Here's a terrible confession: I spend more time than I care to admit daydreaming about the apocalypse. Any apocalypse, really. An alien invasion. An asteroid hurtling through space and slamming into, I dunno, the midwest. Maybe a Dr. Strangelove-style exchange of nuclear warheads. Plague. Floods. Drought. I've considered all the options*, and I've daydreamed at length about what those heady days will be like in the aftermath of such a cataclysmic event. This is weird and morbid and deeply misanthropic and almost definitely unrealistic (let's face it: whatever happens, I'm probably not going to end up being one of the rough-and-tumble survivors), but this is the truth. Some people fantasize about having the ability to fly or winning the lottery; I fantasize about having my debt wiped out, a permanently canceled schedule, and the run of the place.
And of all the dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures we've glimpsed on film over the years, none has compelled me quite as much as the one imagined by George Miller's The Road Warrior.
I'm not sure what I find so appealing about Miller's vision. He certainly doesn't romanticize things. There's nothing to eat, water's in short supply. Everything's grimy and soot-covered. Watching the film, you can practically feel grains of sand accumulating on your lips while the sun beats down overhead, methodically cooking you alive one endless day at a time. And if the environment doesn't get you, what's left of society probably will: the world is overrun with cannibals, slavers, rapists, savages. They kill for food just as often as they kill to pass the time. Some of them wear bondage gear and hockey masks, just 'cause. Terror and death are everywhere you look. In short, one does not look upon the world of The Road Warrior and think, "Oh, that'd be fun."**
It's also not that I'm into cars. I can imagine someone who's really into custom-built rides and engine upgrades being turned on by the idea of a Road Warrior future ("Hot damn, I knew this hobby would pay off eventually!"), but that ain't me. Of course I can understand the aesthetic appeal of Max's supercharged V-8 Pursuit Special, but I don't fetishize cars. I don't understand car culture. Hell, I'm not even a great driver. I watch The Road Warrior and I imagine myself in one of those souped-up dune buggies, and then I imagine myself immediately rolling it end-over-end down the side of a sand dune, where I'd be left for dead by the other Raiders.
And yet, the world of The Road Warrior calls to me.
For one thing, there's something really appealing about the ingenuity of the Road Warrior's reality: people are reappropriating the technology we currently take for granted in unlikely, clever ways. Some of our old gadgets (water pumps, tanker trucks, oil derricks) are vital tools employed to extend life, while others (virtually everything else) can be turned into wildly dangerous weapons. I like the creativity Miller puts on display in the Mad Max movies, from the tech to the architecture to the costume designs***. Yes, these designs say: what remains of humanity has gone completely mad and will kill you on sight, but human ingenuity is still very much a thing.
On a related note, I also appreciate the gonzo aesthetic choices made by the people of Mad Max's world. Spikes are soldered onto every available surface. Masks have come back in a big way. Small weapons-- blades, mini-crossbows, and the like-- have become fashion accessories. Mohawks and feathered hair are back on the table. What's left of society looks like Gwar, which is pleasing in and of itself, but the fact that it's set against what's essentially a western backdrop (the wide-open vistas, scrub brush and hardpan stretching off in every direction, the pop-up nomad villages nestled in canyons) really makes it special. The Road Warrior world is the same as every other post-apocalyptic world in that it's unpleasant, dangerous, dirty, and bleak. It's dissimilar in the bonkers style its survivors have adopted. This film's worldbuilding is on par with Star Wars or Alien, as far as I'm concerned. I love every bit of it.
Another thing I like about The Road Warrior's take on the end of the world: at no point is Max attempting to get society back on-track. There's no paradise for Max to head towards, no cure for him to recover from an abandoned military lab. There's no solution to society's apocalypse problem, in other words, and I like the film's shrugging acceptance of that. That's precisely my speed. If I'm watching endtimes porn, I'm cool with wallowing in that. The apocalypse should be catastrophic and irreversible. Not giving Max a world-saving task to complete by the film's end makes the story feel more personal while freeing up time for Miller's truly unmatched vehicular mayhem. It also makes The Road Warrior's world more believable. Miller presents the finality of the apocalypse with something like pride.
And on a related note, I like that Max isn't a straight-up hero. For the most part, the Max Rockatansky of The Road Warrior does things because they will immediately benefit him, not because they're the "right thing to do". Early in the film, Max watches a pair of travelers set upon by a roving gang of marauders (emissaries of the Ayatollah Of Rock-N-Rolla himself, Lord Humungus). The man is killed, the woman raped and executed. Max could intervene, but he doesn't: he'd likely be killed if he made his presence known. Later, Max turns the tables on the Gyro Captain and uses him as a chained guide dog to find a nearby refinery. Upon entering said refinery, Max agrees to help the people protecting it only when it means saving his own life. Eventually, Max will do good by these folks, but he makes a lot of purely self-serving choices on the way to that bit heroism. I love this about Max, even while recognizing that it makes him more than a bit of a dick. And because I tend to think the worst of people, Max's cutthroat approach to life feels like another point in favor of The Road Warrior being a proudly bleak portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world.
I don't know what it says about me that I spend as much time as I do considering life after the apocalypse. Sometimes I think it's an attraction to the idea of "ultimate freedom" (no more bills, no more appointments to be on time for, no locked-in plans); sometimes I think it's just the childish form my daydreams tend to take (Adventure! Explosions! No rules!). Other times I think it's just my own inherent morbidity, and I don't know how concerned-- if at all-- I should be about that. I'll probably live out the rest of my life never understanding my infatuation with this concept, just as I'll never fully get a handle on why The Road Warrior's version of the apocalypse strikes me as "the most appealing one".
Sometimes we just like the things we like. And me, I like daydreaming about the end times.
* = Except zombies, because: A) zombies aren't real, and B) my burnout on the subject is such that I don't care if I ever encounter another zombie-related thing again. Ever. Really. Zombies, vampires, and anything even tangentially related to Robin Hood can fuck right off.
** = Indeed, across all of the Mad Max movies, the only thing we're ever shown that looks like it might be kinda fun is being a spectator at the Thunderdome. And even then you're living under the strict rules of Bartertown, as well as the knowledge that you're only one serious altercation away from being tossed into the Thunderdome yourself.
*** = This same look is employed in the Fallout video game series, and I love it there, too.