It was opening night at the Arclight and every seat was filled with pumped up young men and women. I had been excited to see it but I was having trouble following the plot, distracted by the brutality of the violence, the grotesque makeup and weird body armor. The movie was making me tense. Onscreen were hoards of enslaved people including children, with shaved heads and mostly naked bodies covered in white powder, gut-wrenching scarification and ornamentation. Many appeared to have endured their mouths being sewn shut. Others were in chains. The pace was hyper speed, with fast motion chase scenes and a relentless yet banal soundtrack of distorted guitar sounds and tribal drumming.
I remembered loving the original two MM movies for all the crazy stunts, the firebombs and the heavy metal mash-up vehicles chasing through the Australian desert. The stunts were so good they were hard to get your head around, and there was humor and corny romance thrown in for good measure.
But beyond all the high priced tropes of Hollywood cinema, the writer/director George Miller has a way of getting under my skin. In every MM movie there is a ruthless gang of thugs, hell bent on raping and torturing the innocent just for fun. That alone makes his films appeal to our worst fears. Add to that the setting of a dystopian future of the earth, scorched and wasted, supporting a few remaining lawless and bloodthirsty survivors, and it’s hard to leave the movie without a sick feeling in the gut.
This latest iteration “Fury Road” was much more intense than I remembered the earlier MM movies, and I was struggling to enjoy myself, enduring the endless racing of vehicles and crashing of trucks, when my husband grabbed my arm, his hand throbbing with tension as he pulled me out of my seat.
His eyes spelled fear and I looked around in the dark to see everyone around us leaving their seats, heading to the exits, I assumed, but it was hard to see anything in the dark with the film still roaring at us. People, and all animals in fact, primarily and instinctively use hearing to detect danger, but the decibels pumping out of the speakers blocked all other sound, adding to the confusion.
“Is it a fire?” I yelled to my husband, but I didn’t see or smell smoke. It was disconcerting to be surrounded by a panicked crowd, not knowing the cause. With only the torrent of cinematic blasts and crunching metal, guttural threats and evil laughter in my ears, it was virtually impossible to avoid assuming the worst as we joined the rush.
We climbed over three empty rows of seats to the exits at the front of the theater, closest to the screen, which someone else had already opened setting off a terrible high pitched alarm. I kept waiting for them to stop the movie or make some sort of announcement to calm everyone but there was clearly no one in charge. For some reason only a few people followed us out the front. Most were crushing toward of the main doors, which were jammed.
We stood dazed on the sidewalk with just a handful of people, all of us speechless. It seemed our minds were trying to reconcile the relative silence of the empty street, with the mayhem we had just escaped. It was odd, standing there in shared bewilderment. Time seemed to have skidded to a sudden halt, and even my husband, usually a leader in scary situations, just stood there.
“Come on, let’s go,” I said, and we all made our way back to the front entrance of the Arclight. The lobby was a sea of confusion with people squeezed in tightly like a crowded bus. We weren’t sure what we wanted anyway. Was it getting our money back? Seeing if we could finish the movie? Or just to know what had happened? We wanted all these things, but when the police arrived and pushed their way past us into the lobby, we just left.
“Let’s get ice cream,” my husband suggested and it seemed like the best idea. We felt strange, not unlike driving by a bad accident on the freeway, knowing we had escaped something terrible but also feeling let down somehow, from not knowing what it was.
My husband went back the next day to try and get a refund and learned that two men had gotten into a fight in the last rows. Apparently one of them had tried to leave and tripped over someone’s foot. “There was a misunderstanding,” they said, that escalated into a fistfight. I wasn’t surprised it was something like that. The tension in the theater that night was overpowering and I guess I wasn’t the only one feeling pulled down to my most base fears and reactions.
Violence and fear are as contagious as an aggressive virus. We see that portrayed in movies, but it happens in real car accidents and even in our own relationships with the people we love. Anger and fear live in all of us. Perhaps now more than ever there is a very palpable collective fear that gets translated into anger. People rant about the political climate, the environment, and corporations, as if we are all victims of some terrible force “out there” that we had no part in creating.
When we explode our fears out, or impose our anger on others, acting defensively or aggressively, it just ignites that spark in others. Even if I’m not feeling angry, if someone gets mad at me, it has the potential to pull up anger I have stored and spark a full-blown argument. This is why I am such an advocate of meditation and other forms of spiritual practice that teach us to navigate emotions. It gives me the ability to stay present, keep calm, and usually find the most efficient way out.
I also think meditating helps me have perspective. I have faith in human beings. If we really want to effect change, we need to learn how to pull together, using the power of anger to fight for good, instead letting fear eat away our self-determination. In the end, that’s what the heroes of “Fury Road” end up doing.
We got our refund and went back to watch the whole thing, this time in the middle of a weekday. We were two of about a dozen people in the theater and it was a completely different experience. It helped that we had already seen two thirds of it, but this time I had no trouble following who was who or what was happening. I was able to enjoy it for what it was, a well-made movie designed to scare and impress while also making fun of it self, and making commentary on just how absurd the human experience can be.