Furiosa: What That Twisted Biblical Imagery Really Means in Mad Max

George Miller stuffs Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga with imagery straight out of the Bible and other ancient sources, but what he’s saying is radically modern.

Chris Hemsworth as Christ in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

This article contains Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga spoilers.

It all begins with a a peach. That is the first thing audiences are asked to bear witness to at the start of George Miller’s long-awaited Furiosa. And it’s this simple luxury for which young Furiosa (Alyla Browne) will soon be cast out of paradise. Never one to make a play toward subtlety, even when he strives for plenty of nuance, Miller knows exactly what kind of loaded comparisons he’s demanding audiences to make. A girl; a red, ripe piece of fruit; and a forbidden act that invites lifelong punishment. Despite being only a child, Furiosa’s action will cause her to be stolen from her mother (Charlee Fraser), her sister, and the beloved Green Place. She will then spend the next 20 years desperate to get back to that land, but as viewers hopefully remember from Mad Max: Fury Road, it is by that point a fantasy which is never meant to be.

Like Eve from the Bible and other Abrahamic religions—a woman who allegedly stole an apple from the Tree of Knowledge and then convinced Adam to likewise condemn himself to banishment outside the Garden of Eden—Furiosa’s desire will lead to exile. She is sentenced to survive in a Wasteland where her mother is burned alive, her childhood is stolen by a false prophet calling himself Dr. Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), and her seeming soulmate (Tom Burke) is later brutally murdered before her eyes.

This is just one of the many striking images from antiquity, both of a biblical bent and otherwise, that Miller interweaves throughout Furiosa. There is also the aforementioned Dementus’ introduction where he is clad in a pristine white robe and beard, making him the spitting image of most Western depictions of Christ; the tribulations of an adult Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) are meanwhile described in the film as an odyssey, a la one of Homer’s two foundational texts of Western literature; and the other Homeric masterwork, The Iliad, is more overtly alluded to when Dementus’ followers conquer Gas Town with a veritable Trojan Horse, and again when the same fiend desecrates the body of Furiosa’s potential lover, Praetorian Jack, by having it dragged behind his motorcycles as it’s fed upon by dogs—just like Achilles is said to have done to Hector three thousand years ago before the walls of Troy (where his wife also looked on). Even the name “Praetorian Jack,” like “Imperator Furiosa,” is taken from actual Roman history, with both being titles of honor and power in an age of empire.

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So yes, Miller is playing with some very ancient imagery in Furiosa. Yet when I sat down to interview him, he also noted that it’s an image of humanity itself.

“It’s a reduced future that we have here,” Miller said. “It all starts next Wednesday with all the things we read in the press all happening at once… and people have to survive in a much more elemental world, which is much more akin to the sort of pre-20th century and even earlier medieval times… and that simplicity basically allows you to examine behaviors that are constant throughout the human narrative. In all cultures, all nooks and crannies of the world, these same stories are told.”

It is indeed a familiar story. But how Miller chooses to recontextualize it for Furiosa feels remarkably fresh and, perhaps in some circles… heretical.

Consider again the first major sequence which evokes Eve and the apple. For millennia this story has been used as a justification for the subjugation and marginalization of women. Eve is easily deceived, as “Genesis” tells us, by a serpent. She in turn clouds Adam’s better judgment. Despite the husband being the suggested superior in the text, he too bites from a forbidden fruit and follows his wife into damnation.

But that is not remotely like anything that is actually happening in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga when you examine the scene. For starters, as young Furiosa reaches for the peach, she is not seeking something that is forbidden or a pleasure for herself. In fact, she already has her peach and tells her kid sister “I’ll get the next one for you.” Little Valkyrie (Dylan Adonis) is scared about the situation, to be sure, but not because it’s forbidden. She simply fears they’re too close to the edge of the Wasteland. Rightfully so. Nothing Furiosa does in this opening is selfish or reproachful. She is in fact selflessly thinking of her family, but simply because she exists as a girl enjoying this life, she is targeted for abduction and harm by two men who are watching from the desert. The only devils in this paradise are those who would make a wasteland of it.

While we never fully know the hierarchy and customs of the Many Mothers who live in peace in the Green Place, it’s made abundantly clear that they almost universally eschew the influence of men, assuming them to be dangerous, destructive forces of oppression and pain. And it surely comes to pass that the two men who take Furiosa intend to use her to likewise exploit and destroy the Green Place as a locust consumes a field—and as they eventually consume Furiosa’s mother in flames.

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In this sense, Furiosa’s own personal creation myth is a massive expansion on the recurring question underlining Mad Max: Fury Road: “who destroyed the world?” It is the question that Immortan Joe’s “breeders” scrawl on the wall of their gilded cage before fleeing his clutches alongside Imperator Furiosa in that movie. They also ask it point-blank and in extreme close-up to one of Joe’s War Boys before casting him off their War Rig refuge. While the question, which very well may have originally been posed by Furiosa to Joe’s “wives,” is never verbally answered, the implication is obvious. Men destroyed the world. Now in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, Miller takes the time to show exactly how, and on a biblical scale.

The Green Place lost to Furiosa is ruled exclusively by women with their own customs, rituals, and beliefs. We’re never invited to fully know their religion, but it’s a common refrain for them to say “may the stars protect you.” It signifies some form of spirituality, but one devoid of the patriarchal connotations associated with most religions from antiquity to today, be it of a pantheon ruled by Zeus or of a single God whose self-appointed voices on earth often treat women as subordinate to men, usually using a story about Eve and an apple as one of many pretexts. At various points in history, women have been kept in conditions identical or worse to those of Immortan Joe’s breeders by men who claimed to be doing god’s work.

Meanwhile Furiosa’s odyssey into the Wasteland introduces her to good men, such as Praetorian Jack, and figures deserving of mercy, including Fury Road’s aforementioned and pitiable War Boy played by Nicholas Hoult. By and large though, the world Miller has modeled after our own history—be it pre-modern, medieval, or truly ancient—is just an extreme repeat of what came before.

We get a better idea of how this works in Furiosa. The ancient scribe and self-appointed historian who follows Dementus around is always whispering in his ear about this or that custom from the bygone days. It’s implied the old man’s dubious recitations of history likewise inform much of Dementus’ initial aesthetic. As a character who actor Chris Hemsworth described to me as “a circus sideshow,” Dementus is a veritable carnival barker or snake oil salesman. He’s the eternal conman who, as Hemsworth surmised, tells people that “I have the solution for the problems you’re suffering. Come this way.”

While we’d hesitate to say Furiosa is overtly criticizing any single religion, the movie is creating its own mythology about how those religious stories and texts are created, propagated, and finally exploited by men of power who are now in search for more of it. Dementus appropriates Christlike iconography, even as it’s unclear if this far into the post-apocalypse he even knows who Christ is. It’s simply a guidepost explained to him, likely by his captured historian, which becomes the basis to create his own self-aggrandizing myth. Surely the same happened to Immortan Joe, as he indoctrinated desperate youths into believing a grab-bag of tenets, be they from the ancient Romans with their praetorians and imperators, or the Vikings with promises of paradise in Valhalla.

“They’re variations on a theme,” Miller said. “Tyrannical figures, people oppressed, people sitting on top of dominance hierarchies where they control all the resources.” Stories of salvation offered by those who seek to make themselves king.

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So the Wasteland sees the same mistakes repeated and delusions canonized as Dementus drags Jack’s body through the dirt like mad, rage-filled Achilles—driven to fury because he feels like his own visions of legitimized kingship have been thwarted. Even Furiosa finds herself captured in a seemingly unwinnable revenger’s tragedy when an eventually defeated Dementus eggs her on to execute him, boasting he’s thrilled to see the little girl he knew became the other “most evil” creature to crawl across these dunes.

If Furiosa taught the Immortan’s wives the refrain of “who destroyed the world?” then it’s a theme she had plenty of experience with. Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that even her own film, her “odyssey,” is one that’s been mythologized and possibly distorted by the same endless cycle. After all, the movie is framed by that blasted historian’s narration. He even offers three possible endings to Dementus’ life before insisting that he alone knows the truth. “Furiosa whispered it to me the truth,” he claims as we watch the most twisted possible punishment: Furiosa uses her nemesis’ still living body as compost for a tree.

It’s plausible this is Dementus’ true fate since we see Furiosa bring peaches from said tree to the women she’s about to liberate at the end of the film. Perhaps this is even how the Many Mothers kept the Green Place so green all along in the Wasteland? Look at where that tree has sprung from. Perhaps they finally found a good use for all the men who would be king?

But we’d suggest to keep in mind the real end of this story is not Furiosa’s flight from the Citadel, but her victorious return to it after she assassinated Immortan Joe. At the end of Mad Max: Fury Road, Furiosa as originally played by Charlize Theron returns to the Citadel ascendant; she is raised toward the heavens as a new leader who will break from the Wasteland’s horrible past. So perhaps Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is just its own act of mythologizing (and deifying) a human leader? We tend to be more hopeful about Furiosa’s reign, but there is room to doubt. For his part, Miller remains curiously cryptic.

“I’ve honestly thought a lot about what happens to Furiosa when she takes over the Citadel,” he said. “But I’d rather other people speculate because stories are in the eyes of the beholder.” Still, he did muse, “As [Joseph] Campbell said, ‘Often yesterday’s hero becomes tomorrow’s tyrant.’ And that’s a story told over and over again, as well.”

Furiosa is in theaters now.

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