‘Furiosa’ Is a Dazzling Blockbuster — And Also a Trans Allegory?

In January 2006, controversial country musician Rodney Atkins dropped the song “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” onto radio stations everywhere. Though never intended to function as such, this particular track worked for queer Texans (like yours truly) navigating toxic social and academic spaces. When you’re young and raised in larger hostile environments, you don’t have a lot of control over your circumstances. You can’t just run away nor are there a lot of saviors in sight. Survival becomes a victory unto itself. The potential of growing up and going to more accepting spaces is the carrot on the stick luring you out of bed.

Or, in the words of Atkins, “If you’re goin’ through hell keep on going/Don’t slow down/if you’re scared don’t show it/You might get out/before the devil even knows you’re there.”

If anyone knows the truth in the chorus of that song, it’d be Furiosa. Just one haunted glance from Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road made it apparent this character had been through the meat grinder of society. The new Fury Road prequel Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga explores the situations and events that informed that grizzled action movie icon. It’s a production that astonishes with its visual panache, scope, and creative audacity. It’s also bound to inspire further attachment to Furiosa from queer people — especially trans femme viewers.

The proceedings start with an adolescent Furiosa (Alyla Browne) being abducted from her home, The Green Place. That traumatic experience leads her to the clutches of the warlord Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). He’s an egotistical and sociopathic brute who wields whatever power he can get in The Wasteland. The initial encounter between these two kicks off Furiosa, but it’s by no means the end of the movie. Divided into five chapters, Furiosa follows its protagonist as she grows (her adult form is played by Anya Taylor-Joy) into the figure we all cheered on in Fury Road. That journey includes depicting her burgeoning connection with legendary warrior Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke) and her recurring encounters with the immensely powerful Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme).

Mad Max: Fury Road was a blast of action movie bliss taking place over a handful of days. Mad Max mastermind George Miller and screenwriter Nico Lathouris have concocted a script for Furiosa that’s no rehash of Fury Road‘s narrative. Furiosa is instead an expansive tome chronicling multiple decades in the life of its titular character. That earlier Mad Max installment was all about the cathartic joy of witnessing the marginalized decimating the bourgeoisie. Furiosa, meanwhile, is a deeply thoughtful exploration of what it means to survive in a capitalistic dystopia. “We are not things!” is a famous utterance from Fury Road. Furiosa is a movie about how people considered “things” in this universe manage to survive.

This vantage point becomes crystallized through an early scene focused on the two men who kidnapped Furiosa. The horrors of inflicting so much emotional trauma on a young girl are far from their minds. All they joyfully cheer about is no longer existing on the bottom rung of society. Surely snatching this young girl will change their lives! Dementus might even speak to them now! Violence inflicted on these souls has inspired them to impose torment on others. It’s a bleak but realistic depiction of how often people crave acceptance into a toxic hierarchical structure. They do not want or even cannot entertain the thought of that structure’s destruction. Assimilation and survival is all they see.

Nearly everyone in Furiosa is enduring The Wasteland through violence and bringing misery to others. Watching Furiosa navigate that nightmare realm isn’t always easy. However, it is incredibly transfixing. Furiosa is carved from the same largely dialogue-free protagonist archetype that informed Max Rockatansky in the previous films. Forced to conceal her voice for much of her life, Furiosa communicates her internal motivations with body language. A slight shrug of the shoulders or a fierce glance captures your imagination. Furiosa’s relentless determination quietly shines through even while she suppresses herself in the name of survival. Both Browne and Taylor-Joy use impressive restraint to portray Furiosa as someone who fascinates viewers even when she’s standing silently in the background.

Furiosa’s endurance in The Wasteland will compel most moviegoers. However, for trans girl viewers, Furiosa’s plight will likely resonate even more. For one thing, Miller’s plot concerns Furiosa presenting as a man for many years just to stay alive. In these sequences, the focus, thankfully, doesn’t shift to questioning Furiosa’s genuine identity. There also aren’t awkward stabs at comedy centered on the character’s breasts or genitalia. Instead, Miller’s camera focuses on Furiosa. Specifically, the concentration remains on how she must remain aloof from her true self to potentially return home one day.

It’s a situation that trans women who had to mask their gender for lengthy periods of their lives will find all too relevant. Who among us didn’t fantasize about our own “green place” equivalent when we were in the closet? Our minds littered with dreams of putting on dresses or someday interacting with other trans folks? Such hopes made masking as our assigned gender at birth in hellish work/home/social environments a tiny bit more bearable.

The trans women relevancy of Furiosa isn’t confined to that stretch of the titular lead’s life. There’s also Furiosa’s earlier horror over discovering the limited roles afforded women in Immortan Joe’s The Citadel. And let’s also not forget the piecemeal style of Furiosa gradually taking control of her hair and wardrobe. This evokes the jagged gradual way trans women begin putting together their own idiosyncratic appearances. Even the ways Furiosa bellows out her name after being called “Little D” by Dementus and other dismissive terms by male authority figures echoes how important and rebellious proper names are for trans folks.

Even if one never picks up on any allegorically trans material in Furiosa, there’s still plenty to be enraptured by here. For one, George Miller is still the master and commander of vehicle chase scenes in cinema. A lengthy duel on an open road involving a gigantic oil tanker and adversaries that ski on the sand before engaging in menacing paragliding is a thing to behold. Miller’s gift for striking images and not letting needless dialogue interrupt the flow of the spectacle is just as alive as ever. His action-heavy set pieces are brimming with infectious confidence and excitement. In this age of subdued color palettes, it’s glorious to witness Miller’s continued dedication to arresting shot compositions and vivid hues in even the most brutal moments.

Tom Holkenborg’s score is just as potent as his various compositions in Mad Max: Fury Road. He once again channels a bombastic spirit, but this time opts for a more ominous atmosphere. This is not a propulsive chase movie, after all, but rather an examination of existing in the apocalypse. To that end, Holkenborg employs more grumbling guitars and screeching atonal violins. These reinforce how off-kilter The Wasteland is and the jagged existence people have carved out there. With these auditory details, Furiosa is just as much of a sonic triumph as a visual marvel.

Every corner of Furiosa radiates with splendid detail, including the magnificently rendered costumes and automobiles. This is a gung-ho endeavor full of big creative swings, including Chris Hemsworth scenery-chewing turn as Dementus. Opting for a larger narrative canvas than his previous works like Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior or Babe: Pig in the City allows Miller’s imagination to run wild. Chronicling decades of turmoil and upheaval ensures Furiosa isn’t trying to equal Fury Road. Instead, it’s an exciting new creation altogether. You’re bound to leave Furiosa impressed with its scope and richly drawn world rather than wishing you’d witnessed more of a Fury Road rehash.

As for the trans girls in the audience, well, they’re likely to exit Furiosa extra moved. Here is the story of a woman constantly told she’s simply “a thing.” She’s ordered to adhere to male authority figures and their identity-based wishes. Dementus, Immortan Joe, and countless other male authority figures all have different but consistently dehumanizing ideas about how Furiosa’s existence can benefit them. In the face of all that, Furiosa relentlessly rebels. She keeps going in the presence of unspeakable adversity baked into the society she inhabits. Within Furiosa, trans women can see parallels to their struggles and endurance in a gloriously maximalist cinematic vessel.

“If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” proved allegorically relevant queer material can emerge anywhere. That was true with a country song and it’s true with a blockbuster as dazzling and weighty as Furiosa.

Furiosa is now playing in theatres.

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Lisa Laman

Lisa Laman is a life-long movie fan, writer, and Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic located both on the autism spectrum and in Texas. Given that her first word was "Disney", Lisa Laman was "doomed" from the start to be a film geek! In addition to writing feature columns and reviews for Collider, her byline has been seen in outlets like Polygon, The Mary Sue, Fangoria, The Spool, and ScarleTeen. She has also presented original essays related to the world of cinema at multiple academic conferences, been a featured guest on a BBC podcast, and interviewed artists ranging from Anna Kerrigan to Mark Wahlberg. When she isn’t writing, Lisa loves karaoke, chips & queso, and rambling about Carly Rae Jepsen with friends.

Lisa has written 6 articles for us.

1 Comment

  1. Your writing is like a breath of fresh air in the often stale world of online content. Your unique perspective and engaging style set you apart from the crowd. Thank you for sharing your talents with us.

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