The Road Warrior (Australia, 1981)

the-road-warrior-dvd-cover-09Directed by: George Miller. So here it is, and don’t ask me why I was compelled to watch this one again. I’ve seen this several times as a kid, but it’s been many years, and as one of my film profs used to say, if you haven’t seen a movie in the last 5 years, you haven’t seen it. I had this nagging memory as a child, of seeing the last part of this movie, and then a snippet of Beyond the Thunderdome, and getting a small glimpse at the mythology, the hint of a continuation of the story, of a larger, big statement about the future and the eventual recuperation of a primitive society after the blood-soaked, sun-parched, hockey-masked hell hole of this film (SPOILER: there is no larger statement). And I always had an urge to watch all three movies, to “get the whole experience” of this particular mythological world, because I do enjoy living inside a specific film’s mythological world. I took care of the original Mad Max a few years ago, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I was actually stumped as to why it spawned such a successful franchise—it looked to me like a paltry, B-movie version of a standard 70’s Dirty Harry cynical violent hero placed in a warped, dumbed-down Clockwork Orange setting. Now that I’ve re-watched the second one, Road Warrior, I can confirm that it is, indeed, the best one of the franchise (so far), and just as amazingly iconic and perfect as I remember it. Unlike Mad Max, which just plays out the conservative 70’s maxim that “the world’s gone to Hell, and its only saving grace is a violent white guy with a gun trying to shoot his way into making everything okay”, Road Warrior is set firmly in a world where nothing is ever going to be okay again: a completely desolate wasteland, and the nameless hero is a juicy combination between Eastwood’s Man With No Name and a real American Western cowboy. This movie is as typical of a reluctant hero story as you’ll ever see, with the caveat being the ending. The outlaw hero lives on his own, completely self sufficient, his only companions his car and his dog. But in this landscape, everyone is at the mercy of resources, of the precious and ever-dwindling gas. (Maybe not obvious to a 1981 audience, but ever present on my mind was the seemingly illogical conceit that dwindling gas resources would make gas more valuable instead of less, simply shift everyone to non-fossil-fuels…but this setup is infinitely more entertaining.) So the outlaw hero needs the community, if only for its gas, but in the end, the outlaw still has enough of the old world decency in him to compel him to give the community what it really needs to survive: himself. Because, like a classic Western, it goes without question that the community needs him, absolutely cannot do it without him. And the little twist at the end, when Max thinks he’s coming in and saving the community, he has all their hopes on his shoulders, it turns out they were five steps ahead of him, they were just using him as a decoy so that they could get away, and Max risked his life and eliminated the threat of the evil gang, all for a tanker of sand, not gas. It’s a perfect ending to a movie full of perfect moments, but not, of course, a perfect movie. The whole thing is still a B-movie, still full of shortcuts, and not fully thought out. The outlaw-hero/official hero opposition is pretty stunted due to the unceremonious death of the official hero, and the fairly stock motivation of Max to help the community (because it’s right, that’s all). What we have is a semblance of an American reluctant hero Western, but placed in the nihilistic setting of a post-apocalyptic Australian desert full of rampaging nomads, where the good guys wear white athletic padding and the bad guys wear black athletic padding, and the outlaw hero wears more black than anyone. This may be an under-thought, overly-violent, glorified 2-hour chase sequence, but I feel like the film’s modest parameters excuse all of that. It’s a simple, direct, post-apocalyptic Australian Western, and it’s exactly as it should be. And, when all’s said and done, it just might be the best thing we’ll get out of Mel Gibson.

4 responses to “The Road Warrior (Australia, 1981)

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