Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a curio in the Mad Max canon – with a softening of the violence, a tribe of kids akin to The Lost Boys, and a Tina Turner power ballad. In October 1985 Anne Billson interviewed director George Miller for Time out (he actually shared the load with George Ogilvie, working through the shock of losing his production partner Byron Kennedy in a helicopter crash). The interview was spiked by the unfortunate death of Orson Welles, extra space in the magazine being devoted to features on the cinematic legend.
Anne recently put the interview up on her blog, and kindly agreed to us reprinting extracts below. You can read the full interview here, where Miller discusses his medical background, favourite films, the Australian film industry, Tina Turner’s Auntie Entity (and whether she is a kind of hero or out and out villain), and more. One of the more interesting parts is where Anne presciently asks if there can ever be a female Mad Max – Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max Fury Road is a worthy equal to Max. Enjoy.
On the tribe of kids Max finds:
We were talking one day and Terry Hayes [who co-wrote the screenplays of Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderdome with Miller] started talking about mythology and how where people are short on knowledge, they tend to be very big on belief. In other words, they take a few fragments of knowledge and, if you take like the Aboriginal tribes of Australia, they just take simple empirical information and using those little bits of the jigsaw construct very elaborate mythological beliefs, which explain the whole universe. Terry was saying if you had a tribe of kids after the apocalypse who had only a few fragments of knowledge, [they would construct] a mythological belief as to what was before. And what would happen if Max or someone like that …
So we were talking about that, and it kicked off the idea of kids who were Lord of the Flies-type kids, and that led to this story. So it automatically had a softer heart to it. Mel Gibson often describes the character as a sort of a closet human being who denied his humanity because he thought it wasn’t conducive to survival. And we said, well this is really a story about Max coming out of the closet. And because it’s a story like that, it has a softer nature.
On the nature of Tina Turner’s Auntie Entity:
We didn’t want to fall into a kind of fairly clichéed bad guy. And we have a saying that today’s tyrant is yesterday’s hero. And if you really look at the rhythm of the way things are, that’s often the case. You have political heroes, for instance… but if you go back to the classical sense, the definition of a hero, as far as we can decide, is that they’re the agents of evolution. They are the characters by which the world changes to a new order, usually for the better. They are the agents of evolution.
And they’re simply that. If they create a new order, and they love that world too much, then they become what you might-call holdfast. (This is all this stuff from Joseph Campbell who I think is by far the best writer on mythology.) They become holdfast, they love their world too much, and they want to hold on, and they won’t allow the next, natural evolution, natural change, to happen. [The world] becomes brittle and is doomed to change.
That’s what we wanted with Tina Turner; we wanted to have the sense that before she built Bartertown, she was a genuine hero. You could have told a story, almost like a Mad Max story, about her. But now, because she’s holdfast… One of the main reasons we cast Tina Turner is that she’s perceived as being a fairly positive persona. You don’t think of Tina Turner as someone dark. You think of the core of Tina Turner being basically a positive thing. And that’s what we wanted. We felt that she might be more tragic in that sense.
On the motivation of Max:
Mel Gibson suddenly said to me in Mad Max 2, he said you know what he is? He’s a closet human being. And it really pretty well sums up Max for me. He’s someone who denies his humanity, and sometimes it’s going to come out, somehow. So I think he’s sort of a pretty sad figure from that point of view. And yet, you have a sense that he’s wise enough to learn. He finally learns, slowly, that you can’t live by yourself. You’re part of the community, like it or not. That we’re all sort of vaguely responsible for each other, and he sort of understands that. There are purposes outside of the individual’s life or existence. I think [Max] somehow understands that, and it probably makes him more compassionate – at the end of Mad Max 3, at least. That might be the difference; maybe he has compassion ultimately, in spite of doing all these sort of fairly brutal things.
On a female version of Mad Max:
I thought a lot about that. I think there’s no question about it. I still can’t figure out sexuality; I mean it’s such a big mystery to us all. It’s like violence and aggression, it’s something we try to understand with our heads, our intellect, but they’re really to do much more with the instinctual side of us. It’s old brain versus new brain, you know.
So dealing with something like sexuality and women… If you’re talking about it in conventional mythology, being nothing fancy, just simple storytelling, if you look at stories like Beauty and the Beast, which is a myth that was very common – you know, King Kong, right up to the fifties – and then I guess they invented the pill and abortion and a freer sexuality, and a certain liberation of women, which most of us agree was long overdue.
The Beauty and the Beast story is no longer a viable one in society, because women aren’t as mystified – they’re much more people than they are mystical. Yet women are still sex objects, yet they’re not demystified sex objects. And yet we have more women artists, women this and there are women that, so it seems clear that you can have a female hero. [But] historically there haven’t been very many.
If you go back to the theory – this is the mind of Joseph Campbell – that heroes are the agents of evolution, the means by which one world is shattered and the new world is created, they’re not for their own sake, their purpose, like Mad Max at the end of Mad Max 3, is over. Once the kids are free, they’re going to go off and start something new [and] he can’t be part of that. He’s too fixed in his ways. At least that’s his function. He recognises that he’s not so important, just a chance of a renewal is much more important than an individual.
If you agree that heroes are the agents of revolution, there have been very few women heroes in society. I don’t think there’s any reason why there can’t be a female version, in fact the Tina Turner [character] in the subtext of Mad Max 3, before the story started, probably followed a very classic hero story – the story of how she built Bartertown would be a very interesting story. And – in the way we discussed her back story, she would pretty well follow the hero story – she would have to. So a short answer is yes, I think there can be a female hero in the same way. How we would respond collectively as audiences, I don’t know. I suspect that we would respond very well, if the story was well told.
On the society of Bartertown:
Bartertown had to be a little microcosm of modern day society, so we tried to account for everything [there], you know… the equivalent of the police force, and the military. Tina Turner was kind of a politician and a feudal lord, the Underworld and Master Blaster were a form of the energy, so there was a dialogue going between the people who ruled the place and people who produced things. And we wanted to account for entertainment.
We also wanted to find out what happened in terms of law, if people came to an impasse. Like sport is ritual war in a very valuable way of redirecting aggression in society. We thought wouldn’t it be great, instead of people going to war, they’d fight it out in Thunderdome. Fight to the death. It had the pageantry of, say, the Law Courts, and the pageantry of church, in a way, because of the kind of religion, a strong enough belief to be a religion, it had to have pageantry to have any meaning. It was a little bit like a circus, and a little bit like a game show – it was all those things combined. Because they’re all, in a way, the same sort of things.
On casting Tina Turner:
I mean, obviously we knew Tina Turner; she’d done concerts twenty years before in Australia with Ike, and I’d seen an interview with her where she spoke about acting, and I remembered it for a long time. But more importantly [when] we actually wrote the character, as a shorthand way of describing the character we said someone “like Tina Turner” – without even thinking of casting her.
We wanted a woman, we wanted someone whose age was indeterminate, you weren’t sure if she was old or young or whatever; we wanted someone who had a lot of power, charisma, someone who would hold a place like that together – or build it in the first place. And we wanted someone who was a survivor. You know, you felt about her that no matter what happens she’s going to survive it. And then – what we talked about before – someone who basically deep down inside still had a good persona, a good heart.
And as a bonus, here’s a 1985 making of – feature on Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, narrated by Tina Turner.