Do-It-Yourself Redemption Out on ‘Fury Road’

Several days ago, I went to see a movie with a friend of mine, a new release I was absolutely certain my wife would have no interest in seeing, Mad Max: Fury Road.

Charlize Theron as The Imperator FuriosaNaturally, with writer/director George Miller at the helm, I fully expected to see several insane car chases and lots of testosterone-fueled violence. What I discovered, however, was that the most compelling character in this film was not that of Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), but rather a female counterpart, The Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). As is so often the case, even in a film predicated on the violence wrought through the demise of civilization, the thoroughly-biblical theme of personal redemption was woven tightly throughout the storyline.

Furiosa, as embodied by Theron, is far and away the most interesting film character to come along in quite some time, and she serves as the propelling force of nature that sets the wreckage-strewn plotline of Fury Road into motion. Abducted as a child by a vicious gang of post-apocalyptic thugs, Furiosa has grown up in a world of appalling violence, a nightmare-on-acid realm where water and gasoline are the currency of life and human beings have been reduced to commodities. A person’s value rests solely on his or her ability to perform manual labor, protect the citadel of a psychotic warlord (Hugh Keays-Byrne) or provide breeding services to the warlord’s most loyal soldiers. Yeah…it’s a pretty grim landscape, and human life is depressingly cheap.

Mad Max: Fury Road does not present a very optimistic view on the trajectory of human beings “freed” from the restraint of civilization. To my way of thinking, the film takes William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies to its logical conclusion; remove the strictures of modern culture, introduce a little privation and it’s only a matter of time before the strong begin victimizing the weak. This is all familiar terrain, of course, to anyone who has seen any of the three previous Mad Max movies. The overall premise of this latest addition is much the same; cars collide, explosions rock the landscape, weapons are discharged and very much blood is spilled.

In the face of galling subjugation and pitiless pursuit, though, there is a much stronger theme of personal redemption than I had anticipated. Max’s name may be in the title, but the film truly belongs to Furiosa. Her bloody pursuit of some sort of personal exoneration is the fuel that propels her to take on an ill-conceived rescue mission, and her astonishing unwillingness to value her own life over that of others is perhaps that rarest of commodities in a world gone mad (John 15:13).

It is the personal sacrifice of Furiosa that has the most unanticipated of all apocalyptic outcomes; the softening of yet another human heart.

Without giving away any major plot points, I can say that Furiosa is rightly driven to seek redemption; she has much to repent of. I could not help but watch Theron’s character in action and wonder how much of her ferocity was driven by guilt; it seems we attack with the most viciousness those who remind us of who we really are. In that way, I can readily relate to this character. I spent much of my life in deep, deep rebellion. Having come to Christ, I now understand the theology that tells me there is nothing I could have done to exonerate myself, yet I too felt a strong draw to somehow “make up” for the wreckage that was my former life. Even now, if I’m not careful, I can find myself drifting into living out a false gospel that looks something like that of Theron’s character…minus all the dead bodies.

Charlize Theron as The Imperator FuriosaWhen we arrive at the point where we finally see the ugliness of our own souls, the temptation is, I have to think, common to desire somehow to redeem ourselves.

We say that we accept the forgiveness of Christ, but how many of us simultaneously resist God’s call to trust in Him with all our hearts (Proverbs 3:5) and instead attempt to facilitate our own redemption? Much like Theron’s character, we talk ourselves – however subconsciously – into the idea that one heroic act on our part will “settle accounts,” drifting slowly into works-righteousness mindset time and again. In so doing, we ultimately elevate ourselves and devalue the finished work of Jesus. We also underestimate the holiness of God as well as the level of our own offenses against Him.

True repentance, the authentic gospel of Jesus, involves a full and ongoing surrender of our lives to Him. While surrender may not make for a very good script for a George Miller Goth-opera of blood and car wrecks, isn’t it interesting that the draw to feel as though the balance of one’s life should somehow end on the positive side – our own innate sense that we don’t measure up – makes its way into so many movies these days? It’s almost as if Hollywood can’t help but tell the story of Jesus in some form or fashion.

After all, the good news of Jesus’ work to save us is the only storyline that, embraced, will bring us into the true Kingdom of His shalom.

Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.

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