Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The Cheese Stands Alone

Actually, The Road Warrior stands alone.

Both the film and the character.

It's pretty obvious why the film stands out so sharply against other early-80's action pictures: it was made by completely insane people. Seriously, there's some loony shit in this film, and the more times I watch it, the more I wonder WHO in god's name ever thought driving their Camaro under the wheels of an ass-hauling tractor trailer was a good idea. And how the director put together a shot list that included set-ups like: "Helicopter shot of a few dozen dune buggies, motorcycles and souped-up psycho-mobiles roaring at INSANE speed across the desert in pursuit of a tanker truck while football-pad-wearing lunatics wave homemade axes and bows in the air and then something explodes," without crunching the sheet of paper up and just throwing it away, laughing at his own craziness.

Fortunately for all of us, this group of completely insane people managed to hold together (Millenium-Falcon-style) long enough and somehow convince someone to give them enough money (now who looks crazy?) AND find a chunk of land that went on forever and nobody else was using that they were able to make this very very very fine picture.

It's like the late-80's Jackie Chan stunt team went back in time, migrated to the Australian outback, met up with Wild Aussie Bill the Junkyard Owner, mugged a football team and took up Insane People Driving.

I was astonished at a recent screening of The Road Warrior hosted by my lovely wife how many people hadn't seen this hoary classic of 80's goodness. It more than holds up -- watching it what strikes one is how even after twenty-some-odd years, still NOBODY has managed to top this film for sheer idiotic chase scene madness. The early sequences alone are enough to suck jaws to the floor but the finale is utter gobsmacking cinematic joy. There really is nothing like it.

Right to the final image, watching Max get smaller and smaller, standing alone on the endless road, watching the civilization he's fought so hard to save drive away from him.

Because as I mentioned above, not only does The Road Warrior stand alone, so does the Road Warrior.

It occured to me on this viewing, for the first time, that he doesn't go off with the folks he's saved. They drive off to their paradise, and leave him standing, staring, brooding his broody broodness by his wild lone self.

He is Cat Who Walks By Himself, I think, and all places are alike to him.

But why? Why doesn't Max join them?

Well, for one, because then he doesn't get to be in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Tina Turner in chainmail? Sure, you can't blame the guy. But if we assume the Jackie Chan Stunt Team doesn't get a time machine, it doesn't seem fair to give Max one, so surely at this point he doesn't know that Tina Turner lies in his future. So again I ask, why doesn't he get on the damn bus?

I've come to feel that this is one of the reasons the film stands so apart as it does; because Max does likewise. Max DOESN'T get the girl. He DOESN'T get the hero's laurels, parades, kisses, wealth, anything. At the end of the film Max is in far worse shape than he was at the start of the film. But we don't feel like this is a tragic film, and we aren't howling at the injustice of it all at the ending. It feels RIGHT, dammit. It feels JUST. But why?

I think I know. I think it's because if he gets on the bus, if he partakes of the things he's saved, then it's as though he did what he did for the REWARD. It makes him into a mercenary, and while we can understand that sort of motivation, and even share it in almost everything we do in our lives, The Road Warrior is saying, in its fast-driving, crazy-hair-lunatic-yelling, out-in-the-middle-of-the-desert way, that what civilization REALLY needs isn't bigger guns, more bullets and louder engines. What civilization needs in order to survive is for people to do what they know is right, without expectation of reward. When all we do is driven by reward, by pay, we are mercenaries of the soul, warring for whoever has the deepest purse, with no regard to what's really needed, blinding ourselves to the truth. In the hopes of what? Of belonging? Of the temporary safety of the indulgence of powerful monsters? No. We cannot accept this. We know it in our deepest bits.

Because the truth is, that like The Road Warrior, the Road Warrior, and yes, like the Cheese, we all stand alone. It isn't the rewards we gather that define us. It's the things we do in spite of the rewards.