Disclaimer: this article features spoilers.
This year, the new Mad Max film took the world by storm, and presented us with a world of its own. Not much is said about how exactly the world became this apocalyptic, but it is caused by nuclear weapons and wars. The world has turned to dust and sand. This primitive and savage world revolves around three things: food and water to survive, bullets to protect what they have to survive –or to take it, and gas to move around. Vehicles here are not only a way of escape, but they are also weapons
In some (post-apocalyptic) works, the world and environment function as a mere setting or decor. It is the background for a story about people surviving and overcoming obstacles and enemies. One reason for this is that all the social structures of the old worlds are literally dead or broken, and it is hard to write a dynamic world when there is so little going on compared to what we are used to in our world. It is often reduced to a free-for-all sandbox. On top of this, in case of films, there is just too little time to work in a detailed and vibrant world when you’re also trying to fit in an action-packed narrative. TV series are more suited for building dynamic worlds, since they have more screen time and can feature gradual and more detailed build-ups. In The Walking Dead, for example, there are a few settlements of people banding together in settlements to increase their chance of survival. The post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max is surprisingly dynamic and alive, which is especially surprising considering the fact that it is brought to us in (four) films.
The Monopoly at the Citadel
In Mad Max: Fury Road, we see the world and wasteland around the Citadel. The Citadel is a settlement in and around three huge rocks in the desert. Inside the Citadel is a source of “Aqua Cola”, as water is called here, and this makes The Citadel a key-structure. The one holding this structure is Immortan Joe, along with his sons and his legion of War Boys. Joe and his family are the ones in charge, and are in the top layer of the social hierarchy. Below them are the War Boys. They are Joe’s militia, who keep his Citadel and his goods safe, and who scavenge the wasteland. In the bottom layer of the social hierarchy are the people who have gathered at the foot of the Citadel in the hopes of getting some of Joe’s water.
Colonel Joe Moore, as Immortan Joe was called in his past, was told about the water supply in those rocks. He besieged the stones and fought the people in control of them. He managed to make his way inside with a very small group of his militia. He fights for days, and the remainder of his troops waiting below assumed him dead. Eventually Joe reappears, triumphantly. This earned him his name Immortan Joe. And then it became the Citadel.
Joe’s right-hand man, major Kalashnikov, is given command over a nearby iron mine site; the place becomes the Bullet Farm, an ammunition factory, and Kalashnikov is henceforth known as the Bullet Farmer. The person who tipped Joe about the water source in the Citadel is also rewarded: he is given command over a nearby oil source, and he becomes the People Eater of Gas Town. These three people form a triumvirate, and as they are all in charge of a key-structure, they are in absolute power. They own all the three sources of survival and their monopoly gives them power.
Joe uses his water to control the people gathering around the Citadel. He also uses it to grow crops and food. Thus the Citadel becomes an autarkical society; it can sustain itself. He trades water -and mother’s milk- for gas from Gas Town and bullets from the Bullet Farm. His War Boys are his militia, protecting his convoys and bringing in the scrap and loot from other tribes.
Nigh-Invulnerable: origins of power
While he may be in power, Joe is not quite invulnerable. He is afflicted by the radiation of the fallout that taints the world. He has boils on his body that get worse over time. To hide this and to keep up his appearance, he wears a piece of body armour that looks like a muscled body, and attached to it is a respirator for his lung problems. The respirator, too, has been modified to give him a mean look, as the mouth-piece is decorated with an almost canine set of teeth.
Joe’s three sons are also afflicted by the radiation. Two of them, Rictus Erectus and Scrotus, are grown to large, strong men, but have the mind of a child. The third, Corpus Collosus, is quite the opposite: while his body is deformed and has the size of a child, he is mentally mature. His name seems to be a play of words between ‘colossus’ (giant), which sounds ironic here, and the ‘corpus callosum’, which is the area in the brain that connects the two brain halves.
Joe also keeps a number of wives. Some of them have offered themselves willingly, just to be rescued from the life at the foot of the citadel. Joe uses his wives for milking, as he collects their mother’s milk. Considering the world, this actually makes sense. Animals are scarce here and so there are no animals to produce milk. Besides this, water is an expensive resource: in this dry desert world, many have killed to be able to drink some water. Besides this, it can also be used to grow the crops, which are part of Joe’s monopoly, and thus one of the sources of his power. The mother’s milk can thus help Joe save some of his water resources. Plus, with the number of women he keeps, it is quite easy to acquire. Lastly, it is very nutritious, as it is a source of calcium, vitamins, iron, sodium, potassium and protein.
Five women are kept apart, as they are his “prize breeders”. Joe keeps them to increase his chance of a healthy offspring. He keeps them in a vault; one very neatly arranged, with clean air, running water, and a teacher. For the standards of that world, they live very luxurious lives, yet on the other hand, they are forced to have sex with Joe. In the film it becomes clear how much Joe values his “prize breeders” and his hope of a healthy offspring, which can be seen when Angharad, one of the five women and pregnant of Joe’s child, jumps in front of Joe’s monster truck to save the rest of the women and Joe chooses to crash his truck rather than to hit her.
Joe’s position of power is ensured by several elements. First and foremost, it is the monopoly he has with his triumvirate on the means of survival. Another factor is the (semblance of) strength. While he is ill and afflicted, Joe needs to appear buff and strong, to prevent others from taking advantage of his weakness. His family needs to stay strong too: while he has three sons, they are all afflicted. He needs healthy children, who have a greater chance of a long life span, to pass on his legacy and leadership over the Citadel. For this, he needs women. He also needs women for their mother’s milk, so that he doesn’t have to drain his water supply.
The Cult at the Citadel
When Colonel Joe became Immortan Joe, it inspired a cult or religion around his new persona. Martin Southwold put forward a number of elements which (can) constitute a religion:
- A central concern with godlike beings and men’s relationship with them.
- A dichotomisation of elements of the world into sacred and profane, and central concern with the sacred.
- An orientation towards salvation from the ordinary conditions of worldly existence.
- Ritual practices.
- Beliefs which are neither logically nor empirically demonstrable, or highly probably, but must be held on the basis of faith…
- …an ethical code, supported by such beliefs.
- Supernatural sanctions on infringement of that code.
- A mythology.
- A body of scriptures, or similarly exalted oral traditions.
- A priesthood, or similar specialist religious elite.
- Association with a moral community…
- Association with an ethnic or similar group.
The cult that revolves around Immortan Joe shares a lot of these elements. First of all, Joe is a god or godlike figure to his War Boys (point 1). The chant of the War Boys in full is fukusima kamakrezie war boys. The chant, however, is never explained. ‘Fukusima’ sounds like the Japanese nuclear power plant Fukushima, which could be a reference to the nuclear origin of this apocalyptic world, and the radiation affliction in general. In the comic, however, it is also used as a different version of the word ‘fuck’. ‘Kamakrezie’ sounds like a combination of crazy and kamikaze. This could point towards their crazed enthusiasm for Joe’s cause, as well as to the fact that they will sometimes try to sacrifice themselves for Joe’s greater good, as can be seen when War Boy Nux tries to blow up his car to capture Furiosa, who has driven off with a truck full of mother’s milk and Joe’s prized women.
Joe controls his War Boys by inspiring them with the thought that they can obtain glory in (vehicular) battle. The glorious ones will ride into walhalla “shiny and chrome” in the afterlife that Joe promises them. Winning glory in battle is not new to religion or a cult. Think, for example, of the Vikings, who believed that death in battle was glorious and led them to Walhalla. The cult of the War Boys, then, is quite similar to the Viking beliefs.
Their ethical code, then, is connected to acting worthy of glory in the eyes of Joe, and the infringement of that code is both not going to Walhalla, and being deemed “mediocre” by Joe (points 6 and 7).
Furthermore, they believe their lives contribute to the greater good of Joe’s, and believe that killing and looting is for the greater good too. These beliefs that they hold on to because of their faith (point 5), are illustrated best in the “Then who killed the world?”-scene:
Angharad: Breeding stock! Battle fodder!
Nux: No, I am awaited!
Angharad: You’re an old man’s battle fodder! Killing everyone and everything!
Nux: We’re not to blame!
Angharad: Then who killed the world? 
It seems that not only the people who caused the fallout are blamed, but also the warlords who dominate the time after. It also shows the War Boy’s solid belief in their cause.
Since vehicles are so important in battle and in wasteland life, it is only logical that they are incorporated into the religion. The War Boys chant “V8!” after the best engine that can be found, with an almost mythological status. You could say it is the Holy Grail of that world. They also have a characteristic gesture, crossing the fingers of their two hands, also resembles a V8 engine. This could be considered part of their ritualistic practices (point 4).
All this shows that the cult around Joe can actually be considered a full-fledged religion. Joe is a godlike being, who inspires his War Boys with promises of an after-life, and manipulates them through a certain ethical code.
Justice and civilisation
When the world becomes more savage, man too becomes more savage; to survive means to fight, and to fight means to survive. There is hardly any justice, for much is settled with violence. However, an earlier film (Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome) showed that somewhere else in the ‘new world’, there is a town, Bartertown, with something resembling a court. Here, people can come to Aunty Entity with a criminal case, which is then to be settled through 1-on-1 arena combat in the Thunderdome. Bartertown is also a good example that not all people have survived in tribes: while it is not as friendly as your average town, people are gathering and building larger settlements. People are coming together to trade. Not all civilisation is lost.
Arena fights are also shown to be a source of entertainment in this world, quite similar to the Roman Colosseum. The world has become more savage and primitive, and so it is only logical that entertainment in this world is also more savage and primitive. In the comic released alongside the Fury Road film, Max is shown participating in an arena fight to win a V8 engine.
In short, the wasteland in Fury Road is more than nothing, and the ‘new world’ is not empty: while it is a long way away from civilisation, there is some structure in the world that George Miller built. Immortan Joe and his triumvirate have an economic monopoly on the most important resources: water and food, oil, and guns. There are distinct social layers around the Citadel – (1) Joe and his family and peers, (2) the War Boys, and (3) the people at the foot of the Citadel. These layers are based on economic ‘usefulness’ – the ones in power, the ones who help keep those in power in power, and the people dependent on the ones with power. Not only is there an economic structure here, there is also a cult. The cult around Joe is a full-scale religion; it seems as if it has developed naturally around Joe’s ‘heroic’ conquest of the Citadel and included the most important elements of life in the wasteland: vehicles. Lastly, civilisation is very scarce but not completely gone; there are tiny scraps of justice and entertainment to be found.
- Bermejo, Lee and George Miller. Mad Max: Fury Road. DC Comics, Burbank, CA (2015). Print.
- “Breast Milk”. Self-Nutrition Data, nutritiondata.self.com. <http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/2917047/2> Web. Accessed 7 Sept. 2015.
- Kunin, S.D. Religion: The Modern Theories. Edinburgh, Edinburgh UP (2005). Print. p. 164.
- Mad Max: Fury Road. Dir. George Miller. Perf. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byme.
- Bermejo, Lee and George Miller. Mad Max: Fury Road. DC Comics, Burbank, CA (2015). Print.
- George Miller. Mad Max: Fury Road. Warner Brothers, 2015. DVD.