Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Writing lessons from Mad Max: Fury Road

*minor spoilers follow
Totally Understated 


Mad Max: Fury Road is an understated movie. Oh, I know, I know it's perhaps the greatest action/car chase/things-blow-up movie in existence. But it's also very understated and that serves to make it more powerful.

One of the things I think about when writing is the relationship with the reader. Am I telling the reader too much (IE the ol' show don't tell rule). Am I trusting the reader to put two and two together (and make four, of course) or am I not trusting them and telling them too much backstory (again!)? Readers become more engaged if they are allowed to participate in the story. To not have every scene and emotion handed to them. As writers we must give them space and just enough information to figure out for themselves what the character is feeling. We must keep the story tantalizing.

That's one of the brilliant aspects of Mad Max: Fury Road. Charlize Theoron's character, Imperator Furiosa (love that name), has a disability. She is missing an arm. But the director doesn't give us a long shot of her missing arm and dwell on it. In fact we see her several times before we get a hint that she is using a prosthetic. And even once it is clear that she is missing an arm no one makes a note of it. In fact it's a non-issue (and makes her cooler because of her metal arm). No boring forced dramatic back story. We just know that she has been scarred by some past event and has risen above it. We are allowed to come to that conclusion on our own.

Max himself has a back story. We are told in frightening micro-second flashbacks that he has lost his family. But we aren't hit over the head with a long backstory. He doesn't stop to shout out "My family is gone and that's why I'm so messed up." Again, the viewer is allowed to come to that conclusion.
The world they live in is a dystopian world. Again, there isn't a long dramatic voice over telling us all the horrible things that happened to make it that way. We are just thrust into the world as it is and have to figure out the rest for ourselves.

Throughout the movie we are given just enough information to flesh out the characters or the background of the world we are inhabiting. But not once are we slowed down from our pursuit of the story.

And what a relentless story it is.

2 comments:

Stuart said...

My thoughts exactly. I went to see this with my sons who afterwards were "Why was that?" and "How come this?". It made me sad to think that, for a large part nowadays, a lot of things are just spoon fed to the younger generation and they don't have to figure anything out for themselves when it comes to movies and stories. I loved this movie for all the reasons you pointed out. You're thrust into this world and have to figure it out as you're dragged along for the bumpy ride. Good luck with that. It's fun though!

Arthur Slade said...

Even the voice over at the beginning was very understated. The director had learned from Thunderdome that people don't always want a long explanation of every detail. In fact this movie took the best parts of the previous three movies and turned them all up to 11.