mad-max-1979Mel Gibson is Max in George Miller’s cult classic that changed the scope of Australian cinema. In a flimsy plot, Max is a normal young man in the time and place when things are not as normal anymore. Set in the not-too-distance future, this somewhat apocalyptic wasteland is symbolic of the social decay. Max becomes a victim of this social decay more than once.

A biker gang terrorizes the wasteland. These villains, Toecutter is the leader of this gang. There are villains and then there is Toecutter. He, like the other villains, are just plain terrifying. This gang of villains play into very fear we have, no matter how deep we have buried them.

Max is one of the leather-cladded policemen who are doing their best to keep the biker gang in line. He is one of the good guys. And he really is a good guy. When his partner is killed by the gang, he decides to walk away from his job. It is too dangerous. He takes his wife and his son, and they leave the area in search for a better, safer, place to live.

The tone and the appearance of the film changes then. No longer is the screen dominated by dark leather and villainess faces. Now the screen is occupied by sunshine, beaches, and bluejeans. Life is good. It is the clearest sense that there are two different realities in this wasteland. It is a reminder of the tension between what Max and the police are fighting for and the reality that the biker gang prefers. It is the tension between good and evil; justice and injustice; integrity and corruption.

Max is drawn back into the tension when, stopping to fix a flat tire, his wife encounters the biker gang. They do not cease their terror, not even when they kill Max’s son and severely injure his wife. It is too much for Max. He cannot handle it. He returns home, digs out his leather police uniform, and chooses a car out of the garage. He is back and he is mad.

Max seeks justice through revenge. In less time than it took the film to get to this point of the plot, Max eliminates each member of the biker gang. When he finds the last gang member, Max handcuffs the guy to a wrecked vehicle. After setting up a crude time-delay fuse with that involves a slow fuel leak, Max throws the guy a hacksaw. Max is giving him the choice of sawing off the handcuffs or his ankle. Or he dies.

Max doesn’t seem to care, as he casually drives away. The handcuffed man’s fate is unknown after the vehicle explodes.  Max drives off into the unknown, symbolizing how it is with his soul.

It seems that chaos wins in this reality. Even the best of the good guys seems to have been engulfed by the chaos. Which should remind us how slippery the slope is between chaos and order is.