Thinking about the endings of all the Mad Max movies:
- His family’s murder avenged, Max takes to the wasteland, a broken man, to become a drifter..
- Having defeated Lord Humungous, Max is left in the desert to become a drifter again.
- Having bought the children time to escape, Max is left in the desert to become a drifter again.
- Having helped defeat Immortan Joe, Max takes to the desert to become a drifter again.
The nice thing about #4 is that at least this time Max clearly had the choice to stay behind. Every other time, it seems like Max had nothing left. Max, the perpetual loner, time and time again steps up to sacrifice himself to help others, and it leaves him in worse shape than when he started.
In Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Max loses his car and his dog. In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Max loses all his possessions again and is left in the desert. In Mad Max: Fury Road, Max loses all his possessions again and his car gets destroyed (twice). He does reclaim his jacket and some gear from Bullet Farmer, though, so he’s better off than #3.
I think it’s interesting because Max doesn’t want to help people initially. He just can’t help himself. And no matter what happens in the movies, he survives to the next movie. Which is why the voiceover description of Max in Fury Road is so apt:
A man reduced to a single instinct: survive.
Max is perpetually burnt out and wrecked, but no matter what happens to him, he can’t lose that part of himself that wants to help people.
Fury Road was hard for me because Max was initially such a shadow of his former self. He’s nothing more than, as George Miller described him, a mad dog. The moment Max shows up in Fury Road is like 20 minutes in, when Furiosa jumps into the truck and they make eye contact and he hands her a gun. I was like, “There’s Max!” And suddenly there he was, 100% on the hero’s side, 100% willing to go to the mat for people he just met because it was the right thing to do. It’s a pretty powerful moment in a movie full of powerful moments.
You have to wonder why Max doesn’t stay at the Citadel. For once, in the Mad Max Cycle, Max has a real opportunity to stop being a drifter. Not only that, Max could do a lot of good in the Citadel, since he was once a former lawman and could help bring about the change of society that the Citadel will undergo.
I think it’s because of the epic nature of Mad Max’s existence. He’s kind of like Odysseus, perpetually wandering the world, trying to get home. Odysseus could have given up a long time into his journey and just stayed in many places, but he kept going because Ithaca was where he belonged. Max could have given up but I think he keeps moving because his home has been destroyed, so he belongs nowhere, he’s unmoored from existence. He leaves the Citadel because he believes he does not belong there. He wanders because he cannot conceptually understand the idea of stopping.