Study Guide for Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

1. Citation

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Dir. George Miller and George Ogilvie. Australia: Kennedy Miller Productions (production) / Warner Brothers (US release), 1985. George Miller, producer and co-author of script. Mel Gibson and Tina Turner, stars.

2. Brief Description

Third in the series (others: Mad Max and Mad Max 2 [US title: The Road Warrior]. Offers an intriguing critique of the virtues and limitations of technological civilization, seen from the perspective of a post-holocaust world in which a barter economy is progressive and in which the relationship between energy and political power is very direct. Required viewing for critics who look for contemporary use of "archetypes." Also very useful for the study of the roles of women in a post-holocaust world: the hero's climactic action is to choose between two women and the future cultures they will found. (A Warner paperback is advertised.)

3. Cast

Max: Mel Gibson

The Flying Jalopy
Jedediah the Pilot: Bruce Spence Jedediah Jr.: Adam Cockburn
The People of Bartertown
Aunty Entity: Tina Turner The Collector: Frank Thring
Pig Killer: Robert Grubb The Master: Angelo Rossitto
The Blaster: Paul Larsson Ironbar: Angry Anderson
Blackfinger: George Spartels Dr. Dealgood: Edwin Hodgeman
The Tribe Who Left
Savanah Nix: Helen Buday Mr. Skyfish: Mark Spain
Gekko: Mark Kounnas Scrooloose: Rod Zuanic
Anna Goanna: Justine Clarke Eddie: Shane Tickner
Tubba Tintye (?): James Wingrove Finn McCoo: Adam Scougall
Cusha (?)...the pregnant girl: Toni Allayus
The Tribe Who Stayed
Slake (First Tracker): Tom Jennings Mr. Scratch: Adam Willis
4 Hunters (boys) 3 Guardians (girls)
20 Gatherers (boys and girls) 8 Little Ones (2-3 girls, 5-6 boys)

4. Comments and Questions

  1. The opening aerial shot establishes the world of Beyond Thunderdome : a wasteland with some high technology remaining ("the flying jalopy"). The second sequence tells us more about Beyond Thunderdome's genre: we see Max's (cowboy) boots, Max with long hair in a classic Western shot looking out over a plain with tiny people and clouds of dust, then a dissolve into a barbarian/Biblical "epic" world with a touch of feudal Japan (the mask on the pole)-but with a bicycle and a "BARTERTOWN" sign with the fading motto, "Helping Build a Better Tomorrow." Then more barbarism, and a waterseller-with radioactive water. This movie is clearly post-holocaust, and it's a nuclear holocaust, but it's also a hodgepodge of genres, in a fashion that's often called "postmodern."
  2. Max's entrance into Bartertown is impressively macho, going Indiana Jones one better by just shooting the feathers off the young challenger. Then a comic touch in the Western manner as Max leaves his weapons-lots of weapons-at the figurative door. (The "Atomic Cafe" sign is also a joke: that's the name of a famous documentary on US nuke war propaganda.)
  3. What should we make of Aunty Entity's rooms? They transcend the (commercial) muck around them, and they're the first touch of civilization. There's music, a fan, fresh water, fruit-and violence. What about Aunty's brag about what she's built: "Where there was desert, now there's a town; where there was robbery. there's trade; where there was despair, now there's hope. Civilization. And I'll do anything to protect it." She's right.
  4. What is the basis for Bartertown? Aunty Entity looks out over her world-in a shot that stresses what we'll later learn is Thunderdome- and says figuratively that she built Bartertown and is "Up to my armpits in blood and shit." To what extent does Bartertown depend upon literal shit? Upon literal blood?
  5. Note well Pig Killer. Is his slavery a cost of civilization? What do you make of the subversive visual suggestion that Aunty Entity's lofty life depends on a nasty underworld of technology and oppression?
  6. Master/Blaster is significant and highly symbolic. One meaning was clear to Beyond Thunderdome's original audience, who had experienced the Arab oil embargoes of the 1970s, and has been brought to mind again by Saddam Hussein of Iraq in August of 1990: the people who control the energy sources for high-tech culture have great power. What else is going on with Master/Blaster?
  7. Note well Aunty Entity's descent to her people at Thunderdome: like Diana, the Mood-goddess, and a mighty hunter. Note the law ("Two men enter; one man leaves") and Dr. Dealgood (with two female assistants) as fight and gameshow announcer. By the time of the fight at Thunderdome, almost all the components of Bartertown culture are in place. Bartertown is progress, as Aunty says; to move from barbarism to primitive capitalism it needs only the sacredness of contracts: "Bust a deal, face the wheel."
  8. In that ultimate gameshow, Face the Wheel, "Gulag" refers to a prison-camp system in the USSR. It is Max's near death, except that he's somewhat surrealistically saved by Savannah Nix. (Since one theory holds that humankind evolved by means of violence on the African savannahs; and since "nix" means "No!", "Savannah Nix" may be a significant name.)
  9. The Green Gorge (the SF critic Peter Hall's term) is the first decent place we've seen so far. Note technological stuff as fetishes- literal magic paraphernalia-especially the Bugs Bunny talking doll. Note motif of resurrection with "Capt. Walker." Note entrance of Slake- coming down a rope in a macho version of Aunty Entity's descent.
  10. Note Slake's handing the Tell over to Savannah. With a stereotypical Australian "Adult Action" film audience-how do the directors grab the punks and make sure they attend to Savannah's history lesson?
  11. What sort of culture would Max bring to the Green Gorge if he got his wish and remained there? What sort of culture will Slake maintain (especially with Savannah and her followers gone)? Should we regret that Savannah et al. didn't know a good thing and left their little "Eden"?
  12. For judging why Max goes after Savannah et al., and his leaving the Gorge, note that Max is recovering from literal madness brought on by the murder of his wife and child. The healing Max is a sucker for kids. (The original Mad Max film is a bloody Jacobean tragedy of revenge set in near-future Australia. Max is the avenger, and [like Hamlet and numerous lesser characters] gets caught up in the evil of his world. Aside from his guilt from being part of our generationÑthe generation that ruined Earth-Max bears personal guilt: he killed a brain-damaged member of the gang that destroyed his family. Recall this for Max's reaction to killing Blaster.)
  13. Max and the kids' descent to the Underworld under Bartertown is a kind of "Harrowing of Hell." Heroes frequently descend into the Underworld, but the most famous in our culture is Christ (at least according to a very old legend and the "Apostle's" Creed). Christ descends into Hell and brings out the good people born before his birth. Max is less effective, but he's far from a Christ-figure. Anyway, note that "harrowing"-look it up (it's a figure of speech from farming)-and the combination of mechanism and organism in Bartertown's Underworld.
  14. How do you respond to Aunty Entity's commitment to rebuild Bartertown? To her sparing Max's life near the end of the film? As I said, she is progress. Still-progress toward what?
  15. What do you make of the kids in the train car with the cleaned up Master and the record player? For sure, a fetish becomes just a record, and a pretty useless one at that.
  16. How do you interpret the climax of the film, when Max hands the former Master over to Savannah Nix? If Max here opts for one human future over another-what is it?
  17. In addition to the former Master, the other representatives of technology are Jedediah the Pilot and Jedediah Jr. Are they positive or negative characters? (Jedediah senior is a popular one; he was brought back from The Road Warrior. Note the pith helmets with little fans on them: Imperialism + low-tech.?)
  18. Aunty Entity declines to kill him, but Max at least offers to die that Savannah Nix and the the kids and the Jedediah's can get away. Why didn't George Miller end what seems to be a standard film trilogy and kill off Max? If Max's death would be too much of a downer, why not marry him off and have a new and better world coalesce comically around him and Aunty Entity or him and Savannah Nix? Is Max heroic as an exile? (Note hero's riding off into the sunset as standard in Westerns and unexceptional as the ending for Road Warrior. But Beyond Thunderdome is only partially a Western, and Max is getting a bit old to keep walking off into deserts.)
  19. Does the film have a satisfying ending with Sydney destroyed and the promise of Sydney revived? Film gossip has it that Gibson insisted on a fairly positive ending. Note that the people at the end of the film are clean. They're listening to history from a woman on a low dias (contrast Aunty), Savannah Nix with a baby-and with the Bugs Bunny doll again a doll. Aunty may rebuild our world and invite another holocaust, but Savannah's tribe offers a new way (and Max is on the desert with "Savannah's" spears).