Like Moses, Furiosa Is a Liberator Raised in the Heart of Empire | Sojourners

Like Moses, Furiosa Is a Liberator Raised in the Heart of Empire

'Furiosa' / Warner Bros.

As the world falls around us, how must we brave its cruelties? the first History Man 

This question opens writer-director George Miller’s latest film, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, as the camera pans out over apocalyptic images of a brutal desert wasteland. The prequel to 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road is trying to answer profound questions. How? How did Furiosa find the courage to resist an overwhelming force? How must we brave the falling (fallen?) world’s cruelties? That how is vital, especially for Christians in the U.S., whose mundane lives are an unimaginable luxury for most of those alive today and who are at least somewhat aware that our prosperity is built on the exploitation of others. How do those of us who live in the lap of the empire truly act as agents of liberation? 

Furiosa has arrived at the front of a convoy of anticipation. Though it underperformed at the box office, Mad Max: Fury Road became a critical darling, even earning the title of Best Film of the 2010s according to a survey of 250 critics. The film was hailed for its bone-crunching practical effects and its bold feminist vision. Tom Hardy, who plays the titular Max Rockatansky, took a backseat to Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a general in the army of the post-apocalyptic dictator Immortan Joe (the late Hugh Keays-Byrne). Fury Road is essentially a two-hour car chase kicked off when Furiosa liberates Immortan Joe’s five prize “breeders” (he calls them “wives”). Joe, of course, wants them back (oh, and Max gets dragged along).

How did someone who rose so high in the ranks of an oppressive system become a liberator? We know the basic outline of Furiosa’s story from Fury Road. She grew up in The Green Place, a place of abundance and equality. She was captured along with her mother, who was killed almost immediately. We know she ended up at the Citadel, the oasis stronghold that Joe rules with a chrome fist. But, rather than becoming a breeder, she became the only female imperator (a high-ranking officer in Joe’s army), and betrays Joe by liberating his “wives.”

This evolution  from captive to general to liberator  is not a surprise in Furiosa. Miller and his writing partner Nico Lathouris had written the Furiosa script years before filming Fury Road as a way to explore Furiosa’s backstory. They gave the script to Theron to aid her performance, and at one point even gave it to Japanese director Mahiro Maeda, who was going to make an animated film. The narrative cohesion between the two films is evident not only in Furiosa’s consistent worldbuilding  earlier incarnations of Immortan Joe and his Citadel, along with the People Eater, Bullet Farmer, Rictus Erectus, and others  but in the parallels between the films. Like Max, Furiosa spends much of the early film imprisoned, muzzled, and silent, for instance.

Fury Road drew on Exodus imagery in Furiosa’s flight from the Citadel, leading her people to a promised land. No surprise, then, that the earlier beats of Moses’ story have striking parallels to Furiosa’s backstory. Furiosa was taken from her people and grew up in the ranks of Immortan Joe’s army. Moses was born to an enslaved people but taken from them and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, in the heart of the empire. Furiosa witnessed terrible violence at the hands of Dementus (a manic, menacing Chris Hemsworth)  a violence that drives her to risk her own safety for others. Similarly, Moses witnessed an overseer abusing one of his people (Exodus 2:11), an  experience that catalyzed his journey toward liberation.

The particular challenge for Furiosa (played in the prequel by Alyla Browne and Anya Taylor-Joy) is her relationship to Dementus. Dementus is the man who captured Furiosa and killed her mother, and his cruelty threatens to distort and even sabotage Furiosa’s mission. Furiosa promised her mother to do whatever it takes to return to The Green Place a promise we know from Fury Road she will fulfill. When she witnesses Dementus kill her mother, he then holds Furiosa captive for years; she becomes consumed with revenge. Much of Furiosa revolves around this central question: Will she remain true to her mother’s calling of abundance, or will she forsake that mission in the name of revenge? Will she allow the violence of Dementus and Joe to subvert her mission? How, as the History Man asked, will she brave the world’s cruelties?

If The Green Place is Eden, then Dementus, Immortan Joe, and the others embody the world of sin that not only enslaves and oppresses our bodies, but poisons our spirits, bending us away from who God created us to be. If the world was a binary, divided cleanly into oppressors and the oppressed, the enslaver and the enslaved, resistance would be simple. But by the time she has the ability to resist, Furiosa has benefitted from her proximity to the evil rulers of the Wasteland.  

Moses, though the child of an enslaved people, was educated in Pharaoh’s palace. And as for most of us modern Americans, though we are not the tech billionaires who sell data to foreign powers, we haven’t deleted our social media profiles. We don’t profit from draconian and cruel labor practices, but we can’t pass up that free one-day shipping. We don’t manufacture smart devices using child labor, but we buy and use those devices. We may not be Pharaoh, but we are citizens of Egypt.

We know Furiosa becomes a liberator. Her story, told in the frames of the prequel, becomes a hopeful invitation for all of us who live in the Citadels of our world: We can hold onto that original calling, to till and keep the earth — to make the whole world a Green Place. Injustice doesn’t have to get the last word, and our proximity to the empire doesn’t mean we’re irredeemable. It may mean we’re perfectly placed for an act of holy liberation.