The Beauty of Furiosa Ending with a Tree

The ending of Furiosa might lead straight into Mad Max: Fury Road, but it also teases a brutal and strangely hopeful future beyond that.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Furiosa by fire
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

This article has some pretty big Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga spoilers.

For 18 years and 148 minutes of runtime, Furiosa simply wants to go home. This primal, human need is a universal motivation, and it takes on mythic proportions in a movie where audiences know that quest is doomed. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is of course being marketed as an “odyssey;” an epic about the formative years of the most badass character to ever cross the Wasteland. Yet because you should remember that the Green Place is long destroyed by the time Mad Max: Fury Road rolls along, this film and Anya Taylor-Joy’s characterization of this woman at its heart is haunted by an air of futility.

… Which makes the unexpectedly hopeful ending all the more beautiful as we discover what exactly Furiosa does beneath a tree with the man who took everything from her.

George Miller’s sprawling vision of Furiosa is in fact bookended by trees: those unlikely symbols of hope and renewal somehow finally existing in a universe renowned for its desolation and nihilism. After all, none of Miller’s characters have ever called their world a home, much less a country. It’s the Wasteland. And yet, the film begins in a land of love and plenty with young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) picking a fruit from a tree. The image is obviously suffused with Biblical foreboding, and yet it’s a purely gentle moment for an innocent who, living a happy childhood in the land of Many Mothers, seeks to collect peaches for herself and her sister.

Ad – content continues below

For her kindness, she is captured, stolen of that innocence, and forced to endure the heinous sight of seeing her mother burned alive by a man who claims fatherhood and ownership over her: Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). But not before mother Mary Jabassa (Charlee Fraser) instills in her daughter the need to survive and to one day plant the seed for a new peach tree in the Green Place. Throughout the rest of Furiosa, this seed remains a token of the life Furiosa left behind, and the happiness she can never reclaim. But even long after Taylor-Joy’s adult Furiosa develops a thousand-yard stare of seemingly numbed apathy, she never discards the seed. She even cradles it after losing the hand it was placed in by her mother, and the hair she long protected it within.

Which brings us back to the finale of the film and how that tree is finally planted. By the movie’s end, Furiosa’s epic takes on the dark bent of nearly all George Miller Wasteland Tales: it becomes another stor revenge. The very first Mad Max culminated with Mel Gibson’s titular Max Rockatansky finally going “mad” after his son was murdered and his wife placed in a coma by one of the earliest gangs to roam the highways. Yet forcing the ring leader to saw off his own foot does not ease Max’s anger or fill the void left behind.

Such is the fate Furiosa finds herself staring down at the end of her own origin story. Out in the dunes of post-apocalyptic Australia, she finally corners the man she holds responsible for everything she lost, Dementus. The bitter irony, of course, is Dementus has been so evil for so long he initially does not know why this strange wraith wants him dead. Even when offered the hint of having killed her mother, he still cannot place a name or face. It’s only after Furiosa takes his prized teddy bear, which he once gifted to her as a child, that he recognizes his “Little D.”

And he’s delighted.

The sick truth of Miller’s Wasteland, and perhaps the world at large, is human nature’s cruelty is cyclical and unending. It is as old as civilization, as we’re reminded by the Wasteland’s wobbly emerging societies appropriating terms like praetorian guards and imperators, or the promised lies of Valhalla. So too is Furiosa’s pain just the consequence of Dementus’ own ancient personal history. It’s implied he suffered a tragedy probably not unlike what Max Rockatansky endured in the first movie. He had “precious ones” taken from him, and that teddy bear—which George Miller told us is an image he’s had in his mind’s eye since first developing this story more than 15 years ago—became the last memento of Dementus’ old life. As it has now Furiosa’s.

By attempting to adopt Furiosa as a child in order to replace what was taken from him, Dementus condemned Furiosa to the same empty cycle of violence and revenge that never brought him peace. Years later he’ll even take a perverse pride at seeing the stone-cold killer she became because of his cruelties. He even mocks her by saying whether she kills him fast or slow, she’ll never gain “the satisfaction you seek.” Perhaps if she did execute him, she’d even end up the lonely and purposeless drifter that Mad Max has been in every film since 1979.

Ad – content continues below

… But she doesn’t kill him. Probably.

Among the several versions of Dementus’ fate we are shown, the final and most elaborate punishment is also the one we’re told by the film’s mythmaking narrator to be true: at a high and secluded place in the Citadel, Furiosa is said to have chained Dementus to the ground, and from his still living body planted that peach seed—growing a tree which feeds off Dementus’ own nutritious tissues.

It’s a macabre and scientifically dubious fate. It’s also strangely beatific. As our narrator explains the divine retribution, we watch Furiosa visit the tree some years after its planting. Now the vegetation grows ripe with peaches that are as full as Dementus is emaciated. And we’re also led to believe that this really is the truth since the next scene shows Furiosa bring one of those delicious fruits to the “wives” of Immortan Joe, women whom we know she’ll liberate in Mad Max: Fury Road.

There is beauty in this, aye, and salvation too. Throughout the many years Furiosa takes place, our heroine clings to what becomes an impossible delusion: returning to her youth and innocence. The Green Place was taken from her, and she’ll never step foot in that paradise again. She is banished like the Bible’s Eve. However, unlike that famous tale, Miller’s protagonist is not depicted as having done anything wrong or wanting. It is the men around her who cast her into exile and hell. Be that as it may, if Furiosa must be forever banished from the Green Place, it does not mean she cannot create a new one for herself and the many girls yet to come, the women of tomorrow who risk suffering the same horrors and debasements that transformed Furiosa into the Wasteland’s “darkest of angels.”

That tree is a promise of a better, hopeful future that breaks the cycle of violence, suffering, and revenge that made Furiosa. The  legacy of her idealized Green Place lives on in the Citadel she refuses to call home. Immortan Joe’s “wives” eat the fruit as their hopes for more from this ruined land grow. And they make those hopes a reality by fleeing with Furiosa from the Immortan’s clutches. We know due to the events of Mad Max: Fury Road that their destination is a mirage. There is no more Green Place. As Furiosa’s Praetorian Jack soberly warns the eponymous character in the prequel, there’s the Citadel, Gas Town, and the Bullet Farm. “There is nowhere else. This is the Wasteland.” So Furiosa is going to be forced to make somewhere else a reality.

When I spoke with Miller, he confided, “I’ve honestly thought a lot about what happens to Furiosa when she takes over the Citadel.” But he remains circumspect of what that might look like. He even offers alternatively positive and bleak futures, raising the prospect of human nature repeating the same mistakes for eternity.

Ad – content continues below

But we suggest looking again at that tree. Furiosa could never gain satisfaction from simply killing Dementus. Instead she makes him the literal foundation for a better future, including by having the tree grow through the male anatomy that is used so often by men like him and Joe to justify controlling women. And in the process of this morbid punishment, Furiosa finds a new way to feed people of the Citadel. One tree can become a forest, and with access to the water Joe hoarded for himself and his favorite sons and subordinates, Furiosa has the ability to make a new garden or paradise from the ruins left to her by the men who destroyed the world.

The tree is proof that, eventually, Furiosa will finally be able to get back home.

Furiosa is in theaters now.