Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (Dystopia Week Part 4)

What a fine film — and what a charismatic being Tina Turner is. She’s so good here as the deadly but visionary creator and leader of Bartertown that you can’t help wishing she’d been in far more films in those days. She also performs my (unusual) pick for best Tina Turner song for the opening credits: the menacing “One of the Living.”

(You’ll note I did not pick the song she did with the Fixx, “Be Good to Me,” nor the movie’s far better-known song, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” — a song that Christine Ames rightly points out is probably made just a tad less romantic and moving, or at least less universal in its meaning, by the inclusion of the line “All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome.”)

The Mad Max movies, in their simple way, really do have a logical arc to them in retrospect: first we see the doomed civilization in which we almost live, then humanity after the war reduced to mere scavengers, and in this final film, for all Aunty Entity’s flaws, the believable reassertion of civilization in crude form. Tina wrote the law, as she memorably reminds us, and old-fashioned as it may sound, it is at least a step forward over the chaos of the second film: If two men have an unresolvable dispute, into the Thunderdome arena they go: “Two men enter, one man leaves.” I know of a frat at Dartmouth that had a similar policy. I don’t think they observed the “Break a deal, face the wheel” law, though.

It’s too bad the telepathic talking dog from A Boy and His Dog (noted on Monday) wasn’t around to assist the people of Bartertown with rebuilding civilization, since, as libertarian economist David Friedman has noted, dogs likely played an important role in the early establishment of property rights, being territorial and inclined to guard their own human families, a natural alarm system.

Less welcome — and I recall this bothering me back when I first saw the movie — is actor Bruce Spence, apparently playing a character who is very nearly — but not quite — the same character he played in the first film (there a gyrocopter pilot, here an airplane pilot), which is simply confusing and off-putting, not to mention a weird throwback to the days when, say, Groucho was almost but not quite the same character in each film.

At 6’7”, though, who’s going to tell him he can’t be in the film (or in the extended edition of Return of the King as the Mouth of Sauron, for that matter)? Under Australian law, his height automatically makes him more powerful than Peter Garrett, the green, bald 6’4” lead singer of Midnight Oil. It’s a primitive law code, admittedly, but one can see in it hope for gradually rebuilding society in the sandy wasteland.

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