When Dorothy wakes from her dream at the end of The Wizard of Oz (1939), she explains to her surrounding family and friends that “some of it wasn’t very nice, but most of it was beautiful.” The comment draws appropriate attention to contemporary moviegoers’ groundbreaking experience of Technicolor (LaFrance; Higgins), but also reminds them of what that Technicolor might overwhelm: the real darkness that Dorothy has faced in both Kansas and Oz. Though the girl had wished for a “place where there isn’t any trouble,” Oz is not without its issues (Rushdie). The Wicked Witch is the most prominent of these issues—she rues Dorothy’s ability to “destroy [her] beautiful wickedness” [italics mine]—but the Emerald City and its political system, as Vujin has pointed out, is arguably a dystopia as well (63). Against this backdrop, Dorothy must help her benighted comrades, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, rediscover their self-worth (represented by brains, heart, and courage, respectively). This journey of self-discovery for Dorothy and her fellows alike is represented by the transparent metaphor of the yellow brick road. The road is, in fact, the central image of the film, its yellow brick a counterpoint to Dorothy’s glittering red shoes, both road and shoes critical to Dorothy’s self-actualization.
I argue here that another road movie, George Miller’s Mad Max 2 or The Road Warrior (1981) actively alludes to Victor Fleming’s Wizard of Oz and, by extension, its textual inspiration, Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.In doing so, Mad Max 2 questions the narrative of hope wherein an outsider and hero can both save a community and ensure their own salvation at the same time. This is primarily accomplished by the juxtaposition of the character Mad Max with the tragic backstory and physical impairment of the Tin Man, a complete character arc available when considering Baum’s story and Fleming’s film together (a necessity of the intermediality of these two texts). This argument engages in the active conversation about adaptation and intertextuality taking place within film studies and allows for a reconsideration of dystopia as constructed in Miller’s original Mad Max trilogy. When we map the Tin Man narrative (and the larger Wizard of Oznarrative) onto the tale of Mad Max 2, we realize the thrust of the latter film even more acutely: unlike the morally black-and-white characters of Baum who achieve their wishes by the end of the book and the film, the dystopic world of Mad Max leaves its morally-ambiguous hero in limbo, forever traveling without arriving. The road may lead others, but not Max himself, to a paradise. This conclusion serves ultimately as a comment on the inevitable dystopia embedded in any narrative that offers utopic hope (in this instance, united community in safe place). The Mad Max films implicitly argue, via allusion, that there may be Oz, but no Dorothy, no rewarded protagonist or hero, in the postapocalyptic landscape.1
GEORGE MILLER AND INTERTEXTUALITY
Recent scholarship on film adaptation studies has emphasized both the lack of primacy accorded either original or translated work when placed in comparison with each other and the disregard of directorial intent to determine intertextual connection. Foundational theorists Mikhail Bakhtin and Gérard Genette are frequently cited by critics as models for the dialogic perceived in cinematic allusion, in which references are written against a backdrop of “countless earlier texts,” like the palimpsest of Genette’s metaphor (Brooker 112-114; Stam 155; Leitch 63).2 This work has been expanded upon by scholars who have emphasized that adaptation is ultimately an “instance of cultural recycling” (Aragay, Lopez 201), verbiage that values both original and new without according precedent and acknowledges the palimpsestic nature of any remake.3 This two-way flow of knowledge destabilizes the control of the author and establishes connections between disparate works, “whether the adaptation is ‘intended’ or a more covert appropriation of transmedial or modal constituents” occurs (Schober 89).4 Therefore, audience and receptor can create meaning in addition to author or director; audience is, in fact, crucial to the acknowledgement (one and the same, in this context, with the existence itself) of allusion (Schober 89; Layton 113). The recipient of a text, therefore, both helps to create that text and interpret it, since allusion’s role is primarily that: to provide context for interpretation (Biguenet 131). And given the ubiquity of modern cinema, as Biguenet points out, almost everything is context: “It is virtually impossible today to pluck a note…that will not reverberate” (131). Consequently, the control of directors over their film’s meaning is limited.
George Miller is a director who readily admits his lack of control over the interpretation of his films, acknowledging both the possibility of unrecognized inspiration and the impossibility of guiding audience reception. In an interview about Mad Max 2, he notes that he is “not entirely sure of all the cultural influences that shaped the film,” elsewhere citing his “bad conscious memory, for specifics” (Barra 4; Chute, Miller 31). In which case, writers have credited the “fans and critics” who “have been happy to enumerate [the cultural influences that shaped the film]” (Barra 4). Miller, in agreement with the sentiment, has said that the “audience starts to tell you what your film is” (Davies).
The audience has been diffuse in its interpretations. Some writers determine very specific influences on the trilogy, including the 1975 film A Boy and His Dog, while others find more general allusions to Eliot’s The Wasteland, with Mad Max a post-apocalyptic Fisher King, or Homer’s Illiad (Barbour 29-30; Barra 4; Dilworth).5 Miller has cited none of these as inspirations, but many of the readings are compelling. Postcolonial critics also unpack the references that Miller makes to native Australian Aboriginal culture (including boomerangs and dream-narratives), though Aborigines themselves are elided from his work (Broderick 616; Corbett 339; Douglas; Danks 32).6 Perhaps the reason that all of these narratives and discussions can coexist is because Miller himself considers his films to contain a universal appeal to the basic foundation of story.7 The meanings overlaid on this basic structure are up to the audience.
Like most directors, Miller possesses a depth of knowledge regarding the history of the cinema that informs his approach to film. As the director of not only Mad Max, but also of Babe, he is undoubtedly aware of the influence of Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz, whose saturated color is echoed in Mad Max 2’s “surreal color scheme of red rocks and azure skies” (Chute 28).8 And The Wizard of Oz boasts a unique connection to Miller’s Australian homeland, despite its American origin. After all, Australia is Oz in some emic parlance. Regardless of these links, though, this article does not seek to establish Mad Max 2 as a deliberate remake of Fleming’s film. Instead, it uncovers the allusions that nonetheless exist and retroactively shape Mad Max 2 as an homage and response to the happy endings of both Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz and Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, endings that do not address or unpack the necessity of sacrifice to achieve utopia. It is, in every sense of the word, an Ozploitation film.
DYSTOPIA & AUSTRALIAN CINEMA
Mad Max 2 has been labeled the “quintessential Australian movie” (Tranter 68). This is in no small part because of the genre to which it belongs: the Ozploitation film (Douglas; Dunn 201). The Ozploitation genre experienced renewed appreciation with the release of the 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! and is primarily defined as those Australian films of the 70s and 80s that exploited violence and sex for audience turnout (Ryan, Goldsmith 2). The exploitation films are labeled as Ozploitation because of Australians’ self-assumed nicknamed for their country, Oz, a result of voicing the s in Australia (Aussies are thus Ozzies) (Algeo 86; Frisch 227).
Though it is tempting to draw a connection between Baum’s book, Fleming’s film, and this adopted nickname, it is presumptuous to do so. At most, one can recognize the influence of Baum and Fleming in Australian pop culture (Algeo 86-87). The book was widely linked with the country by 1963, and many readers theorize that Baum’s Oz was in fact Australia (Algeo 88; Hearn 30). Regardless of Baum’s intention, the story has taken hold in Australia. Sydney is often referred to as the Emerald City, and “We’re Off to See the Wizard” from Fleming’s film was adopted as a wartime march for Australian soldiers during World War II (Frisch 227). A 1976 movie even remade the Wizard of Oz narrative as a distinctly Australian road movie with a rock music score (Gardner lxxxix).
Due to the plethora of associations between Australia and the fictional Oz, Mad Max criticism has already unintentionally linked the two narratives, whether by analyzing the car’s contribution to a depiction of Australian post-apocalypse as a “petrochemical, chrome-plated republic of Oz” (Tranter 77) or by describing the Feral Kid as “part Munchkin” (Mortimer 148). So far, however, no one has deliberately identified the specific visual and dialogue cues that strongly link together Miller’s Mad Max 2, Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz, and Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or discussed the resulting insight into Mad Max 2’s representation of utopia. It is a productive comparison, not least because The Wizard of Oz frames Dorothy’s dream as an act of cinematic viewership (Rushdie), and George Miller describes cinematic viewership as “a kind of public dreaming” (40,000 Years of Dreaming). Both comment on the relationship between viewer and film, the foundation of allusion.
Doru Pop argues that “utopia and dystopia are dialectically intertwined” as they navigate different visions of past, present, and future (190). Even in Miller’s dystopic portrayal of the Australian outback, the two states exist simultaneously.There is “a promise of salvation” in each of the Mad Max films (Pop 194). In speculative films, this glimmer of hope (the “implicit or repressed utopia”) highlights the need for present change, underscoring the “social criticism” inherent in a picture of the ruined future (Ruppert 8, 13). Thus, dystopian films follow a specific pattern, presenting hope or, often, “utopian endings” to resolve the characters’ struggles (Murphy 239).
Though The Wizard of Oz is, strictly speaking, neither a utopian or dystopian film, it does feature a girl trapped in a literally dark world, hounded by the legalistic forces that threaten her dog, and menaced by a tornado on the horizon. However, her escape to Oz represents an about-face. The world, unrelentingly cheerful due to its Technicolored palate, presents an optimistic view of inevitable success, despite witches and flying monkeys. However, if dystopia carries utopia within it, the reverse seems also true. It follows naturally, then, that utopian films (insofar as they actually exist) must embed within them the memory or possibility of failure and dystopia. The land of Oz, which seems a potential utopia, harbors a darkness of its own. The Wizard’s mode of rule is questionable and he is first presented as an antagonist to Dorothy and her companions. The unspoken background of Dorothy’s companions (the Tin Man, especially), represented in the underlying text of Baum’s work, introduces a darkness more unpalatable than mere melancholic nostalgia. Salman Rushdie, in his famous essay on the movie, remarks how the grimness of the tale is revealed in its genre, the bildungsroman: it strips away the fantasy that adults can truly save children. The takeaway from this is that “our belief in Wizards must perish, so that we may believe in ourselves” (Rushdie). Mad Max 2 argues a rather similar point: our heroes must be sacrificed to the good of the greater community.
The Australian road movie, as opposed to the yellow-bricked confectionary of Oz, is defined by masculine fantasy and property destruction. The genre was embraced by Australian filmmakers as a means by which to explore the country’s history, one deeply impacted by the freedom of the automobile (Tranter). It was also appropriate to the conveyance of a dystopic message, steeped as the image of the car was in the struggle over oil—a struggle that threads through the original three Mad Max moves, as well as Fury Road (Pop 192-93).
On a more universal level, though, the road is a metonym for movement itself, one that indicates constant metamorphosis (Rayner 149). It works as such in The Wizard of Oz as the yellow bricks literally lead Dorothy on her journey and unite her with her companions. Their journey on the road reveals to them the very qualities they seek from the Wizard, though it cannot take Dorothy home. In Mad Max 2, the road leads Max away from the past he hopes to forget, the tragic death of his wife and child. Instead, it guides him toward companions who bring him back into the folds of society and force him to embrace his own emotions (Dunn 205; Mortimer). Given the way in which the road unites both protagonists with their companions, the films would initially seem to present Max as a parallel figure to Dorothy. However, Dorothy saves her companions in the process of saving herself, leaving behind the road in order to do so. Max, in contrast, saves his companions and, in the process, is abandoned. So, Max’s Dorothy-like qualities are ultimately undermined as the film embraces a darker outlook.
In the following analysis, I will highlight how Mad Max 2 disassociates Max from Dorothy and examine his closer analogue, the Tin Man, whose tragic backstory accounts for his literal and metaphorical hollowness, and who regains feeling only to be abandoned by those who seek a home. I will also examine the ways in which Mad Max 2 exaggerates the threat of the talker (the Wizard) rather than the fighter (the Wicked Witch) and presents analogues of the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion as Max’s companions. Through these allusions, Mad Max 2 critiques the false optimism of The Wizard of Oz.
OZ AND PARADISE IN MAD MAX
Mad Max 2 begins with a montage scene and a voiceover that establishes the present dystopia, Max’s previous career as a policeman, and his backstory (the death of his wife and child). As the Max of Mad Max stares beyond the camera, the narrator introduces him as a “shell of a man”: “A burnt out, desolate man, a dead man, running from the demons of his past.” The shot centers in on the silhouette of the former cop, walking away from the graves of his wife and child. Transitioning, the film superimposes the image of the white-striped road that defines Max’s travels over the man himself. This shot of the road is used to cut to the present Max, stubbled and grim, speeding down the road in his Interceptor. The juxtaposition represents the road as an integral part of Max himself as the US title of the film, The Road Warrior, also indicates. Synonymous with the road, however, Max is removed from any society or resting place.
The narrator and the inhabitants of the oil refinery whom Max eventually saves perceive Max’s self-alienation as an issue of the heart. Consequently, when Max finally prioritizes the community’s need over his own desire to leave, their leader Pappagallo asks, “Why the big change of heart?” Max is not eager to analyze his own motivations, but he nonetheless carries through with the community’s plans to escape their tormentors—a gang led by Humungus and Wez—with the oil that will sustain the refiners during their trip. This line of dialogue would be a throwaway cliché if not for the film’s insistent attention on the state of Max’s heart and the cavity where it once was. “What burned you out?” Pappagallo asks earlier in the movie, echoing the narrator’s own initial description of Max.
Max’s change of heart is symbolized on-screen by his treatment of the music box he recovers from an abandoned rig. While attempting to retrieve gas from the wreck of one of Wez’s goons, Max explores the surrounding area, including the rig. Momentarily distracted from his search by the ghastly shriek of the dying goon, Max notes the hand of the dying driver extending from the wreck. The hand curls into a claw, reminiscent of the death of the Wicked Witch of the East and her shriveling feet. Immediately after, a bloated corpse falls from the rig and drops a music box that plays “Happy Birthday.”Max studies the song, symbolic to the audience of rebirth, and tucks the box into his jacket by his chest. Later, Max hands over the box to the fascinated Feral Kid, and the exchange of the item traces the growth of their relationship; at first the box is easily handed over, but later Max must use it to entice the Kid away from danger, as Max’s protective instincts for his new community kicks in. This latter moment is significant for marking Max’s conversion, his attempt to bond with other humans once again. The music box serves as a mechanical, gear-driven representation of his heart.
The music box thus serves as a multi-valent allusion to both Dorothy (recovering an item of worth from the dead witch) and the Tin Man (who is awarded a clockwork heart to replace his own former fleshly one). This allusion, however, is embedded alongside others which direct us to interpret Mad Max as a new Tin Man rather than Dorothy. The Tin Man, in The Wizard of Oz, pins his human identity on the possession of a heart: “Just because I’m presumin’/That I could be kinda human,/ if I only had a heart.” In the movie, his lack of heart is attributed to a lapse on the part of the tinsmith: “The tinsmith forgot to give me a heart.” When Dorothy expresses incredulity, the Tin Man confirms again, “No heart. All hollow.” The movie here alludes to, but does not expand upon, the even more tragic narrative of Baum’s book—in which the Tin Man is cursed by the wicked Witch of the East because the guardian of the girl he loves does not look favorably on their match. As a consequence, in the course of his duties as a woodman, he gradually chops off more and more of his body. The tinsmith repairs his body bit by bit: “the tinsmith came to my help and made me a body of tin, fastening my tin arms and legs and head to it, by means of joints, so that I could move around as well as ever. But, alas! I had now no heart, so that I lost all my love for the Munchkin girl” (Baum 100).
Without a heart, the Tin Man’s greatest threat is rust, a problem he faces in both book and movie. Dorothy sights him first, among the woods, by his frozen leg. In order to help the Tin Man move again, Dorothy uses an oil can to lubricate his joints. This image is echoed in Mad Max 2, as one of the refiners uses a near-identical oil can to lubricate Max’s leg-brace before the warrior heads out on his own quest to retrieve the rig needed to transport the oil (see Figure 1). The focus on the rusted leg unites the images of the Tin Man and Max, though their dependence on a Dorothy-figure varies across the two films. The Tin Man is almost completely reliant on Dorothy’s aid to move. Max can move without this aid, but willingly accepts the lubrication so as to reduce the noise he makes. His leg has continually squeaked in the movie before this moment. The oil can, in Mad Max 2, thus symbolizes the very specific ways in which the oil refinery can be of use to Max on both physical and communal dimensions, helpful but not necessary to survival.
In evoking the physicality of the Tin Man, Max subsumes any Dorothian characteristics into this character, negating her presence in the dystopian landscape.9 As such, he also subverts the narrative of the dog-companion (Toto) into that of tragedy. Granted, Toto, in The Wizard of Oz,faces the ominous threat posed by the Wicked Witch of the West’s alter-ego Miss Gulch, but by the end of the film, all such danger has been forgotten or postponed in the wake of Dorothy’s successful return/awakening in Kansas. In Mad Max 2, Max has a dog companion, simply named Dog. Dog wears a red handkerchief and is a loyal sidekick, a co-rider in Max’s car, but is shot dead by Wez’s goons. The dog’s sacrifice saves Max’s life, but this plot development foreshadows Max’s own fate as sacrificial hero.
Wez and his superior, Humungus, are marked as evil in the film by many of the same indicators that mark both the Wicked Witch and the Wizard as threats of varying degrees in their own world. Though Wez’s very name evokes the Wizard, it is Humungus who embodies the performative charade of the Wizard’s throne room, though we see, time and time again, how much more effective Humungus’s performance is. Humungus speaks in highly elevated rhetoric through his maskwith the aid of a microphone, and he uses the dead and dying bodies of the refiners to punctuate his speeches. Like the Witch, who arrives in puffs of red smoke, and the Wizard, whose throne is surrounded by spurts of flame, Humungus is also backlit by gouts of flame as he menaces the oil refinery. The goons on motorcycles who circle the refinery at Humungus’s orders are reminiscent of the flying monkeys. It is Wez who is more closely related to these riders, however, and Wez, who with his red mohawk and black-feathered shoulder pads more directly evokes the Witch. He is also driven by a more sympathetic anger—the death of his lover—as the Witch is motivated by the death of her sister (and the stolen shoes). As the charismatic speaker, evocative of the Wizard, Humungus is the greater and more transcendent threat. This turn emphasizes the greater corruption of the humbug who sends children off into danger for his own cowardly reasons in Fleming’s film. The allusion in Mad Max 2 illuminates the darker elements of The Wizard of Oz, reinterpreting the older film even as it navigates dystopia anew. In Mad Max 2, the villain as orator is stripped free of pretense, a menace as clear as the Witch who embraces her own wickedness as “beautiful.”
Much as both the Wizard and the Wicked Witch of the West stand in the way of Dorothy and her companions’ desires and their enjoyment of the Emerald City, Humungus, Wez, and their goons stand in the way of the refiners, who wish to escape the refinery with their oil and travel to “Paradise,” the sunny Sunshine Coast. The coast is perceived as an escape from the barren outback—given it is imagined as a place of literal fertility: “Bloody paradise. Fresh water…plenty of sunshine…nothing to do but breed…” The end goal of the refiners is prefigured by the green hill that frames Max’s car as he approaches the refinery, a rare sight of green growth against the backdrop of the wilderness.
However, as much as the refiners wish to reach an Emerald City of their own, the refinery already represents a type of Emerald City, and Pappagallo, a Wizard-figure to mirror the outside menace of Humungus. When entering the refinery, Max finds a group of people who are dressed coordinately, largely in white and tan with a smattering of pastels, much like the green that unites the inhabitants of the Emerald City. He is pressured via emotional manipulation by Pappagallo—whose name means parrot or puppet, not unlike the giant holographic Wizard—to help the refiners escape. And Pappagallo is not entirely up front in his request, since Max seems unaware of the fact that the tanker he will be driving is a strawman (filled with sand rather than oil).10 Max ends up driving the tanker as a decoy for Humungus and his toadies, while the rest of the refiners escape towards the coast. When Max inevitably wrecks the tanker, he does so in a small green space, defined by a few shrubs, and the space seems a mockery of the refiners’ true goal. While they successfully escape, Max discovers what his tanker is actually carrying. He studies the leak of sand with resigned recognition of the role he has played. Thus, though Max fulfills the Dorothy-like role of saving the refinery residents, he is ultimately the abandoned Tin Man, stuck on the road without any real destination or saving grace. Because, though Dorothy finds that the ruby slippers possess the power to return her home (after the Wizard’s unintentional abandonment), the Tin Man finds his heart “breaking” at Dorothy’s departure, her return home. Dorothy urges him not to cry, because the threat of rust, the threat of returning to this original position in the movie, is all too real. The moment bitterly punctuates the Wizard’s former disparagement of hearts: “You don’t know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.” The statement seems equally applicable to Mad Max’s situation in Mad Max 2.
There are only two characters who accompany Mad Max to the very end of his mission, though they rejoin the refiners’ community and abandon Max as of the ending voiceover. These two are the Gyro Captain and the Feral Kid, the first initially an unwilling captive of Max, the second an unwelcome tagalong. These two invoke the images of the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion respectively, though the film complicates these allusions as well. Both characters are initially antagonistic towards Max and must be won to his side by necessity or by Mad Max’s softening persona. Nor is Max initially bound to either of them as well since he abandons both of them in the early stages of their relationships, only to rely on them later. This is far from the instant friendship that Dorothy creates with the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, after an oh-so-brief initial fright. Mad Max 2 continually recasts the Wizard of Oz narrative against a more unforgiving reality.
The Gyro Captain surprises Max when he first appears on screen, leaping up from under the sand in an attempt to trap the warrior. He is wildly dressed in a motley assortment of pink, purple, and green with yellow long johns underneath it all (see Figure 2). His pilot’s cap serves as a sort of artificial head, with aviator goggles as eyes. There is a flower in his buttonhole, and his raggedy, pieced-together appearance reminds the viewer of the Scarecrow—as does his lanky, angular form. The Gyro Captain’s initial role is to guide Max to the refinery, much as Dorothy tries to learn directions from the Scarecrow, though the Gyro Captain does it under pain of death. And, in addition to all of these links, the Gyro Captain proclaims early in the film, “Me—I’ve got brains.” He reinforces this character trait by his constant analysis of brains in others, first denigrating Max’s brains and then flattering his “ingenuity.” By the end of the film, the Gyro Captain’s natural selfishness (he attempts to sneak away early from the refinery with one of the women) is transformed by his experience alongside Max. He becomes the next leader of the refiners after Pappagallo’s death, which does, interestingly enough, echo later Baum books (since the Scarecrow’s brains qualify him as a leader).
The Feral Kid, in turn, strongly suggests the appearance of the Cowardly Lion. The child has a wild mane of hair (see Figure 3), wears fur and a loincloth with attached tail, and is recognized by the refiners as animalistic, feral. He howls like a dog, but also fights from within the cover of a tunnel network, hesitant to face opponents head-on. He initially escorts Max into the refinery from afar, his razor-sharp boomerang a threat. The Feral Kid becomes obsessed with Max, following him into the final conflict. When Mad Max discovers that the Kid has hidden himself in the rig during the run, he presses him into service, forcing him to climb out onto the hood of the speeding rig to recover a bullet. The viewer sees the Kid’s palpable fear, and hears as a sound effect, first in time with the music and secondly in the midst of silence and suppressed ambient noise, the thumping heartbeat of the boy as he climbs out. The Kid is thus defined by his hesitancy to embrace the community and his fear (our reminder that he is but a child) in the face of battle. However, we know, as he is the narrator for our film, that the Kid ultimately overcomes his reluctance to talk and his fear to become the leader of the refinery community after the Gyro Captain.
In the narrative of Road Warrior, then, the Scarecrow is already confident in his brains and the Cowardly Lion finds his own courage. The Tin Man also finds his heart via exchanges with a larger community, as the future Feral Kid explains: “out here, in this blighted place…he learned to live again.” However, though the Gyro Captain and the Feral Kid remain in their found communities, Mad Max is abandoned or self-exiled, depending on your reading within the contexts of the other films. He is left in the blighted place, shut out of Paradise. The most he will experience of any fertile location (in this iteration at least) is the small green space where he wrecks the rig. The tanker a decoy, Max finds himself a sacrifice to ensure the larger community’s survival. He does not mourn as the Tin Man does upon the departure of Dorothy. He faces the inevitability of the scenario with grim practicality. This is a world that lacks a Dorothy. He is part and parcel of it, not an outsider, with an external home to return to. His home has been destroyed, not by a tornado (in which the possibility of travel and transformation reside) but irrecoverably by men like Humungus and Wez. The Wizard—or Pappagallo or Humungus—offers no solutions to escape this fate. At the most, like the Tin Man, he can learn to accept the possibility, if not the reality, of living in a community again. He can learn to feel, which is a necessary precursor to becoming a sacrifice, a tool that enables others to find their home.
Thus, in creating utopia, Mad Max 2 argues that there must be individual dystopia, a state in which the character exists continually. Hope and despair are indivisible. Pappagallo, who at one point labels Max “garbage” in contrast with the “human being[s]” of the refinery, argues that “there’s always a way” to achieve victory, but this insistence comes at the sacrifice of the outsider, the “garbage” who is never fully assumed into the community. This theme is not unique to the Mad Max films. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” or Ursula LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” as two short examples, examine the same dynamic—the individual sacrificed to the need of the community. In consequence of their revelations, these stories ask us to consider the ethical and moral dimensions of the fraught relationship between sacrifice and community.
Mad Max 2 does not question the relationship so severely, as if the post-apocalyptic scenario demands it, as if the very character of Mad Max necessitates this relationship. He is acted upon by the world, rather than individuals. “Believe me, I haven’t got a choice,” Max responds when questioned about the change of heart that steers him to drive the tanker. He is part of a universal narrative which cannot be controlled or changed by any character within it. This is emphasized by the aspects of Baum and Fleming’s work(embedded in a transmedial culture of Oz), its unlikely analogues, that Mad Max 2 chooses to highlight and to invert. Mad Max does not possess the same agency as Dorothy, represented by the transportive powers of the heels, to escape the world he is meant to save. He is no outside hero, and thus cannot escape his world and return to some other. Instead, like the Tin Man, he is embedded in a tragic history tied up with the villains of his world. He has been created by this villainy, lacks a heart because of it, and thus bears a darkness that Dorothy does not. He is not innately good. The viewer watches him chain the Gyro Captain to a tree, kill a rapist only to obtain gas, force a child onto the hood of a moving truck. He is forever excommunicate, in order to enable his role as sacrifice. He is forever in conflict with the evil forces. The film even starts in mid-chase between Wez and Max.
Max remains on the road, alone, while the Gyro Captain is lauded as the community’s new leader, silent while the Feral Kid narrates his ending. In contrast, Dorothy returns to the sepia tones of Kansas, where she is surrounded by friends and family.11 Though she remembers that “some of it wasn’t very nice,” Dorothy acknowledges the larger part of her adventure as “beautiful.” And we are reminded that Dorothy was always a part of a community; in fact, her friends in Kansas were merely transfigured in the world of Oz. Hunk is the Scarecrow, Hickory the Tin Man, and Zeke the Cowardly Lion. Dorothy’s home-world, as the Wizard has so proudly declared prior to his own return, is the land of “e pluribus unum.”.
From many, one is reconfigured in Mad Max 2. From many, one is cast out rather than created. Max’s world is signposted differently. In the beginning of the film, as he rushes to retrieve oil from a wrecked buggy, he passes a sign marking the “Mundi Mundi Lookout.” Though Mundi Mundi is a real Australian location, the sign also provides a warning, Lookout written in larger capital letters (see Figure 4). You must be careful and on the watch for the dangers of the world. The sign also displays smaller directional signs that reference well-known cities, and ones often featured in or host to cinematic history: London, Casablanca, and Los Angeles. At one and the same time, the movie reminds us of its cinematic legacy and the bleakness of its response.
The end of Mad Max 2 looks very much like the beginning, raising questions about what has changed for the protagonist. Max is silhouetted against the sky, a little more battered, and we are reminded of his place in story rather than community, as the narrator explains that he “lives only in my memories,” alongside the “chaos” and “ruined dreams” cited in the opening of the movie. The universal hero’s journey, the omnipresent story, preserves a cycle of sacrifice inherent or necessary to the utopia of the larger community. In sum, the intertextuality that links Wizard of Oz and Mad Max 2 traces a line between e pluribus unum and Lookout, wherein the unity of the 1939 movie is overwritten with the dystopic sacrificial reality of the 1981 film. Though Miller may comfort the viewer with the fondness of memory, one which encompasses Mad Max’s cinematic forebearers, the brutal reality of the present must rest in ruin and chaos for the hero.
1 Thanks to Jenny Collins, Kathryn DeZur, Shelly Jones, and Andrew Richmond for their review and discussion of this article prior to publication.
2 For examples of the major contributions from Genette and Bakhtin, see Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree and The Dialogic Imagination, respectively. Genette argues for the transtextuality of poetics (1), and Bakhtin for the “great and anonymous destinies of the artistic discourse itself” (259).
3 We must remember, of course, that we are indebted to Genette for the image of the palimpsest in this conversation.
4 See intertextual criticism of this sort at work in Metz’s article, “Toward a Post-structural Influence in Film Genre Study: Intertextuality and The Shining (44).
5 See Sturtevant for a discussion of the Grail Quest in the film and Shapiro for Mad Max as Moses. See also the discussion of Frazer’s Golden Bough in Christopher Sharrett (87). This discussion is of interest to note 7 as well.
6 Note that Miller’s most recent addition to the Mad Max mythos, Fury Road, does incorporate Aboriginal actors and stunt persons into the film. Many thanks to Jenny Collins for her insight into the Max Max film series.
7 Miller avers that he and his crew are the “unwitting servants of the collective unconscious” (Barra 3). As such, he consistently cites Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as deliberate inspiration, a text which emphasizes a universal and symbolic narrative experience through the hero’s journey, a male-centric model of adventure (Chute 30; Barra 3; Sharf; Barbour 29-30). He even cites the pig Babe as a Campbellian hero (Davies). For Miller, cinema is the natural inheritor of this universal narrative; see Miller’s introduction to the documentary 40,000 Years Dreaming (White Fellas Dreaming: A Century of Australian Cinema).
8 The only other source that I have found which comments on possible connections between the Mad Max series and Fleming’s Wizard of Oz is a blogpost by DVIDEOSTOR that specifically focuses on the visual links between Fleming’s film and Miller’s newest addition to the series, Fury Road. For reference, see the full citation in the Works Cited page.
9 In fact, women in general are scarce or poorly represented in this movie. They are often killed or assaulted—or serve as grieving mother-figure or lovers. The outback is overwhelmingly masculine, a representation actively corrected in Fury Road. Thanks again to Jenny Collins.
10 Though we cannot completely condemn Pappagallo, since he offers to drive the tanker himself and ultimately dies in escorting it.
11 Interestingly, Max’s next film (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) does drive him into the arms of Aunty Entity, a name evocative of Aunty Em.
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