The psychology of film & TV, media, & work

Mad Max Fury Road is more about death than feminism?

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology by

Mad Max Fury Road has big, bold action scenes and even bigger, bolder themes. What are people talking about online?

There has been a lot of discussion about Mad Max being a story about feminism. However, a random google search of themes suggests we are more interested in the topic of suicide (5.4 million hits the last time I checked). Then there were the other popular categories: sex, death, horror etc.

I checked this on different browsers to avoid any customisation effects caused by the browser I use most of the time.

It’s all about death…really

One of the most intriguing theories I often write about, terror management theory, ties a lot of these themes together. The theory basically suggests that we all unconsciously use defence mechanisms to cope with idea that we are going to die one day.

Terror management theory explains everything from culture, religion, values, rituals, consumer behaviour, and even gender roles.

Here are a few examples of terror management in Mad Max Fury Road:


The characters worship symbols, like steering wheels, vehicles, tattoos, and branding. Terror Management Theory suggests that we use symbols as a means of living on after we die. That is, if we wear or endorse a symbol, we are unconsciously associating ourselves with something that can live on forever.


The captive women are kept ‘pure’ and clean. Terror management theory suggests that all cultures place higher grooming standards on women because they are more involved in reproduction. This theory suggests reproduction is actually a subtle, unconscious reminder of our mortality and relationship with the animal kingdom. We, therefore, try to obscure this association by artificially concealing and modifying our appearance to be less like animals (see waxing, laser treatments, and blow waves).


The chief villain talks of an afterlife. Death anxiety drives beliefs of the afterlife across cultures to reduce this anxiety. The loyal foot soldiers live to die a glorious death. Like suicide bombers, these characters are brainwashed into believing that death is glorious not something to be feared.


All the characters are somewhat suicidal and overtly masculine. They live to drive at high speeds, through storms, and across deserts and are unstoppable in their carnage. They play electric guitars and carry an arsenal of guns. The reinforcement of cultural values, such as masculinity, risk-taking, and violence is a form of symbolism. This, again allows us to feel like we are contributing to a longer living purpose.

The villains and heroes band together like families. The villains engage in controlled breeding and prioritise the bloodlines of their family. By ensuring the survival of our genes, we essentially live on in our offspring. Another form of terror management.

No doubt the film has many powerful themes. But forget the debate about feminism. This film is primarily about death in a big way.

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