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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Mad Max as Myth:
 The Savior as Salvager

In addition to telling a story about contemporary society, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome also tells a number of myths, or rather, it draws from those myths in order to tell a new myth about the present and future. Here, the three levels of the city are the classic three levels depicted in myth and religion. The surface of the city is the surface of the earth, the mundane world of human life. The home above the city, with all its ethereality, is a heaven or Mount Olympus of power and comfort, occupied by the queen and/or demigoddess of this world, Aunty Entity. Underworld is, as its name says, the underworld, which is dark and governed by two mythic figures: a childlike giant (Blaster) and a dwarf with the knowledge of how to make things work. Together they make up the chthonic demigod and king of the underworld.

In this, mythic version of the story, Max is a traveler waylaid by thieves or he is the son of the male and female demigods who control the human world of the surface. He is offered a corrupt bargain by the queen to destroy the power of the chthonic king in a classic contest, so she can be victorious in a struggle over who will govern the world.

Max, as hero, then goes into the underworld, the realm of death, and lives to tell about it. But when he refuses to destroy the power of the chthonic king, out of sympathy for his weakness and humanity, he becomes a ritual scapegoat who is expelled from the city and finds himself in another world, a false paradise of children. He will now become the savior he could not be for Bartertown. First, he is resurrected from unconsciousness after a journey in the desert. Then he leads a group of the children on a raid in which they destroy the corrupt world, governed by the queen, and are joined by some of its slaves, who they free. The queen and her warriors give chase; they are defeated, and the hero makes it possible, through the divine intervention of an airplane, for the children to make it through the desert to the promised land of the ruined city.

Like Bartertown, this story is a mix of all kinds of elements. In addition to images from classic and pagan mythology, which are alluded to above, we also get a retelling of a story from the Old Testament in which Max is Moses, freeing the slaves. Aunty Entity's junkmobiles are Pharaoh's chariots chasing behind. Pharaoh is defeated and Max, as Moses, makes it possible for the refugees to make it through the desert to the promised land. Like Moses, he can get them there, but he can't go there himself.

Max is also, as alluded to above, like Jesus. He goes on a journey through the desert, is treated like a scapegoat by the inhabitants of Bartertown, is near death but is resurrected, makes a sacrifice so others can be lifted up (in an airplane) and, in so doing, he saves a remnant, although, ironically, the ones he saves turn out to be the ones who didn't believe in him and went out into the desert.

The idea that is used to describe Max as savior is also the primary idea behind the movie -- salvage, which here means saving something and not merely recycling it for one's own use. As Savannah says in the final tell, Max is "him that came the salvage." Like everyone in this world, he is a salvager of junk -- of leftovers -- which he uses for his own benefit. But, in the movie, he turns salvage into the altruistic act of saving human beings who are left over after the great war. He is the savior as junk collector, who gathers up the bits and pieces of a remnant of a busted up humanity and makes it possible for it to be reintegrated into a whole. In that last tell, when Savannah describes how they light the city as a beacon for others to come to, she is explaining how they imitate what Max did for them, by salvaging other people and bringing them home. Here is the full quote, which is worth repeating: "But most of all we members the man who finded us, him that came the salvage, and we lights the city not just for him but for all of 'em that are still out there, cause we knows there'll come a night when they sees the distant light and they'll be comin home."

Although it may not look like it on first viewing, this subtext, in which the movie uses mythic images, really tells much the same story as the subtext about society. Myths about gods who fight over society are symbols of leaders who fight for power. Political revolutionaries who overthrow oppressive orders are secular saviors and religious saviors are often politically revolutionary. In each case, the movie depicts how the growth of one man overthrows an oppressive order.

In one of the ironies of this work, in the end, neither that man, the savior, nor Aunty Entity, the founder of a city, ends up being the head of the new civilization that is formed. That privilege is reserved for Savannah, the one who learned the lessons about myth as a form of untruth, and about the importance of time and the meaning of salvage. She is the one who, in the end, will lead the village of humanity in the ruined city.


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