In a piece in The Forward, Neal Pollack asks, “What if Mad Max Were Jewish?” Certainly, on the surface, there is probably nothing more goyish than a film set in post-apocalyptic Australia, featuring a series of tribes on souped-up cars, jeeps, trucks, rigs, motorbikes and so on, and in which no one ever seems to eat. The endless deserts and salt flats evoke no land overflowing with milk and honey. But probe a little deeper and subsurface Jewishness be found in Mad Max: Fury Road.
First, there is the name of our protagonist, Max Rockantasky, both names suggesting an eastern or central European Jewish heritage.
Second, Max is a nomad. A survivor. Homeless, he evokes the Wandering Jew.
Third, there is the actor playing Max. Where previously it had been Mel Gibson (certainly no friend of the Jews), in this reboot he is played by Tom Hardy. While not Jewish himself, Hardy played a blinder (pun intended) as London Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons in the British show, Peaky Blinders. Here, in Mad Max, he brings some of Alfie, which he combines with Bane from The Dark Knight Rises (2012), complete with face mask.
Fourth, and most significantly, as Nick Pinkerton points out in Sight & Sound: “Miller is making an epic, and has chosen his visual references accordingly: Joe’s ‘Citadel’ reproduces the high and low strata of Lang’s Metropolis (1927), while the flight across the desert, replete with a sandstorm whipped up by a freak cyclone, evokes the Old Testament shock and awe that evaded Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
Max is initially enslaved in The Citadel run by a warlord name Joe who has constructed a cult of personality around himself while enslaving the local inhabitants by restricting their access to water. Just like any dictator, or Pharaoh, he has a personal harem.
Max’s back is tattooed in a manner reminiscent of Kafka’s bodily inscription as execution as recounted in his short story “In the Penal Colony.” Of course, the tattoo also suggests the Holocaust.
Like Moses, Max is a reluctant hero. Also like Moses, he is also a man of few words.In Exodus 4:10, Moses initially resists being God’s messenger, saying: “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words…. I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” Like Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, Max is haunted by visions of a child. He does not so much encounter a burning bush so much as burning gasoline and flame throwers.
Max’s escape from captivity is effected when warlord Joe seeks to recapture his harem whom his Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has secreted out of the Citadel. Joe sends the post-apocalyptic equivalent of Pharaoh’s chariots to recover them. Although the women eventually find freedom, Max leads them back to the “Promised Land,” that is, an unguarded Citadel which, if they can make it back alive, is theirs for the taking. When they do, images of the heroic Max among the starving and thirsty slaves evoke those of the biblical Exodus.
Incidentally, the film was shot in the Namib Desert of south-west Africa, where the footage for the front projection in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was also filmed. This Namibian landscape bears the traces of the Holocaust for it is where, arguably, as colonial invaders, Germany rehearsed the Final Solution. It has also been contended in films such as Metropolis one can saw the harbingers of Nazism.
And, in foregrounding the issues of the scarcity of gasoline and water controlled by differing desert tribes, Mad Max: Fury Road also evokes two of the key issues at the heart of the modern Middle East.
So perhaps it is not such a stretch to imagine that Mad Max is Jewish after all.