Mad Max: Fury Road Explained – A Guide to George Miller’s Wasteland Insanity

Mad Max is all anyone is talking about this weekend, and for good reason (spoiler alert: it’s pretty mindblowing). 

That being said, the movie spends approximately 14 seconds explaining anything before all hell breaks loose, so it’s pretty easy to miss a ton of director George Miller’s rich (and utterly insane) worldbuilding. So if you’re wondering what the hell an Imperator is, and why this Max guy is so angry, we’ve got you covered.

So who is this Max guy, and why is he so mad?

Max Rockatansky (somehow still the least silly name in the film) is a former police officer turned drifter, wandering the wasteland after the death of his wife and child. He’s “mad” (at least in this movie) because he’s certifiably insane.

There’s definitely not a ton of backstory on the guy in Fury Road, as the character has been the star of three Mad Max movies prior to this one. All you really need to know about Max though is he’s a man who’s distilled himself into one single instinct: survive.

Is this a sequel then?

Sort of, but not really. There’s a very, very loose chronology connecting the original Mad Max trilogy, and while we’re supposed to assume this is the same guy each time, every installment is more-or-less standalone.

It’s best not to think of the Mad Max movies as a series of sequels, but more as an anthology of stories centering around a particular character. Both the second and third films are implied to be stories told decades after they happened, long after Max has faded from memory into myth. Fury Road definitely works best on this level.

It’s not a direct sequel to Beyond the Thunderdome (the third one), it’s not a prequel, and it’s certainly not a remake. It’s simply one more legend of the “Road Warrior,” and his journey through the wasteland.

About this Wasteland, why is the world all messed up?

The state of the world is more or less the result of us running out of oil, which causes a global energy crisis. World war follows, and in the aftermath, little of civilization remains (although in the original Mad Max, things were still organized enough to have a standing police force).

This particular installment centers around a nondescript region of (probably) Australia, and a settlement called the Citadel.

What is the Citadel?

The Citadel is a “city” built around a giant rock formation that doubles as a fortress. The population is ruled by a tyrant known as Immortan Joe, who maintains his iron grip by controlling the water supply (pumped from underground wells). He reigns from inside the rock fortress, which is only accessible via a human-powered elevator.

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Enacting his will on the Citadel’s population and beyond is an army of fanatics he leads called the War Boys.

Who are the War Boys?

The War Boys are Joe’s personal army. Their job is to go out and hunt for people and supplies, as well as shepherd oil and ammunition from Joe’s outlying facilities.

These guys have a cultish devotion to Joe, and view him as nothing short of a god. While nothing is explicitly spelled out, we do get a few glimpses into their bizarre quasi-religious practices, including coating themselves in white powder, spraying chrome spray paint in their mouths, and an overall obsession with entering Valhalla, an afterlife populated by those who died in battle in Norse mythology.

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The opening of the film sees Max captured by a War Boys raiding party, who take him back to the Citadel as their prisoner.

Why are they keeping Max alive, and what were they tattooing on his back?

See Max is much more useful to them alive than dead, mostly because they really need blood, and Max just happens to be a universal donor. This is what they were tattooing on his back, along with information on his other organs and body parts, probably in case they ever have a need for a transplant. Until that time, Max is to be used as something called a blood bag for the War Boys.

What the hell is a “blood bag?”

Simply, a blood bag is a prisoner that the War Boys are keeping alive for the sole purpose of blood transfusions. Gross, I know.

Why do the War Boys need so many blood transfusions?

Again, it’s never completely spelled out, but it’s strongly implied that the War Boys have some kind of terminal illness, maybe genetic (the children we see may mean they’re born into it), maybe a result of their constant exposure to chemicals like nitrous oxide, or any other number of poor health practices these guys are living with.

All we know is that they don’t live long (referred to as their “half-life”), and their only goal is to die a glorious death in combat before their disease takes them. The blood transfusions are what keep them going until then.

Is that why Nux has those lumps?

His “mates” definitely look like tumors.

What about Max’s flashbacks, what’s up with those?

Max is apparently haunted by the death of his wife and kid. This was something that happened in the original Mad Max movie, although it’s been tweaked for Fury Road (the girl was a infant boy in the original). We also briefly see a few more people in his flashbacks. These people are never explained outright, so we’re left to assume Max is somehow responsible for their deaths (or at least feels responsible).

At this point, the years of wandering the wasteland with that guilt on his shoulders has really destroyed his mind, causing those vivid hallucinations.

Alright, back to the story. Where were we?

Right. So Max tries to escape and fails. At the same time, a woman named Imperator Furiosa is preparing to lead a party of War Boys to retrieve fuel from “Gas Town,” a nearby refinery that Joe controls. However, Furiosa (Imperator is her title in the War Boys hierarchy), behind the wheel of a “War Rig,” has a hidden agenda up her sleeve.

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It turns out she’s smuggled five women out of the city inside her truck. They’re Joe’s prized “possessions,” sex slaves he uses to father his children. When Joe realizes what Furiosa has done, he dispatches his entire army in pursuit of her, calling in reinforcements from Gas Town and the Bullet Farm, another nearby facility, presumably where they make their bullets.

As they prepare to move out, a War Boy driver named Nux is receiving a blood transfusion from Max. Unable to perform without more clean blood, but unwilling to let his subordinate take his spot as a driver, Nux has Max tied to the hood of his car, transfusion tube and all.

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Wait, before we leave the Citadel, what the heck is up with the little guy and the big guy?

Those are both Immorten Joe’s sons. The big guy is the one you need to remember, as he’ll show up a couple more times in the movie. He goes by the name of Rictus Erectus.

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Everyone has really weird names.

Agreed. As a quick reminder, Hugh Keays-Byrne is Immortan Joe, the villain. Charlize Theron is Imperator Furiosa, the heroine. Nicholas Hoult is Nux, a War Boys driver. Nathan Johnson is Rictus Erectus, Joe’s hulking son and general meathead. Finally, Joe’s “breeders” (the female slaves) are named Angharad, Capable, Toast, Dag, and Cheedo.

I’m not going to remember any of that.

Don’t worry about it. Really, that’s 100% fine.

Fair enough. Please continue.

So Furiosa drives out into the desert, heading towards the “green place,” which we’ll learn more about later. When Joe realizes what she’s done, a big car chase ensues. Furiosa purposefully complicates things by leading them through territory controlled by a rival faction (the guys with the spiky cars). In the chaos, she manages to lose the bulk of Joe’s forces in a giant sandstorm, although the damage to her War Rig forces her to stop and make repairs.

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Max and Nux are involved in a big crash, but both manage to survive somehow. The two catch up to Furiosa, and Max manages to gain the upper hand, and steals her truck. Unfortunately for him, Furiosa has a kill-switch installed on her vehicle; basically an analog password sequence that prevents you from driving the truck unless you know it. Forced to team up, Max and Furiosa form an uneasy alliance, with Joe’s carmy (sorry) in hot pursuit.

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Furiosa leads them to a canyon pass controlled by a motorcycle gang, where she’s made a deal to trade the War Rig’s fuel for safe passage. Joe is too close behind though, and Furiosa is forced to bail before the deal can be finished. In retaliation, the motorcycle gang blow up the canyon walls to block Joe, while pursuing Furiosa’s truck.

A big chase occurs, followed by another big chase when Joe’s personal vehicle manages to scale the canyon blockage. During the latter, Nux totally flubs his job, and as a result, one of Joe’s wife-slaves (pregnant no less) is killed. In shame, Nux has a bit of a breakdown, and fetal positions in the back of the rig.

One of the women find him there, and taking pity on him, shows him a bit of mercy and tenderness. Nux has a change of heart, and decides to help Furiosa’s rescue mission.

Why would Nux decide to switch sides?

There’s no simple answer. Some of it likely has to do him knowing he can never return to the War Boys after his failure. A bigger reason though is likely the fact that this might be the first time he’s ever felt any real affection. He’s spent his entire life in a brutal death cult, a little bit of love probably goes a long way.

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I’ll buy it, what’s next.

So Furiosa’s party escapes Joe, only to get mired in muddy, swamp-like terrain. To make matters worse, they’re discovered by a group of War Boys led by the Bullet Farmer, who presumably runs the Bullet Farm.

A few explosions, some shooting, and a bit of off-screen badassery later, they kill the Bullet Farmer, and continue on through the swampland.

What was up with those guys on stilts?

They’re later referred to as Crows. They’re probably another gang of weirdos out in the wasteland, just trying to survive.

But why the stilts?

Walking in mud is hard I guess? I don’t know. They’re weird. George Miller is weird.

I think I’m starting to sense that. What’s up with the naked lady?

As Max correctly surmises, it’s a trap. Luckily, it’s a trap set by Furiosa’s clan. It turns out she and her mother were abducted when Furiosa was very young. Despite that, Furiosa still remembers her homeland, a “green place” that was full of life.

But uh oh, there is no green place anymore, it was actually the swamp they passed through on their way there.

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What happened to the green?

Something got into the soil, poisoning it (oil or chemically water maybe?). Then the Crows moved in, and Furiosa’s clan was forced out. By the way, they’re called the Vuvalini if you missed that in the credits.

So new plan.

Furiosa, Nux, the Vuvalini women, and the women they rescued decide to head out into the wasteland. They have enough fuel to ride for several months, hoping they’ll find somewhere habitable in that time. Max decides to be a loner, and leaves on his own. A hallucination of his daughter causes him to reconsider though, and he catches up with Furiosa.

Max has a better plan (“better”). Instead of driving away from Joe, he suggests heading straight back towards them. If they can block the canyon pass and trap Joe’s forces in there, they can potentially take the currently undefended Citadel.

Pew pew explosions!

Pretty much. Max, Furiosa, Nux, and the gang meet Joe in a big canyon pass showdown. In the battle, Furiosa is badly wounded, but manages to kill Joe by hooking his mask to a car’s tires, which rips his face off. Nux dies, but manages to block the passage with the War Rig.

What’s up with that ending?

They return to the Citadel, and after presenting Joe’s corpse (and thus proving he’s definitely not a god), the population, along with the War Boys children, rise up and retake their city. Furiosa, having already been an authority figure in the Citadel, apparently becomes the new ruler. She exchanges a knowing glance with Max, who disappears into the crowd.

Where did he go?

Back into the wasteland, where he belongs, to continue to wander as the mythical Road Warrior.

But if this is another installment in the legend of Mad Max, why is he not actually that important in this story?

It is sort of weird that this movie is called Mad Max, but Furiosa is clearly the protagonist of the whole thing. Max is mostly just along for the ride.

My guess would be, from a storytelling standpoint, that Fury Road is framed this way because it’s Furiosa’s version of the story. Just like the second and third films were tales being passed down about Max and his adventures, this is one is being retold by Furiosa and the surviving women. In this case, it would make sense not to frame Max as the central character. After all, this is Furiosa’s story, Max just wandered into it for a bit.

Lastly, what was the quote at the end of the film?

“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves.”

-The First History Man

What the hell is that?

Your guess is as good as mine. The First History of Man is not an actual book, it’s just something that apparently exists in the universe of Mad Max.

Update: I totally misread that my first time through. It’s not the history “of” man, it’s just History Man. As revealed by the prequel comic, a History Man tattoos himself with stories to preserve them, kind of like a living book. We saw a female History Man in the movie (that tattooed lady in Joe’s vault).

As for the quote itself, consider it food for thought to help pull your brain back together after that movie splattered it across the back wall.

34 Comments

  1. You are AWESOME and HILARIOUS; thank you!
    It’s a fast paced movie with crazy dialogue too quick for me to grasp. And yet, I still enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road. But I was like WTH are they spraying? Is it special chapstick in a spray bottle? Whoa; wait! Did I just see big women being milked while sitting under hair dryers at a salon? Why is Max tied to the front of the truck? It must be some form of torture.

    1. Max was tied there so Nux could get his blood. The reason it needs to be in the front of the car is because he needs to be higher than Nux so the blood will go to him and he will get in the way of the other guy if he was in the back.

  2. The reason the guys walk on stilts is because the ground is contaminated and poisonous, as the old lady tells them.

  3. So this was a pretty awesome synopsis, informative and entertaining, but I don’t think the little dead girl is Max’s daughter. In the credits provided by IMDb, she’s named Glory the Child and throughout the movie she calls our not-hero Max, never dad or papa or any other name a young child might use to refer to their father. Obviously she was someone special that haunts Max, but I’m very skeptical that she was his child.

    On a semi-related note, there seems to be another Mad Max film written by George Miller in the works? Something currently called Mad Max: The Wasteland, which I found on IMDb while bulking up on the Mad Max franchise, which calls it a followup to this 2015 rendition, so possibly Glory’s history will be expanded. Or perhaps not. This is not the type of movie that spells everything out for its viewers.

      1. That isn’t the girl saying “Come on Pa lets go” It sounds different from the girl. It sounds like a little boy with a slight accent saying it.

        That moment, when Max is looking out at the women driving away you hear a couple of voices.

        Little girl: “where are you Max?” “Where are you?”

        Little boy: (Whining) “Mommy…”

        Women: “You promised to help us”

        The little girl does the hand thing and disappears. A figure fades in from a far and we don’t clearly see who it is. It does seem like it’s implied to be the girl but this whole time she has only called him MAX. The figure then speaks in a young boys voice. “Cmon Pa” This voice sounds pretty different from the young girls.

        I could be wrong but honestly, it doesn’t sound like the same voice.

  4. Is there a book going though the plot of all the movies ? If not that would be cool, I’m really intrigued by the all ”war boys” thing.
    oh and by the way : *take a man voice* WIIIITNEEEEEEEEEEEEEESS ! WITNEEEEEEESS !

  5. One thing has been bugging me. When Furiosa and Max decide to return to the Citadel, why were Joe and the War boys just stopped and not moving? They weren’t still stuck in the mud. Why wouldn’t they either continue the chase or go back to the Citadel? Just sitting there not doing anything seems odd.

    1. That’s because they had lost the motive they went after them[the son] and were mourning. Some may think he went after them because he wanted his sex slaves, but he can just get new ones and they are not worth all that effort. He even went himself, just for the possibility of getting his heir.

  6. Amazing write up about this film.

    Had been wondering about a few things, especially the chrome spray and its relevance.

    I had many questions about the film and this definitely helped me understand many missing details. Surprisingly difficult film to follow, considering it was so action focused.

  7. “But why the stilts? Walking in mud is hard I guess? I don’t know. They’re weird. George Miller is weird.”

    The water was poisonous, remember?

  8. Mad Max Fury Road takes place between the first and second movies. I know this because in the Road Warrior Max’s intercepter is destroyed and he does not have it in Beyond Thunderdome. Since he has it in Fury Road logic dictates it takes place before Road Warrior. Also George Miller said as much in an interview. The chronology of the movies is Mad Max, Fury Road, Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome.

    1. Patrick is right on here, and the reason is one of the wives (Toast) is winding the same musical box that the little CHAKA looking kid in Road Warrior 2 gets from Max.

      1. It’s almost certainly a different musical box, but even if it were the same, it doesn’t prove which film came before the other.

    2. I think this is a theory with some meriy but is far from confirmed, and I really doubt George Miller said this (do you remember anything about the interview?).

      Remember, Max’s interceptor was destroyed in Fury Road, too! So if it is appearing in both Fury Road and Road Warrior, it must have been re-built at some stage. Therefore this is not proof that Fury Road came first. In Fury Road, it has had additional modifications that were not present back in Road Warrior.

      It is not entirely implausible that at some stage after Beyond Thunderdome that Max located his wrecked car and did a rebuild.

      Fury Road takes place in a world where plants cannot grow in the ground because it is toxic, and people are dying of tumors due to radiation poisoning, etc. Yet Road Warrior takes place before nuclear war, there are no tumors and there are plants growing. The original trilogy implies that nuclear war has started by the third film, where uncontaminated water has become rare (by Fury Road, there is a serious shortage of it).

    3. The thing is, in Mad Max: Fury Road, the world has been a post apokaliptic wasteland for 45 years, while in the original trilogy, the world became a post apokaliptic wasteland after the events in the first movie, wich means that either they have no relation between them, or Max is old as fuck.

  9. While very well written, this write clearly just googled Mad Max and has never actually watched Road Warrior.

  10. I think it’s fairly clearly implied that the world is toxic from radioactive fallout, and this is what is causing so many deformities and illnesses. Tumors like the ones Nux has on his neck can be caused by radiation poisoning.

    Not all the way boys appear to be sick, and it does not only appear to be war boys who are sick. Immortan Joe and his son Rectus both need some sort of breathing apparatus. His other son Corpus Collossus (named after a birth defect) apart from having dwarfism also has a bodily deformity. An increase in birth defects is also consistent with exposure to radiation.

    At some point in the film we learn that plants do not grow in the ground any more, it’s too toxic. The swamp area that used to be green with plants is now so toxic that plants do not grow, and there are people walking through it on stilts.

    1. Yeah, you can see how the most healthy looking people are older ones[they look skinny but they don’t have many deformities] that were born before the land was irradiated, or people like Furiosa who lived in a green place before she was taken to the capital. In the comics, even the wives don’t look like super models like they do in the movie, and some milk women are as attractive as them.

  11. Clearly not all the war boys are sick hence the term “half-life” as in half of them will be dead by a certain age and some of those from fighting.

    Visually an amazing movie, but with even a little effort the actions might have made some sense as well. I also find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe within a generation the world could get this f’d up. I mean no matter what happens people would remember the way the world was for as long as the adults were around. I mean this seems like it is set 100 or so years in the future where the passing of generations allowed for this twisted society to form.

  12. I disagree about Furiosa being the protagonist. Max is more than “just along for the ride”. The whole story centres on him trying to him confronting his past instead of running from it and redeeming himself by saving these girls from a lifetime of slavery. Furthermore he is the narrator however briefly and he is shown to be unable to rest from pain. He’s lived too long in the Wasteland to ignore it. As stated in the final quote, Max is still looking for redemption and he has yet to find it:

    “Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves?”

    -The First History Man”

  13. THE STILT-WALKERS, AKA CROW HUNTERS, LIVE IN THE BOGGED WASTELAND THAT WAS ONCE THE GREEN PLACE INHABITED BY “THE MANY MOTHERS”, AKA “THE VUVALINI”
    ONCE THE GREEN PLACE BECAME UNINHABITABLE, VIRTUALLY ALL OF THE MANY MOTHERS LEFT TO THE PLACE WHERE THEY EVENTUALLY REUNITE WITH FURIOSA.
    THE STILT-WALKERS ARE ACTUALLY THE FEW VUVALINI THAT DECIDED TO STAY IN THE BOGGED WASTELAND. THEY USE THE BRANCHES OF TREES AS STILTS TO AVOID CONTACTING THE TOXIC LAND, WHILE HUNTING CROWS FOR FOOD, AND USING THE CROWS FEATHERS AND NESTING TO MAKE THEIR CLOTHING.

  14. “Why would Nux decide to switch sides?”

    It’s answered in the movie. He believes that Immortan Joe saw his “blood bag” (Max) driving the vehicle, so that would sort of implicate him as working with Furiosa and Max in transporting the girls. So he couldn’t really go back. He’s even called a traitor by one of the other Warboys later in the film.

  15. The war boys didn’t wear powder, they are the offspring (some direct some not) of Immortan Joe who had some kind of radioactive induced Lymphoma or Leukemia (as did his sons) which as a side effect causes low red cell counts (like hemophilia) and thus the need for fresh blood transfusions all the time -even if they are from “ferals” like Max who is type O, universal donor making him very valuable. The female children were probably kept on as breeders and helped supply all that mothers milk (he likes to keep it in the family).

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