Know what it isn’t? An environmental film.
As much as I reeeeeally would like it to be.
Yes, there are undercurrents of vague environmental warnings (the thing with the seeds, the demand of Who Killed the World? both graffitied and shouted, Nux not being able to identify a tree…) But calling the film a cautionary environmental tale is like saying the Walking Dead is a caution against not vaccinating your kids. Right: Nope!
It’s entertainment. AMAZING, PROGRESSIVE, BETTER EVEN THAN ROAD WARRIOR, FILMED ON GODDAMN MARS entertainment, but cautionary nothing. And while supposed Wise, Green media outlets like Grist and Sierra Magazine have been touting the “environmental message hidden behind all the explosions and high speed chase scenes,” Wired and Slate have been writing about just how green this movie isn’t.
I mean look—and this is hard for me because I have an outward Conservationist that everyone knows about but I also have an inner PYROMANIAC that I have mostly managed to keep satiated with bonfires and illegal fireworks purchased (legally!) in other states. And my inner Pyromaniac is like OMG YES YES MORE MORE YEEESSSS! While my Conservationist is like Gas Town’s Mayor, the People Eater, doing midlevel mathematics and tallying the total cost in barrels of guzzeline to make all that shit explode (YESSSSSSSSS oh sorry….)—but look: Have you thought about the resources it takes to get that giant cast and crew to Mars?
Not to mention space-shipping all the vehicles, the caterers, the wardrobe people, I mean do you know how much hydrazine costs? And although it may not be a petrol product it—wait, what? It wasn’t filmed on Mars? Oh. I see.
*** WE ARE EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES PLEASE STAND BY…. ***
Okay, turns out the movie wasn’t filmed on Mars or even in Australia (which would have been my second guess) but in the middle of some fragile ecosystem in…where now? Namibia. That’s a small country on the south-western coast of Africa. The fragile ecosystem in question is part of the Namib Desert, in fact is part of Dorob National Park. As one would expect of a national park, the area comprises sensitive dune ecosystems and rare animal habitats.
Or it did: Tourists and residents alike took to message boards and wrote letters to the government complaining that the crew seemed to be given completely unfettered access to the area and was “systematically” destroying it.
These complaints were at least in part backed by the Coastal Conservation Commission, who noted as part of a project specifically designed to study the environmental consequences of filming that sections of the desert previously never fouled by vehicles “had been driven over, leaving tracks -- in one area a "ploughing device" had been used. Even worse, to try and level the tracks as they left, the crew had dragged nets across the ground, ripping out small plants.”
All of which is actually probably worse than filming on Mars.
So why did they film in a National Park in the first place? Why didn’t they film in Australia, as was planned since the Road Warrior was made? Probably.
I can’t explain it more eloquently than Lisa Margonelli did in her Slate article (originally published on the website of Pacific Standard magazine.): “For a decade or so, Miller planned to shoot the film in Australia, in the New South Wales desert town of Broken Hill. But freak rains have turned the formerly dry-as-an-apocalypse area into a field of bobbing wildflowers.Really. And fields of wildflowers, while they may be real signs of ecological calamity, do not read as such on the screen.”
To director George Miller’s extreme credit he claims no environmental agenda. “There is an environmental story,” he told Sierra Club magazine, “but it’s in the subtext. …the movie’s not trying to chronicle environmental collapse. It’s saying, ‘Here is the world that remains.’ In the end there is no ideological agenda here. I’m just telling a story in response to the way that I perceive the world.”
Indeed, the barren environmental nightmare that is Mad Max’s world only looks like Mars to, well me, and those of you unfamiliar with Australia’s water problems and dust storms. This is the country that saw the Millennial Drought – a water crisis that started in 1991, in 1995 became the worst drought on the continent since the 19-Crimers were dumped there, and was effectively country-wide through 2009, not clearing up in all areas until May 2012. Two decades with no water does funny things to people. It makes the government tax you for taking more than a five minute shower. Then those half-showered people form roving gangs that beat up elderly citizens watering gardens and hapless 30-somethings washing their cars and dogs.
More legendary than roving gangs of the soap-heads are the dust storms. The past few years these sandstorms from hell have been finding their way into cities, terrifying urbanites the way a tornado in Los Angeles would. (Okay scratch that, Los Angelinos deal with fires, mudslides, earthquakes, freeway fist-fights and this guy [who I love!], a tornado might be a welcome change.) But imagine a wall of dirt, like a tidal wave. Or if you've seen the film, just remember that.
Australian Geographic (Yes, Australian. Who knew?!) describes a 2010 event in Sydney as "apocalyptic," then went on to describe even worse conditions (wait, what's worse than apocalyptic?) the day before in Broken Hill, where "the same dust storm had turned the world 'absolutely pitch black…[Car] headlights couldn't illuminate anything because it was like they were shining off a solid wall of dirt." At the storm's peak, wind was gusting up to 90 km/h through Broken Hill, swirling thousands of tonnes of topsoil from central Australia through the air. To venture outside was to literally be "sandblasted".
Note that the dust storm went right through the very town Fury Road was supposed to have been filmed in. Coincidence? Right again: Nope.
So the movie is not a cautionary tale, it's merely an exaggeration of what our friends Down Under are already contending with, a fact Miller laments to Sierra Magazine: "The sad thing is it doesn’t require much exposition for the audience to buy a degraded world, because we already see evidence of it happening all around us."
Given reports coming out of California, if they wait another year, they can probably film just outside LA, allowing cast and crew to be home in time to tuck the kiddies in. Or better yet? Just film on Mars!
Furious Tree in Namibia © Drflash | Dreamstime.com - Namibia Desert Photo
Hawk, Steve "The Fury Behind Fury Road." Sierra Magazine May/June. 2015: 48-49. Print.