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Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Deconstruction, Transparency, and Salvage:

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
As a Metaphor for Self-Knowledge

Deconstruction, Transparency, and Salvage are metaphors that describe our quest for self-knowledge. This essay shows the connection that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome has to these ideas, and provides a "final", or at least more complete, description of the meaning of the movie. The essay suggests that the deconstruction or making transparent of our representations lets us make our way beyond the illusion and false unity of these creations so we can get to the true unity of our selves that are embodied in them.

When I first wrote the essays on Mad Max and Logan's Run, I felt that the latter movie -- and the latter essay -- was the more important of the two since it expressed one of the essential dilemmas of the age. The Mad Max movie was more subtle and poetic and it drew viewers into an experience of what it is like to live in myth. It also embodied a central concern -- that we might destroy civilization and have to put the pieces of humanity back together again. But, it seemed to me that the depiction in Logan's Run of a humanity that has to escape from an infantilizing paradise of technology and consumer delights was closer to our own lives.

Since then, somewhat slowly, I have come to understand the true meaning and significance of the Mad Max movie. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is about what this site is about. What this site refers to as transparency, the movie refers to as salvage. The movie is a poetic (deeply poetic) description of humanity in all times and places, fallen and in a state of exile from its true state in which mind, culture and society are whole. In place of that ideal state, it shows us in symbolic form a humanity that lives in a world built on ruins in which everything is in fragments. Most essentially, as Freud revealed and explicitly said, our true thoughts and perceptions are divided into fragments. The story of what our true motivations are is in pieces and we live amid those ruins, acting out bits and pieces of our story in a state of ignorance and partial knowledge because we can't let ourselves know and tell the true and complete story of ourselves.

Divided in ourselves, living amid the destruction wrought by the imagined catastrophes of childhood, we are divided from each other and live in a society internally divided against itself. And we participate in a culture that similarly offers us bits and pieces of truth, full of promises of a better world. It is a culture that is full of the cynicism of Bartertown, which is our own state of despair in knowing about the fall we have experienced, and it is a culture that is also full of the defensive imagination of the oasis in the desert in which we hide the truth and continue dreaming false dreams of utopia that contain the truth in disguised form.

Max is the story of mind and humanity; culture and society; past, present and future. It is a story about the human condition that depicts, in the form of an invented world, how we might put the pieces of ourselves back together to become whole. It depicts self-discovery as a form of salvage in which we gather up the pieces of our cynicism and despair, based on our knowledge of life as it is, and gather up our idealization and innocence, and put them together into what will have a chance to grow into a new whole.

The movie follows the symbolic journey of the self in the act of self-discovery. Max, as the embodiment of that self, finds himself a pawn and player in a battle for control between the parents Auntie Entity and master-Blaster. He journeys down into the analized world of the unconscious in Underworld; he fights with the crippled, domineering father in Master-Blaster; he recognizes the true childlike innocence of the father when Blaster's mask comes off and then refuses to carry out the final Oedipal castration of the father in the murder of Blaster. Like all of us, he is exiled for his crime into the world of daydreams in the oasis. But his urge to reality destroys its childlike innocence and dreams. In the end, he helps destroy the corrupt family of Bartertown and, by abandoning his narcissistic involvement in himself in his act of sacrifice, he helps found a new family and society based on both realism and dreams. This new family gets the story right. It puts the pieces together correctly and with the proper portions of realism and hope, which makes it possible for it to gather up all the exiles to a new home.

Max is the ultimate deconstructor of families and societies who brings hard truth (and difficult births) with him like a plague. After he is done with the two societies, they continue to exist in a reduced form. But, as a result of his act of sacrifice, a new one is created that not only has elements of both but also has elements of the underground household he destroys, since it is the only genuine two-generational family depicted before the creation of the new society.

What this site refers to as transparency -- seeing the meaning of our fragmented cultural and personal representations so we can see through them to the true person underneath -- the movie refers to as salvage, putting the pieces together back into a whole. Both metaphors bear some relation to another, more nihilistic, term that is popular today -- deconstruction -- which refers to the act of  taking the false unities of representations and dividing them into their elements. All describe some aspect of the same process in which we break up the unity of representations as part of a process of making them transparent so we can  refit the pieces together in a way that conveys our true and complete story. (Many who believe in deconstruction, of course, would try to deconstruct that, as well, since they see any effort to fit things together into a whole as the creation of illusion. Therein lies a world of difference in philosophies.)

The movie then is a metaphor for psychoanalysis, social criticism, and literary and film criticism. It is about taking all the stories of culture, which are fragments of our story, and putting them together in their proper order. It isn't about shoring the fragments against our ruins but about building new selves and societies that are truer expressions of the unfallen selves and societies that exist inside us and that are waiting to make their appearance in the world, in their true aspect, whole and undisguised.

It is a journey of spirit and states of mind that genuinely unfolds nowhere since it all takes place inside one person who, (if the reader will forgive a little Northrop Frye-inspired poetic pretentiousness), is Ur-humanity and the creator(s) of the movie, represented by the character Max as he moves through the landscapes of a ruined world.

But Mad Max itself offers us all this only in disguise and in fragments, which is a measure of its poetry and its own distance from the truth it deeply but   vaguely apprehends. Once again, it is the role of criticism to unfold the meaning, to put the parts of Max together and make it transparent so we can see the way it lets us directly experience these issues in the form of a lived myth and pageant of the future.

That is the meaning of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It is also the meaning of this site; the meaning of each person's journey through life; and the meaning of humanity's journey through history. Mad Max is the story of the self, emerging from the fragments of a ruined world, and it is a story about the kind of society that can emerge with it. That is a tell we are just learning how to tell, as our lives unfold in a world that has lost its history and is trying to build something out of fragments, which are the raw materials it has to work with.

Ken Sanes

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