Australian Culture / Cinema / Society

Mad Max: An Archetype of Australian Masculinity

At the end of the seventies, a small independent Australian production with a budget no more than 400,000 Australian dollars had the effect of a bomb in its country and in the rest of the world. Hardly your lovable Mick Dundee, is Mad Max (Rockatansky) the real Australian male?

In a close and decadent future the people have rebelled, while criminal gangs roam the roads. Police and motorcycle gangs hurtle down endless and deserted motorways of Australia. It is a merciless war for the control of the highways. Between them, there is a policeman, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) who decides to resign from the police force to live a peaceful life with his family. However, after the violent assassination of his family he will return on the roads as a punisher. It is the perfect scene for the resurgence of a masculine archetype. An Australian John Wayne

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Max
credit: hd wallpapers

It is no coincidence that in the beginning of the film, when all the cops of the Main Force Patrol (MFP) have failed to arrest a dangerous cop-killer, only one man seems up to the task: the lonesome and mysterious Max Rockatansky. He is the manliest of men and always fulfills his duties. Where the others fail, Max succeeds. And, like every respectable masculine figure, he keeps his cool even in the most tragic events, even when his partner Goose and his family are violently murdered by a motorcycle gang. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7Bcov5SGU0 Throughout the film women are almost inexistent. The imposing presence of Max leaves no room for them. The only significant female character is Jessie, Max’s wife. Her unique contribution to the plot is her death, which triggers his transformation into a pitiless punisher. Violence And Australian Masculinity Masculine force has been a basic component of Australian culture supporting the creation of a new national identity in a hostile environment. According to Galina Hanley, “traditional heroes like the “bushman” and the “larrikin” or “ocker” have been the epitome of masculine identity in Australia shaping this through their attitudes towards women, violence and their homosocial or isolated nature”. In Mad Max, we can find many connections between violence and the performance of masculinity. According to Galina Hanley, Goose’s reaction to crashing his bike during the initial chase scene shows how the “ocker” mentality in finding humor in some violent acts is acceptable. In addition to this, the bikers share similar elements to the “bushman” as they are more animalistic and embody less romanticized characteristics of masculinity and exhibit extreme cases of collective violence. Robert Connell, in his book “The Men and the Boys”, supports that power through violence is the most obvious assertion of masculinity. Both Max and the biker gang use violence to confirm their masculinity to everyone they encounter. Through Miller’s film we can see that violence is a pillar of Australian masculinity up to the point of becoming a ritual, a habit that has become socially normal in the post-apocalyptic world of the film. Australian Automania

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A Car Chase Scene From The Film
credit: film forager

Another important factor in Australian masculinity is car culture. According to Charlie Andrews, Australia has always been a car-crazy country: “The Holden-Ford debate has been a major topic of conversation, and if you scratch an Australian motorist on anything to do with their car, you’ll get your ears talked off.” Max’s yellow 1974 Ford Falcon XB with a V8 engine and the black Pursuit Special 1973 Ford XB Falcon are an obvious homage to this Australian car frenzy. Moreover, in Mad Max the car is more than just a mean of transport.  It is the weapon of choice. Guns are replaced by cars and bikes that have literally become killing machines. For instance when the bikers kill Max’s family, and he decides to take his revenge, he doesn’t change his shotgun for a more lethal weapon but he changes his red family van for the black Ford Falcon. According to Galina Hanley, the change in car reflects Max’s change in attitude from the initial pursuit man of the MFP to the monster he was so scared of becoming. The car becomes a weapon for Max’s retribution and as he becomes the monster, the car mimics him with its roaring engine and intimidating look, much like Max’s leather-clad image and cold demeanor. In addition to this, throughout the movie guns are rarely used for this film genre and almost no one is killed by a gun. All the characters are killed by cars, bikes or crashes! Manhood in Mad Max is not defined by the power of your gun or the quality of the shooter but by the muscle of your car, how fast you drive and for how long you can hold your nerves. Australian Mateship 

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Goose & Max
credit: films school rejects

Another important aspect of Australian masculinity is the way in which men perceive their male counterparts. According to Charlie Andrews, in Australia the tradition of “mateship” and of reliance of a man on his pal is a basic component of Australian masculine behavior. Mateship is a concept that can be traced back to early colonial times. The harsh environment, in which men found themselves, required that men relied closely to each other for all sorts of help.  In Australia, a mate is more than a just a friend. It is a concept that implies a sense of shared experience, mutual respect and unconditional assistance. According to Bob Pease, “mateship has become a part of Australian male heritage and a significant part of Australian males self-image.” The relationship between Max and his partner Goose embody all the characteristics of mateship. According to Galina Hanley, “Max’s interaction with Goose ties into traditional Australian ideals of how men should behave to prove themselves being strong and jovial with their mates while becoming violent with those who go against their beliefs.” More Than Just An Action Movie Through George’s Miller films we discover, indirectly, different aspects of Australian masculinity which is a cultural pedestal. More specifically we see the importance of mateship and violence in the definition of Australian masculinity. Moreover, in Mad Max, we can perceive that Australians have a special relation with cars, which have a predominant position in the Australian culture. According to Richard Strauss, the car is an accessory of ocker maledom and represents a distinct way of life.  Maybe this peculiar relationship that Australians have with cars is due to the enormous, hostile and desert territory which makes them, even more than elsewhere, slaves to their motor vehicles. Works Cited: –          Connell Robert, “ The Men and the Boys”, Cambridge: Polity Press,  March, 2001 –          Hanley Galina , “Australian Legends: historical explorations of Australian masculinity and film 1970-1995”, University of Waikato, URL:http://waikato.researchgateway.ac.nz/ –          Pease Bob, “A man’s world? Changing men’s practices in a globalized world”, Zed Books, 2001 –          Rayner Jonathan, “Contemporary Australian Cinema: An Introduction”, Manchester University Press, April 7, 2001 –         Strauss Richard, “Up for rego: a social history of the Holden Kingswood”, Pluto Press, 1998 Websites: –          Andrews Charlie, “Australia’s Car Culture – A National Obsession, Observed”, URL: http://ezinearticles.com/?Australias-Car-Culture—A-National-Obsession,-Observed&id=6200841 –          Burton Trent , “Mad Max: A Critical Review”, URL: http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/film/dbase/2000/max.html –          Davies Glenn, “On Australian mateship”, 7 May 2012, URL: http://www.independentaustralia.net/australia/australia-display/on-australian-mateship,4109 –          Kenneth John, “Cult Movie Review: Mad Max (1979)”, May 24, 2011, URL: http://reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.fr/2011/05/cult-movie-review-mad-max-1979.html –          Padival Ajey, “National Identity in Australian films”, URL: http://brosreview.blogspot.fr/2008/05/national-identity-issues-in-australian.html –          Peters Mike, “Mad Max”, Popculture101, URL: http://popculture101.com/?p=184 –          Pinto Brett, “The Masculinity Factor of Mad Max”, URL: http://bpintotakessydney11.blogspot.fr/2011/03/masculinity-factor-of-mad-max.html –          “Mad Max (1979)”, And You Call Yourself a Scientist, URL: http://www.aycyas.com/liz_madmax.htm

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