Peaches / Strawberries

When it’s June and I’m hot, and I sweat as soon as I leave the house, and I sigh during my evening jog because all my overweight parts are jiggling in the wet humidity, and I curse the fact that the low temperature for the day will be 82 degrees (sometime around 2am), and I wonder why I even bother to live in the South, I remember peaches and strawberries. Strawberries get ripe here in mid-Spring—I picked some in April last year—but the juiciest, most fragrant Georgia peaches only arrive in June. The happy convergence occurred today, after a mostly sleepless night of lonely worry and self-pity. I cut up a peach and three strawberries, scraped them into an elegant bowl, plopped vanilla Greek yogurt on it all, and, over some velvety French-pressed coffee, I allowed myself to breathe in the world without fear and to remind myself that life is worth savoring. The cat sat by my side, sun-warmed and purring. Eating and sipping, I remembered to try to attain her level of grace and ease in the world, at least for a moment. And, for that if nothing else, I’m grateful for June.

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Buster Keaton #3: Neighbors (1920)

Neighbors (black & white)

Written and directed by Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline.
Released 22 December 1920.
Starring: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox (his fiance), Big Joe Roberts (her father), Joe Keaton (Buster’s father), Eddie Cline (the cop), and Jack Duffy (the judge).

I need to start this by self-plagiarizing a long-ago comment I made about the most important element of cinema:

Of all the arts the movies draw upon to become what they are, which is the most important, or the one you value most?

I think it all comes down to choreography, which, while related to the theater, isn’t quite the same thing. Here’s what I mean: Everything you see onscreen is the result of negotiations in space between stationary figures (objects), moving bodies (humans, animals, trees, appliances), fluctuating light that draws attention to both, and the camera—sometimes stationary, sometimes still—that tracks it all. The principles of blocking, the use of gaffers, and an understanding of basic camera movement (tracking shots, zooms, handheld photography, etc.) are critical to even the most haphazard movie production. It’s all bodies in space, and how light and camera are timed to capture it. A great movie is always a well-choreographed movie, in terms of both the cast and the crew, no matter how improvised it looks.

Choreography was even more critical in Buster Keaton’s heyday than in the talkies that would come later. He couldn’t depend on dialogue to iron out narrative problems; everything is conveyed through movement, even when the camera is still. And in early cinema, the camera usually was still. Because they were so heavy and the technology so new and cumbersome, cameras tended to stay put, preferably at a distance far enough from the action that everything could be captured, like an audience member looking at the stage from the back row. Indeed, “stagey” is the appropriate word here, and one of the reasons that I think so many people resist silent comedy.

The staginess extends beyond the camera. Keaton came out of vaudeville and minstrel shows, meaning that his artistic orientation drew from the stage. So, he knew how to block a scene, how to fake a depth of field with props and paintings, how to convey subtleties—ironically—with broad gestures, and how to keep lots of people moving around on a single stage without crashing into each other or looking incoherent.

To illustrate how that works in Keaton’s cinema, let’s look at a sequence from Neighbors (1920).
Continue reading

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Buster Keaton #2: The Saphead (1920) and Convict #13 (1920)


Sandwiched between Buster Keaton’s first two shorts, One Week and Convict #13, there’s his first feature film: The Saphead. The only problem is that The Saphead isn’t really his. Directed by Herbert Blache, from a screenplay by June Mathis, who was adapting a mediocre Broadway hit starring Douglas Fairbanks, who suggested Keaton replace him for the film adaptation, there’s a lot of threads we must untangle before we can get to Keaton’s performance.

One of those threads, unfortunately, is an over-reliance on dialogue. For a silent comedy, there’s a lot of talk, which means a lot of dialogue cards and closeups to written letters and still portraits. These pauses disrupt what little momentum the movie has, which is mostly when Keaton is onscreen, and especially mess up the timing. Timing is crucial for humor, especially physical humor. So, the jokes are off. It’s telling that most of the best laughs are word-driven, coming from dialogue cards…


…and that Buster doesn’t take his first pratfall until almost thirty minutes into the movie.

The best Buster Keaton movies are feats of technical wizardry driving straightforward narratives that rarely need much explanation, verbally or otherwise. In short, they have simple plots but complex forms. The Saphead is the opposite. The plot machinations lap over each other; too many characters change their minds and motives, for reasons poorly processed; and the screenplay is an ungainly mishmash of Wall Street stock-exchange drama, refined chamber comedy, and sentimental romance. Visually, though, it’s fairly static, and it only allows its supremely physical star to tumble around at the very end.

Indeed, it’s probably the final five minutes—in which Keaton destroys the floor of the New York Stock Exchange—that made Keaton a star. Mad as hell and deeply misunderstanding the circumstances, Keaton tackles every stockbroker in sight, and takes their bids for the Henrietta Mine. It’s too convoluted to go into, and not worth it, anyway. The gag’s funny for the first minute but loses steam quickly as it descends into repetition. It doesn’t help that the rough-and-tumble on the NYSE floor is a more exaggerated version of a funnier sequence—involving hats, and the knocking-off thereof—that occurred earlier in the film. Yes, Buster moves beautifully but it’s all a combination of too-little-too-late and too-much-too-much.

Besides, Buster moves superbly throughout the movie, even when not crashing through suits. As a spoiled but fundamentally decent heir to a Wall Street tycoon, he spends most of his life immobile. He doesn’t work. He gets up at the crack of noon. He lounges about in ridiculous clothes. And it’s probably best that he doesn’t do much, because he fucks things up when he does. He’s so dim that, at one point, he spends $100,000 (in 1919 dollars!) on a chair of the NYSE, because “furniture’s gone up these days.” He does nothing right but he means well, and he’s such a softie that he can’t even get himself arrested when he tries. So, he’s a dolt but he’s a lovable one.

Keaton gets across the character’s good but dumb nature with minute gestures and facial tics. No, he doesn’t smile here, either—that mannerism was already in place from his years working on Fatty Arbuckle pictures—but he conveys a wide range of emotions, even though Blache binds him to a narrative that’s much too genteel for Keaton’s gifts.

Indeed, given that Keaton had a cult following because of his slapstick shorts, it’s not clear why Blache wanted him in this drawing-room comedy to begin with. But The Saphead works as a star vehicle, anyway, because Keaton’s jumpy energy enlivens what is otherwise a contrived, dull film. The movie at least fizzles when Keaton is onscreen; you can almost literally feel the deflation when he’s not there.

* * * *

Convict #13, released nine days after The Saphead, doesn’t really jell, either. And it suffers from comparison to One Week, Keaton’s debut as director, which was released the previous month. But at least it feels like it belongs to Keaton.

At the golf course, Buster tries to impress his lady friend. This goes predictably awry. (This is not a man who should be let within ten yards of a golf club.) Meanwhile, somewhere nearby, a hardened criminal has just escaped from prison. He needs a change of identity, and fast. But what sucker would trade places with a man in stripes? Ah, yes, an unconscious one.

Convict #13 (golf ball)

(As far as I can tell, there’s no strings here. Buster Keaton hits a golf ball so perfectly that it ricocheted off a wall and hit his forehead. I wonder how many takes it took to get that right.)

From this point on, Buster’s running from the police, prison guards, prisoners, you name it. About ten minutes in, a multitude of cops chase Buster in a sequence that he would later perfect in Cops, a 1922 short that’s essentially nothing but a police force chasing the comedian around. Here, the gag gets repetitive quickly. Buster ends up in prison, where he discovers that he’s about to be put to death. Escaping from that, he finds himself in the middle of a prison riot—this is the least secure jail ever—and, turning the tables, he knocks a guard out and takes his uniform.

As with The Saphead, Convict #13 features great, non-slapstick acting by Keaton. He keeps trying on facades—as the golf pro he clearly isn’t, as a tough guy prisoner, as an in-command prison warden. His slow burns, nervous twitches, and wide eyes of fear let us see the strain of putting on roles, even as he keeps going on so daringly. The climax is overdone, with a surprisingly large number of deaths—cops and criminals alike—and a matchup against Big Joe Roberts that Buster wins, ahem, implausibly. The denouement is a cop-out, a gag so shopworn that even a secondhand store wouldn’t take it.

Still, this 20-minute short moves briskly and builds on itself continually, as if trying to top itself with each new gag. It doesn’t but, unlike The Saphead, at least it tries.

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Commonplace (Sy Safransky edition)

clocksIn 1974, Sy Safransky founded The Sun, my favorite magazine. He edits it to this day. Though the mag is imbued thoroughly with his sensibility, he doesn’t actually write for it much these days, instead ceding each issue’s 48 pages (always 48, and with no ads of any sort) to the memoirists, essayists, poets, short-story writers, photographers, and interviewees he has chosen. And there’s not an issue that goes by in which I don’t wish he wrote more for it. But he’s humble. When he gets in there, it’s a page, a single page, from his ongoing notebook—fragments of his life, loosely tied together by a theme. Those themes range widely: marriage, God, war, politics, writing, love, family, heartache, fear, human frailty.

This year, he published Many Alarm Clocks, a collection of vignettes, musings, snapshots, koans, and frustrated longings from his notebook, roughly spanning from 9/11 to early 2015. The book is glorious. I’ve read it through once but now I keep it on my nightstand, dipping through it for moments of wisdom, grace, fury, and anguish. I encourage you to seek it out, and to keep it close. What follows are some of my favorite snippets. Enjoy.

* * * * * * * *

“…How quickly I shut my heart to a disagreeable neighbor. How quickly I shut the door on myself! If I make a habit of judging myself harshly for every real or imagined failing, then how can I possibly extend generosity to others? My politics must be rooted in compassion for myself if I want to contribute to a more compassionate world.”

—from “So Many Buddhas”

* * * * * * * *

“Deepening my awareness is a challenge. It isn’t a challenge because my parents didn’t love me enough. It’s a challenge because it’s a challenge. I don’t need to take it personally. I’ve spent years excavating my past, sorting and cataloging the wreckage. But who I really am, the essential truth of my being, can’t be grasped by the mind, no matter how acute my insights. I’ve confused introspection with awareness, but they’re not the same. Becoming the world’s leading expert on myself has nothing to do with being fully present.”

—from “Nonjudgment Day”

* * * * * * * *

“Is it possible to live each day knowing that everything will go wrong—that everything is falling apart right now—yet remembering, too, that this in no way denies the love at the heart of existence?”

—from “The Life I Tell Myself”

* * * * * * * *

“Do I really need to understand myself better? Isn’t that just another kind of accomplishment, another goal that’s always out of reach? In therapy, I discover hidden stairwells, rooms within rooms. This is the sort of mansion a man could spend his whole life exploring, following clue after clue. But loving myself has nothing to do with following clues. Loving myself has nothing to do with understand my story—such a beautiful story, such a poignant story. Just a story.”

—from “His Famous Melancholia”

* * * * * * * *

“I can trust the power of love. That’s all I can trust. Not my story about the past; not my fantasies about the future; not all my remarkable insights, polished until they shine. They’re like a wall full of trophies in a house that’s burning. Better to trust the flames.”

—from “A Thousand Footnotes”

* * * * * * * *

“Reminder to self: You don’t need to sound smart, Mr. Smarty Pants. You don’t need to have an MFA or a PhD. You don’t need to know the answers to the ten most difficult questions. You don’t need to know what those questions are. You don’t need to make sure that everything you write is all muscle, not an ounce of fat. You don’t need to send only your best and brightest sentences into battle. If you do send them, you don’t need to pretend they’ll win.”

—from “Reporting for Duty”

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Buster Keaton #1: One Week (1920)

Among other things, One Week is a terrific knockabout romantic comedy, and a strange one, too. The newlyweds get knocked about—by a spurned suitor who tries to kidnap the bride, a do-it-yourself house project that goes horribly wrong, a freak storm, and finally by a train. Two trains, actually. The husband (Buster Keaton) and wife (Sybil Seely) knock each other about, too. No, not domestic abuse. Buster’s a lover, not a fighter, but we’ll see that he can stand his ground when necessary. But the couple gets into the customary arguments and misunderstandings, which are writ large by the slapstick.

But that strangeness is important, too. Unlike most American romantic comedies, this one starts with the wedding, instead of ending there. It’s a movie after the just-after the happily-ever-after, when the crazy kids realize that they love each other but they gotta figure out how to live together.

That struggle is perfectly symbolized by the plot: they have to build a house, left to them by their uncle. In short, they’ve got family baggage, and somehow have to make it their own, on their own. Uncle Mike left Buster and Sybil a plot of land, the raw materials for constructing their happy home, and the directions for building it. It’s a readymade home, only these two ain’t ready to make anything beyond scrambled eggs. Oh, they’re not stupid—over the course of the movie, both husband and wife show considerable resourcefulness and the ability to improvise. But they are naive, as all new couples are, as maybe all couples are. They plunge into the project, earnest and determined. Too bad Buster can’t decipher the instructions, and even worse that Sybil’s ex-suitor (actor unknown)deliberately fucks with the plans.

Everything about this prefabricated house represents the issues every new couple faces: How can we—two very different people—create a singular identity? How can we establish ourselves as a couple independent of our family’s baggage? How much of that baggage is worth keeping, and can we mold it to fit us? How can we work together at all? The house is a family gift but it seems almost designed to tear the couple apart, or at least to test it cruelly.

Things fall apart. Of course they do. After a day in which Murphy’s Law applies hilariously, much of which involves the installation of the wife’s piano, they receive the present of a piece of sheet music:


But they’re in better shape than you might think. They fight but, hey, couples fight. They’re also resolute, both determined to get this damn house built in one week. They’re also playful and openly affectionate, even clinging to each other when things go bad. (And boy howdy do things go bad.) They are committed to each other, working together through the craziest ideas—some of them their own—that they try to execute.

One Week (house flip)

The wife cooks and cleans, sure, but she’s also as ready to hammer a nail or to check on the house’s foundation as Buster is. She’s fetching but she’s feisty, too. Sybil does her fair share of high-risk, high-concept stunts here as well. Maybe they’ve both got screws loose—who doesn’t?—but at least his loose screw matches her rolling nut.

Yes, that’s a tortured sexual metaphor, but that’s because One Week is a surprisingly sexy movie. I find Seely nearly irresistible and Buster’s headlong derring-do exudes high masculinity without reeking of machismo. I wrote earlier that he’s not a fighter, and it becomes immediately clear that he’s neither the, um, stereotypical handyman nor the dashing swashbuckler. But he does all right on his own makeshift terms, and he refuses to let his wife’s ex bully him or her. That asshole is the quintessential man’s man, possessive of what he never had, violent, and chest-thumping. He shows his spurned “love” by messing with Sybil’s new life, and Buster’s having none of it. The dude tries to kidnap the bride MINUTES AFTER HER WEDDING—and Buster uses misdirection, a well-timed hit, and the even-better-timed placement of a billy club to put a stop to those shenanigans.

One Week (cop)

And when Buster and Wife invite the ingrate over for a housewarming, and the dude gets grabby with the food, Buster stops that shit, too.

One Week (chair)

So, Buster has swagger, even if sometimes little sense. The wife’s hardly more sensible, as she contributes to this cockamamie house going up without ever once saying, “Um, sweetie, are you sure the kitchen sink is supposed to go on the outside wall?” And Seely leads a great, erotic gag in which she’s taking a bath and drops the soap outside the tub. Even in a pre-Hays Code movie, she’s shy about leaning over to grab the bar, and thus expose herself to the camera. So, she looks directly at us, shrugs, and gets the movie to break the fourth wall:

One Week (bathtub)

One Week is conscious that it is cinema, and not just filmed theater. Though the movie is mostly long shots and medium shots, it’s not stagy. The shots allow us to see this nutty house in all its loopy technical splendor. Their large-scale gags couldn’t be done in a proscenium. Keaton and co-director Eddie Cline create jokes with their editing, as with that train bearing down on the house, or with the sly cuts to a calendar page blithely marking another bad day gone by. And the camera moves, swirling around during that thunderstorm, and making use of rear projection for a vehicular chase sequence early in the movie. They’re playing around with filmmaking’s conceits. Everyone’s having fun, and it shows.

Indeed, One Week is playful all the way through. In most of today’s romantic comedies, there’s always a swooning moment, a dip in energy as the lovers get serious for once, and usually the movie never recovers from its earnestness. But, by dismissing with the courtship altogether, One Week isn’t tied to those genre conventions. The last shot is one of the funniest in the movie. In fact, if anything, the movie gains speed as it progresses. One Week, like the screwball comedies that would come a decade later, moves at a breakneck pace.

How fast is it, exactly? Well, it might have taken you longer to read this essay than to watch the movie, for One Week is only nineteen minutes long.

Pretty good for a director’s debut, eh?

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Beer & Book #17


Today’s beer: Unibroue’s Maudite
Today’s books: A whole lotta Buster Keaton goin’ on

My next film series, on Buster Keaton, starts on Thursday. (Go here for details.) So, it’s high time I get serious with my research. Not to toot my own horn, but I worked on Buster Keaton: Interviews, edited by Kevin W. Sweeney, so I’m familiar with that one, but wanted to revisit it. Keaton’s memoir, My Wonderful World of Slapstick, seems like an essential read, despite my distrust of the genre. Multiple sources told me that Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By… is the classic film studies book on the silent era, as Brownlow interviewed the stars, directors, and producers of this era himself, and is the crowned king of silent-film knowledge. I ran into Jean-Patrick Lebel’s monograph in the library, and looks to be one of the first critical studies devoted solely to Keaton. (Of course, the French got there first. Lebel published it in 1964; the English-language translation appeared here in 1967.) I’m looking forward to all of this. Oh, the beer: Unibroue makes Fin du Monde, too, which is one of my favorite cheap–well, relatively cheap–Belgian ales. Maudite’s a little heavier, considerably more red in coloration, and less sweet. I like the bittersweet aftertaste better than the, you know, taste. But the taste is delicious, honeyed and with a citrus bite.

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Good exhaustion: Marc Maron & George Miller rev it up

A friend asked me today if I hurt my sides from laughing so hard at Marc Maron, and I had to answer yes, I did, from about the 30-minute mark through the rest of his set. It was, I think, this particular joke that set it off:

Maron is stalking the stage, clenched up and raging—articulately and mellifluously, but still—into the mic, talking about masturbation, because of course he is. He’s just gestured the universal sign for “jerking off,” while explaining that it is indeed a universal gesture, one that needs no translation anywhere in the world. “There is no society on the planet in which this”—he gestures—“means, ‘rip your dick off.’” Pause. “Well, there was one, but it died out.”

Or maybe it was his description of his neighborhood’s gentrification, which I can only paraphrase, because I can’t match his relentless, ranting pace, a pace that nevertheless leaves room for little rests, onstage self-criticism of his set (a la Jim Gaffigan, but angrier), and heavy sighs. Anyway, he’s smart on gentrification—he’s smart on everything, especially his own stupid failings—and the utter boutique specialization it engenders. “You know that your neighborhood is fully gentrified when you walk in a store, look around, and realize you have no idea what kind of a store it is. ‘There’s a box of vinyl records on that shelf, and there’s a cow skull hanging over that window. There are Tibetan prayer flags, and tropical plants over there, and some weird cat pottery over there. WHAT IS THIS STORE SELLING?” And the kicker: “And then I realized that I had just wandered into someone’s house,” and that he can no longer distinguish between a place of business and some hipster’s studio apartment. I laughed and laughed, realizing that I walk by at least four shops just like that every day in downtown Athens, and I’m confused by that business model, too.

Maron is an angry man, he realizes it, he realizes that it’s a problem, and he realizes that it’s more of a problem that he kinda likes being angry, and that he’s drawn to women who are equally rageful at the world. I think I remember this phrasing and cadence exactly—maybe not, but you’ll get it: “There is no sex better than the makeup sex you have on the clothes you threw on the floor when you were packing up to leave.” After an explosive argument with his girlfriend that wakes up the block, Maron goes outside the next morning, and sees a neighbor taking out the trash. Trying to preempt anything the neighbor might think, Maron yells across the lawn: “I’m NOT hitting her. It’s just emotional abuse, and she gives it right back to me. It goes both ways, man, both ways.”

It must be exhausting to be that angry and anxious all the time, looking over his shoulder and seething at what he sees. Hell, I spent 90 minutes with the man on Saturday night, at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, and I left the theater winded. But, then, I remember: I’m that angry and anxious, too, especially the angry part. I just don’t say it out loud, or so deftly, or with such wit. He’s a quick man, responsive to the energy of the room and the people in front of him. He had a wreck in his rental car, on his way to the show, because that’s the kind of thing that happens to Marc Maron, and he worked that into the show. Constructing a bit on the fly—or, as he said, “this literally just happened 22 minutes ago”—takes skill. To start the show with this new, unforced material—and then to come back to it 90 minutes later—takes balls. And a kind of radical empathy and openness to experience. He has that, which is why he’s such a great interviewer. It also means, though, that he’s always itchy and tense with resentment and anxiety. To be that porous is to be exposed to the world, pains and pleasures both. It was exhilarating and hilarious to see. But it also left me drained.


George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road opens with fumes and exhaust, too. Like Marc Maron, it revs its engine high at the outset, and never really slows down for the next 90 minutes. It is so loud, all those motors running and gunshots blaring, that I could barely hear the dialogue, much less understand it through the thick Australian accents. It is so abrasive, either shot on superbly saturated and grainy film stock or processed to look like it, that the colors bleed, and the frame looks somehow dirty and smudged. The ramshackle rawness of the movie matches the homemade and crumbling automobiles that drive (heh, drive) the narrative. It is so antic that it’s even shot at a frame rate less than the standard 24 fps, so that everything you see has a slightly herky-jerky, vaguely unnatural quality, like the camera is being hand-cranked just like the semis and mopeds onscreen.

In short, the medium matches the message. Look, there’s no reason to expect Fury Road to be as good as it is. You can either see it as a sequel of a sequel, or as a reboot of a franchise whose last entry came out three decades ago. Stakes are low. Well, you would think that, but you’d be wrong. For all of Miller’s angry, furious cinema, it’s well-choreographed spatially. In every action sequence, whether colossal in scale or simply hand-to-hand combat, it was always clear where each relevant person was, what she has at her disposal for weaponry, what her actions might mean to someone else occupying the same space, and where an unseen opponent might pop out next. George Miller knows how to block a scene, even one that expands throughout a desert, into a swirling sandstorm, and that involves at least 50 vehicles at high speed. The camera is restless but it’s not the shaky-cam of bad indie cinema—for all the turbines and lunges, I never felt queasy or visually lost.

Queasy, no. Unsettled, yes. Hell yes. In fact, that’s the point. I sat on the edge of my seat, watching through my clenched fingers, because the tension was unbearable and the stakes were high. Unlike most superhero movies, there’s not a lot of talking; the character development comes through action and gesture. Tom Hardy (Mad Max) basically doesn’t speak for the first third of the movie; his face is in a binding mask until 45 minutes in, just to emphasize the point. Charlize Theron (Imperator Furiosa) only speaks when she absolutely has to, and she’s not, um, a revealing sort of person even when she does open her mouth. In this world, loose talk and sloppy action get you killed. Succinctness breeds survival. So, there’s none of the quips and banter of the Marvel Universe pictures.

There’s also surprisingly little of the Marvel grandiosity. The action overwhelms with its ferocity and velocity but it’s human-scale and handmade. There are no cosmic demons raining destruction from the sky—the closest we come is that sandstorm.  No one comes back from the dead—when a character dies, she stays dead, which means that the death hurts. (Another way to say that is that life has dimension in Fury Road, and I don’t feel that this is true in Thor, The Avengers, or even Guardians of the Galaxy—which I liked.) No one is trying to save the world—it’s the post-apocalypse, in the fucking Outback, so it’s taken for granted that the world is largely ruined and maybe hopeless. None of the weapons or combat are supernatural. People suffer pain, real pain, and those wounds affect their ability to act, in a way that I see in few action films these days.

Much of that pain is political. Miller, like Maron, is angry. Unlike Maron, though, Miller’s rage is largely political rather than existential, and the filmmaker has a lot on his mind. Fury Road’s world is one in which women are treated as property, and young men are chewed up systematically to keep the 1% satisfied. None of this is spelled out patronizingly because, again, there’s not much comprehensible dialogue. But it’s clear that Fury Road’s women have had enough of this bullshit, and the plot churns on a group of women—sex slaves, essentially, one of them hugely pregnant—trying to escape this grotesque, violent patriarchy. That’s the plot: women wanting out, wanting a way to make lives for themselves. That’s it. The fact that this simple desire causes so much chaos and death, all of it fostered by a madman, says exactly what Miller intends it to say.

Mad Max, ostensibly our hero, gets caught up in the lunacy, too. In fact, he’s hardly the hero, hardly the most riveting protagonist in the movie. That role belongs to Furiosa, the capable, one-armed scout who is secretly leading the sex slaves to freedom. Theron brings a steady intensity to the role, with a just-barely-hidden anguish that gives her motives weight. She internalizes her pain—I don’t think we ever find out how she loses that arm in the first place—but she’s thoroughly unselfish. Mad Max, though not monomaniacal like the main villain, is a selfish bastard, at least at first. He learns empathy, slowly, through contact with Furiosa and the women. A tagalong boy, initially fully enveloped in the patriarchal worldview, changes through this contact, too. The boys grow into men, learn to give of themselves, and learn to act for motives other than their own gain. When Mad Max gives blood to Furiosa, toward the end, it’s a tearjerking moment that feels earned. Welcome to adulthood, sir, and to actual, giving love.

So, Miller’s furious at the world, and rightly so. With oil, spit, blood, and rumbling, he tries to imagine a better one through cinema. Good on him.


RELATED: I wrote about Marc Maron’s last standup special, back in October 2013.

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