Humungus's gang attacks, Max returns in the nick of time and assists the residents of the camp in withstanding the siege.  Rather than remaining with the camp, Max departs and soon has another run in with rogue members of Lord Humungus's gang.  Max is left battered after his ride blows up in the encounter and the Gyro Captain comes to the rescue and brings him back to the camp.  An ailing Max convinces the residents of the camp to allow him to drive the tanker to safety, and the rest of the film involves an expertly handled high-speed chase down the road as Lord Humungus and his gang attempt to retrieve the tanker.  Lord Humungus is killed in the encounter but Max survives to continue his endless trek along the road, without any clear destination.

Lord Humungus is a clear inspiration for multiple characters in Fist of the North Star

As noted above, there are no thinking machines in The Road Warrior, but the interpretation here is not altogether different from films where robots are present: in a desolate future, man struggles against his own creation.  Man's creation, techology, chains him to his need for fuel and places the remaining people and political units in an unending journey along "the road" in search for black gold.  It is evident here that Max represents Everyman; all we know about him is that he has lost his wife and child to marauders along the road, and now he traverses his desolate landscape, unchained to anything, in his quest for fuel.  Although representative of Everyman, in the context of the film Max is reduced to the primitive remnants of a man: silent, brooding, and unfeeling.  He is like early Man journeying across the African savanna, quiet and unemoted, but here he is in the desolate waste of the outback.  Rather than struggle against robotics (as the clear sequelae of Man's misguided attempts to rein in Nature), Max instead struggles against the inevitable consequence of the reliance of Man on technology: the necessity for a fuel.  Therefore, in The Road Warrior machines maintain their adversarial relationship with Man, but without the brutal and overt power struggle that is present in most films that feature robots or machines as enemies.  There is no T-1000 or maleficent artificial intelligence to struggle against; there is only the constant need for a fuel source.  View this film if you are interested in an early example of the post-apocalyptic vision in science fiction or if you would like to see Mel Gibson eat dog food.  Both of these are perfectly legitimate reasons in my book.

Ass-less chaps are de rigueur in the post-apocalyptic world

Max and his ride

Last Updated on January 30, 2011

Copyright 2011


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