Mad Max Fury Road - fictional arm amputee "Imperator Furiosa" played by Charlize Theron [review]
Again, the Punch & Judy department of Warner Brothers throws a faked disability, a faux handicap, at us, in their Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) movie, and again, we consider it, just as we considered the attempts in Kingsman, or, Home of the Brave (2006), or, maybe in the ill-fated attempt for cinema titled "Hancock". Hell, they even may get an Oscar for this faux arm disability centered charade!
And, yes, I do review movies (that I come across) that feature (possibly faked or real) arm amputees. Why, and from what angle? See, society shapes our perceptions of arm amputees, and while that may bypass your butt stone cold, I have to directly deal with the fall-out of that. With arm amputees being a real rarity in our society (link), the average person on the street will have had exposure to a lot more "on-screen" amputees -real or, mostly, fake - than actual encounters. Before meeting me as the single encounter, the average person on the street may have subliminally absorbed 3-4 movie arm amputees. So media matter in that they directly impact my own social experience. Clearly, that does not impact you at all - but may I add that it was you that came here to begin with, and, did you consider this blog's title? Also, I suffer from synaesthetic pain which directly affects how I feel also while watching such a movie.
So I am not asking so much whether a particular fairy tale, being told as a movie or so, is consistent in itself and represents a standalone piece of art, as such and regardless of the time and culture it was made in. Instead, I want to know with what type of stereotype you will leave the cinema. After all, these movies all build on stereotypes.
And in my everyday encounters, media stereotype priming may provide a somewhat dominant aspect in how the real life encounter starts.
It is a decisive aspect, really, and quite honestly, one has no control over that, neither you as the mostly un-reflected movie consumer, nor me, as the person that can only watch and see and not give any comment to prevent the unavoidable communication ship wreck from happening. A real minority of people may seem to have no relevant preconceived notions, such as maybe 1/400 or so - but by and large, everyone and their grandmother thinks the same idiotic stuff like, hooks are evil (and just why that is so totally fucked up can be read here), ""bionic" arms are cool" (and just why that then is so fucked up can be seen here, where it is explained that you fail the Voight Kampff test right then and there), and more.
And as we are visually being told in this movie about Mad Max and Furiosa, the female arm amputee is abandoned in the end, by Max, who walks out staring at her, without any further ado, with the handicap visually increasing and getting bigger in the camera focus - then, that is supposed to be cool, just because.. it is a movie that sends a message that we need, .. because it is "Mad Max", ... because it is Charlize Theron playing in it, ... or why? Of course you are free to interpret all kinds of stuff into this movie - I just looked at it and discussed what there is to see.
With such messages being told by mass media to the masses, it is a totally open question just "how cool" that really is, given that among all amputees, the suicide rate of arm amputees seems to be highest. Of course, "Houston, we have a problem". We have no lobby, as arm amputees, all we seem to be on that scale is clay type material for idiotic story writers. And while each and every other Hollywood blockhead character somehow stumbles into a "happy" ending, here for some reason, there cannot be any "happy" ending? A comprehensively "cited" "one armed dove hunt" as very clear indicator of what cultural aspects are the movie's center piece? A strong visual focus on simulating a disability with an amputated arm, while other aspects - red eyes in traveling in sand storm deserts - are entirely neglected?
With stereotypes being traded as such, this warrants a closer look.
So, what do they do there? Is this movie any good on a social and emotional level? And, before glorifying it just because [link][link] (they even write "watch Furiosa punch Max in the face, with her nubbins" which she really doesn't; she punches him with her hand while sticking the nubbins out in the air) - why not actually *use* our eyes, to look, to ogle, to view, and (in a more strict sense) "watch" it? It is so much a visual and so not much a verbal movie, so we (including you) really have to switch on our eyesies. Not assume, or make up, or invent. Just watch. What is there to be actually seen, what do they really show? Is this empowering or what does it really say, in graphic language?
Prosthetic arm - details, features
The prosthetic arm in Mad Max: Fury Road in essence contains a glorified claw.
It is notable that the usage of hooks and other non-human looks previously were used as elements of evil, and of non-humaneness [link]. The repeated medial distortion did have a serious impact as it deterred thousands of arm amputees from accepting a functional prosthetic hook and spawned a whole industry of rubber puppetry dubbed "bionic" hands [link] that cost our health and accident insurances hundreds of thousands of dollars - which would be alright were these hands even halfway "useful". But far from it, and not a word of apology of any of these media clowns.
Now here, a prosthetic arm is presented that hangs off the digitally edited screen appearance of Charlize Theron who appears to not contain a physical handicap herself.
This arm here was called "Dayna's arm" simply because Charlize Theron's stunt double, Dayna Grant, was wearing it for the shootings.
Better visual feature detail discrimination:
Details (see image below with added tags):
The prosthetic arm features a middle finger with a hook (02); the index finger (03) contains rubber at its tip, while the thumb has a rough metal surface (04) similar to the surface of heavy pliers. Any assumed motion appears to be set forth by various springs (05, 06, 07), none of which looks even remotely strong. The index and middle finger feature perforated metal (01) which is not covered by any leather or fabric. The prosthetic gripper is mounted on three rods (13, 14, 15) that give a forearm-like appearance while a wrist unit seems to be absent. The prosthetic device features a number of totally obscure cables (08, 09, 10, 11, 12), none of which makes sense even in a remote way, and none of which seem to add to even a fictional type of functionality. Furthermore, a wrench obviously was strapped to one of the rods, acting as an ornament. To add to the notion of ornament, the socket (16) is so short that there is no way such a prosthetic arm really stays on a stump for any considerable time, leave alone enabling the wearer to actually lift anything at all.
Minimal finger count containing grip mechanics built on hard claws for an everyday usage and everyday world that does NOT exclusively contain deformable objects is, mildly put, idiotic. So already the details of index finger (03) and thumb (04) reveal a total absence of rational thought for this prosthetic device. The device contains dead weight in form of weak and superfluous springs (05, 06, 07) none of which exhibit any control or actuation mechanism at all, as well as a strange assortment of cable like strings (08-12), all of which indicate a rather seriously high degree of confusion for both the party that built that prosthetic device and the person to wear it. Because after maybe a day or two of wearing an item such as this, the uselessness of parts should get on your nerves, and you should be removing items until all you are left with are parts that are actually necessary. And if you do spend time in a half ways dirty environment, your broken or perforated metal surfaces (fingers, 01) should collect dirt so fast it will make your head spin. I once ate a piece of pizza wearing an uncovered Becker hand, and I then spent half an hour with an old tooth brush cleaning that thing again.
So, really, we are looking at an entirely phoney contraption that, if anything, contains features that convey hysteria and weirdness. If I had a spare wrench, the last place I would tie that to was my prosthetic arm - and while we are at it, let us list other body parts that also do well without tying wrenches to them.
Here, a left arm seems to still be present on the film character.
Some time later, it appears that the arm went missing. Here, it looks like an above elbow amputation.
Use of prosthetic arm
The prosthetic arm seems to serve as weapon handling device. Here, a rifle is held. From this, we assume that the film character is a below elbow amputee.
Here, it also seems that the prosthetic device is used to hold a rifle for aim.
Indeed, real life amputees (as opposed to Charlize Theron faking it in that movie here) may use their prosthetic or amputated arm for aim.
And to my big surprise, a very clear (and outstandingly tongue in cheek) reference is made to the One Armed Dove Hunt in one sequence. The OADH is the single most relevant and important social get-together for American arm amputees. With that, it is not just a "hunt", not even a dove hunt of any kind. Except that possibly, a few of the OADH participants may actually go and try to shoot a few shots, really, the OADH is about something ever so entirely different: it is an extremely social, very emotional get together, and it has very peculiar social aspects in the world of disability.
And this movie makes more than ample reference to this, visually, graphically, cinematically.
As visual analyst, this matters greatly. It provides a clue to the story here. This is not a movie about Max nor his madness ("Mad" Max). It is a movie that has an extensive reference about a One Armed Dove Hunt as a centerpiece. Charlize Theron shows how the film's featured arm amputee deals with nightmares and fears, with its nemesis, shows how she "overcomes".
Image (C) OADH
Bimanual activities that are shown are holding binoculars.
Other bimanual activities are motorbike riding.
Without breaking her self assumed proficiency, the character Furiosa also used the more peaceful travel time of her truck to provide some "in flight" repairs as one does, obviously, aided by her prosthetic arm (stopping the monster truck for repairs would be for beginners, really):
It also serves to make her proportions appear "whole" again at least in a rather rudimentary sense.
Nowhere does she have a severely elevated shoulder on the amputated side. Not like real arm amputees: we always lift our amputated side's shoulder up a bit; I do it also because of severe phantom and stump pains, then because of weight differences and asymmetry. Not so this simulated character: she does not elevate anything. For all I know, just looking at her body frame and posture, she is one simulated unreal amputee. Too much focus on the stump and prosthesis simulation, no attention to the overall picture.
Prosthetic arm confusion
Here, we cannot make sense of the cable and mechanics at all. It looks like it is more of a mess, really.
The arm also features an elaborate set of leather straps.
But really, we do not know what it is the film makers try to tell us and what they edited onto the movie to make look like her prosthetic arm. Really, it is a bit confused.
Without deterring from the overall clueless-ness as to why that main character screams through the movie with a hosed arm, some aspects are deep and totally funny.
If the driver's left arm is missing we can just paint it on the door. Without doubt, this is very cool design.
Symbolism of surrendering
Also, we constantly evaluate the pragmatic versus the symbolic in our liquid modernity - and so right along with the Red Riding Hood questionnaire ("grandmother, why...") we can ask "why does the below elbow amputee need a prosthetic arm?" - "so they can hold their arms up to surrender".
Yeah, of course, because like many other symbolic hand activities require a hand to convey the symbolism, just sticking up the stump for surrender is lame if instead a length replacement and anatomical outline replacement can be used.
Goes to show why wearing hooks is not all THAT bad ; )
The underlying deeper subject would be just how arm amputation (as bodily disfigurement) impedes or restricts the possibility of participating in any act of symbolism, be it as a priest, or as a negotiator, where symbolism often requires subtle and not so subtle limb movements both as direct and indirect means of communication. To see Furiosa as the user of a (technically speaking) hysterically useless contraption type prosthesis aptly fill a symbolic if not a political role is a very modern, 2015 type thing (and neither explained by discussing steam punk, apocalypse or deserts): 2015, that is, when we pay a fortune to get a similar, now called "bionic" type contraption as a prosthetic arm, with a very low pragmatic use aspect, but quite possibly a lot of symbolism attached to it (link). I cannot use an iLimb to sew, bake a cake or wash my car; but I could very well use it to, say, visibly surrender. But then, that also works with a cosmetic or passive arm.
The visually interesting final sequence
Near the end, a sequence with the apparent winners of the movie's previous desert conflict shows Mad Max and Furiosa - she is without prosthetic arm now, as winning and posing as winner clearly does not require such equipment as compared to surrendering - getting up on the car hood or platform while the crowds go absolute bonkers.
Why is Max still there at all?
A really cool stone cold trip parasite, any PTSD sufferer, anyone else would easily have kept his cool, and sneaked off before the big reception at the end. That is what really cool guys do that have no attachments to others - they grasp any opportunity to jump ship and leave no trails. They avoid appearing on TV. Not Max and not here, so we are not getting the easy guy out. So, he stays in order to convey more symbolism. There really is no explanation why he did not leave Furiosa earlier.
The question that overshadows everything, therefore, is the *very* end - will Mad Max and Furiosa (both somewhat irritable if not irritated characters were one to accept the 'nomen est omen' predicament) at least temporarily "stay" together in an attempt to represent any type of lasting attraction? After all, this is a stereotypical story, told by the prime stereotype usage pattern providers on this planet (i. e., blockbuster movie industry), and not some sensible deeply felt historical reality representation of any kind. Also, if anything, Mad Max underwent at least a degree of social evolving in this movie in that he seemed to somewhat "open up". So he is the only contestant around for the ambivalence of blockbuster ending. Now, what are we actually being shown? On screen, image wise? Is anyone at all challenging Furiosas social status as "single" - as that seems to be just so much at the center of each other Mad Max movie: who is with whom, and, who not? The blockbuster movie industry has a fatal attraction to focus on couple ending, and this is a very apparent question here as well.
If anything, the movie tells us that (and exactly why) Furiosa and Mad Max have a degree of tension going towards the end, but, won't stay together. Of course we are not told why that is at all, and in fact, who gives a flying fuck what fairy tale character stays where - but in visual story telling, the image is the clue. The picture. This is usually forgotten. What is shown or projected here? The only explanation Max is still there is because his leaving must be implemented visually, so his staying and then leaving at that very point in time have a meaning.
This is not a movie of deep dialogue, but of deep visuals - and only here and never before in that movie is Furiosa displayed as a more disfigured than even disabled person, sticking her amputated arm into the lens of the camera (see relative width of stump compared to face below), upon which Mad Max, who stayed with her that far, leaves without further explanation while he keeps staring at her and she keeps staring at him.
All this happens while the camera's angle tilts from an elevated view - showing more Furiosa than hosed arm - to a lowered angle - showing more hosed arm than Furiosa, over time, increasingly, so to speak. That is the visual story telling happening here.
The concept of Ken and Barbie exhibiting anatomical completeness as symbolic (rather than pragmatic) feature (were it for pragmatism, Furiosa would "have it all") essentially required for mating is not only on surprisingly prominent display here (given that Furiosa's handicap does not get that much center-stage camera presence or center-stage story presence just about anywhere else in this movie) and so we can safely conclude that it does not matter whether Furiosa kicks even more ass, whether she single handedly starts to inhabit the planet Mars or actually invent new rockets - as long as she does have this visible handicap, all the Mad Maxens will keep walking out on her. This is not disability empowerment or feminist empowerment. This is life that really sucks and that cannot be fixed.
First, Furiosa gets up on the vehicle's hood aided by Max. The camera looks down from above.
Her disfigured arm is shown at about 21% of the width of her face (below). The camera travels downwards to take a less elevated angle.
As the departure of Max is impending, the stump is now visualized at 50% of her facial width (below) while the camera lowers its angle. It closes in, it approaches. The disabled arm, relatively to Furiosa's face, is getting bigger and bigger.
Then, we see the faces from quite close, the camera now at a somewhat horizontal angle.
Now, Max jumps down into the crowd and looks up. The camera looks down at Max, but up to Furiosa.
Her disfigured arm now is shown at over 70% of the width of the face (image below). Her disability becomes her face - size wise, in visual story telling, importance wise.
This visual representation is relevant as missing part of an arm is far more of a communicative disability (in that it interferes with communication) than just a practical manual handicap - and that is what is visually highlighted and emphasized here.
The rest of the movie leans over backwards to hide the disfigurement by using a hysterical drama version of a hook arm - and now, at the end, Max (who in real life would have left the truck before entering town) is forced, story wise, to visibly enact a "walking out" on what now is presented on a plate as a women whose stump reaches the relative size of her face through angles and projection, while that stumbling man who should have left already then is presented as silently leaving?
After all (we said that already), this is not the movie of the most brilliant verbal dialogues - but it does try very hard to be an exercise in visual story telling.
The following image sums up the relative face / stump proportions at the end of this movie:
And that is the visual of a disfigured woman who realizes that a man who could have matched her in some if not many ways walks out on her. Really, that ends up as the movie's actual essence. Were it not like that, Max could have left already and the virtual arm stump would be tucked inside the virtual prosthesis.
Dialing backwards from here, when re-evaluating the movie from that angle, it may also make sense to accept that this movie is not about Mad Max or Mad Joe at all - it is just about disfigured Furiosa.
And Furiosa is surely getting all the things her way that can be gotten her way, which is, by banging the prosthetic and kicking butt, exhibiting a whole lot of activism and hysteric action running and screaming and fighting and kicking and shooting and whatnot - but she is not getting just what requires true mutuality and actual acceptance, what requires some tuning in with her and others' inner self. Max and her, they neither shake hands, nor do they say a word. They are not tuned in.
And while any other true blue cold-hearted maniac would have left such a strange convoy at the earliest convenience without looking back for a second, Mad Max is presented as somewhat attached to this woman: he continues to look at her, in these final scenes. He has that longing long look. This guy is not clean! He is not the person that does his own thing and very happily so.
But his "partner in crime" Furiosa has an issue that may have started to grow old, and as we start to forget about it, that issue is, at the end, shown in constantly bigger and larger size: a permanently hosed arm. When I do not want this thing to be prominent in a photo that is being taken, I do what any self respecting arm amputee that does not want the stump to feature prominently in the image does: I tuck it away. Movie directors know about that, surely.
And while one may wonder why anyone would be interested in mute Maxie, no social development, no emotional growth is shown for Furiosa (leave alone anyone else) in that whole movie. Everyone is a blockhead and everyone rages on and on. And the "everyone being blockhead" stereotype provides either for a Furiosa type character to at least require, use ore consume a man, or, possibly a woman just as everyone else consumes this or that here - but none happens here.
Why? In a movie that builds all logic on stereotypes, stereotypes are the only sensible answer. So look at the image, and measure, simply look and measure. Visual story telling in 2015. We are not isolated in any apocalyptic future as long as a stereotype driven camera tells us a different story, firmly glued to today's values, views and ideals.
So despite all the stress and fights and desert travels and the confrontations that Furiosa seems to manage so well, she was, is and remains significantly (as quite obviously the dude walks out on her staring at her as if there was something particular to see) stigmatized by her disfigurement (more than her disability, as "standing there" is equally well achieved with or without prosthetic arm on, and equally well with or without a missing hand).
The movie ends by quoting "Where must we go... we who wander this wasteland in search of our better selves?".
Which is totally off because neither Max nor Furiosa have been actually shown to reflect on a currently bad self, or, to evaluate directions for possible better selves.
And it is a truly funny quote in that so many people seem to think that finding your better self is best managed by going somewhere else. Really, one carries one's better (or worse) self with oneself when one goes somewhere else. So the answer would be to sit your butt down and re-flect if really you want to find your better self.
No fuzz empowerment?
Other than that, the one particular miracle attributed to Furiosa (somewhat wrongly, as I believe) can be achieved: to charge ahead, "despite" a hosed arm, without looking right or left - if anyone wonders, how one achieves matter of factual every day life without fuzz as arm amputee (as pointed out in NoSpockDasGay's Utter Perfection post) then study my Red Hand project with all posts right from its beginnings, but particularly, read the "Why Red" post.
It lays down the quest for a visual prosthetic arm design that discourages contempt, pity and all the rest of the circus that can be had with such an arm. Mechanically extreme proficiency may be portrayed as just a side aspect of this (while really that was my main focus all along). So that is why the above discussion regarding the function-free prosthetic arm in this movie was important.
The film Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) contains, technically speaking, a nonsensical mechanical looking prosthetic arm that mostly conveys the aesthetics of Steam Punk as well as drama and hysteria, but as that, alone, it does not really convey function. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world and it pretends to be a "Mad Max" action movie. Acting wise, he main character Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, could equally well have been played by Will Smith or Harrison Ford, whose totally wide and encompassing choice of film faces is well known [link].
Mainly she looked distressed or with a stern face, and did wave that weird arm around, while her face and head contained various amounts of dark grease [link].
That aside, I do wonder how they always seem to focus so much on painting skin with dirt or chalk of whatever, when portraying some "post apocalypse" - but did you ever notice that whatever Furiosa may be missing out there, when trying to lose weirdo followers through a desert or so, it is certainly not dental care? Because from the bit I know about army service, moldy cellars, hot winds and sandy surroundings - you might end up with yellow teeth rather quickly. And that, added to a prosthetic arm, makes for definite friction rash, so that stump skin never should have looked that supple. Rookies at work, for sure.
The film makers actually made the movie without hiring an amputee actress, which personally I find really lame.
Really they should have gone for an amputee actress, even just to guide the director to relevant issues. It appears that they tried to at least get an amputee stunt woman, but did not get it done that way. For some reasons, an attempt appears to have been made to involve a handicapped actress as "stunt double", Annabelle Williams, but after preparations and hopeful visions she seemingly dropped from the list of people that actually shot the movie: "Williams might be the only Perennial intern who has to fact-check her own Wikipedia page. She received calls from friends who were surprised to learn from her entry that she is an amputee. The page has since been updated for accuracy, but occasionally the Aussie is happy to indulge others by telling outrageous stories about a shark attack, rather than the real reason that she has no left hand and forearm: a congenital limb deficiency. Her Wikipedia entry also says that she was cast as a stunt double for Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road. That part is true. But she lost her role when filming moved from Australia to Africa. Williams didn’t get to film any scenes for the movie, but she did meet Theron and learned Muay Thai, a fighting style. “It was quite confronting,” she says of the training. “I had never punched anything. It was like a Billy Elliot movie.”"
The movie makers wanted to do something else, quite obviously. A dead giveaway is the eyes. Did you look at the eyes of these actors? While they all blast away through the sandy desert with winds and at full vehicle speed, they never got red eyes. Me? I'd get red eyes just at looking at this stuff on the computer screen ; )
They all look pretty well slept out and not even too hung over. But certainly not "red" as when trekking in a desert. Protect your eyes, sun protection and so on - what you want to do when crossing a desert to protect yourself [link] or what happens to the people that just miss out, all has been missed here. I would have saved on the prosthesis part and gotten a real amputee to play that, and instead asked some frames manufacturer to sponsor some sunglasses - self respecting post apocalyptic wanderers [link] gotta have frames and headphones and stuff, modern day prostheses.
So given that the movie makers totally missed out on "desert trek essentials" when prepping their actors, the question "what about that hosed arm of Furiosa" weighs all the greater - because there we seem to deal with very targeted attention. They specifically made sure that this arm looks the way it looks - well dressed and styled, so to say. All the while, they forgot many other things far easier to accomplish to convey some ostensible desert story or so, including the eyes of their actors. So the prosthetic arm is a far bigger center of focus than one may believe at first. They focused, and they targeted, their movie budget!
The movie's most revealing and certainly best part in relation to the prosthetic arm and disability aspect is the undeniably cheeky action reference to the One Armed Dove Hunt. Having seen that, and understood this as what it was probably meant - a popular culture reference - I analyzed the movie as a parable. After all, the One Arm Dove Hunt is a quintessential US-American tradition that has become the cornerstone of healing, for arm amputees, at least in the USA.
Ultimately, and if anything, this movie represents an understandably "angry amputee" raging against and running from relatively aggressive weirdos that chase her and that mean to enslave, subjugate, subject her - while the one guy that she may regard as possible equal (Max) ultimately abandons her, incessantly staring, at a moment that is a bit too late, while the camera provides a visual closing in on her (relatively size increasing) disfigured arm.
Summing up the arm amputee storyline in a nutshell is not hard though - first you gotta run from all the weirdos, then a halfway reasonable looking but confused hopeful ditches you because of your handicap. How is that for an ultra realistic nutshell of the copy-paste aspects of an arm amputee. That, by the way, is not at all dystopian - that is 2015. If anything, the movie does convey some deeply concerning emotional aspects of living life as an arm amputee in contemporary society, possibly exaggerated in a way that story telling can exaggerate (but not too much, if one was to name and identify levels of meanings). So, again and more comprehensively: with an arm amputation, you may run from weirdos [link] or fight them come as may, but you can not hide, and it really (particularly at first) can be a rather frightening experience. You are disfigured and no matter what you do to cover it up, no matter what you do to make your actions appear bigger than anatomical outlines, you won't escape that, also because no prosthetic hands will allow you that [link]. Symbolism will (particularly nowadays) always outrun pragmatism [link]. The visual story here leaves no doubt. Socially, widespread existing symbolic predominance over pragmatic aspects is presented, seeing as if the disabled main character Furiosa may fight hard to achieve success in what is portrayed as violence or warfare, associated politics possibly (achieving success as probable imperator of the citadel), but no actual success in personal or intimate matters - an aspect that similarly plagues contemporary society (and within contemporary society, at least, but not only, arm amputees). But socially, she does not develop an inch.
So in a way, this movie exacerbates and sharpens the battle aspect of fighting symbolism in society extremely well while ending on a frustrating note, while the similarly aimed movie Home of the Brave (2006) manages to turn the emotions of the arm amputee character so she does come to terms with her actual issues which then, there, leads to a Happy Hollywood Ending. Here, we are denied a Happy Hollywood Ending with a camera closing on an ever bigger hosed arm, all the while the guy that is supposed to not be interested in her stares at her with wide eyes all the way while he nudges through the crowd - not focused on his own thing, drinking a beer, waltzing out with style and not looking back, like a real guy that leaves a strange situation behind.
All images (C) Copyright Warner Brothers / Warner Bros. Pictures
KEYWORDS - the movie a girl with one hand fixed with machine driving along the desert