So by now we’ve all seen Mad Max: Fury Road at least once and have had our faces melted off. If you haven’t, stop what you’re doing and go see it. Then come back and read this. Or proceed with caution. Spoilers be near.
Writer/director George Miller has been somewhat fast and loose about the details of Fury Road‘s timeline and specifically Tom Hardy’s Max — a character originally made famous of course by Mad Mel Gibson in 1979’s Mad Max, 1981’s Road Warrior and 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome.
In a Q&A with Fandango, Miller refers to Fury Road not as a remake or reboot but “a revisit.” He added that the films weren’t necessarily sequels of each other but “they’re kind of like standalones exploring the whole world – like Westerns.” Though there are obvious things that connect them together, with Mad Max himself of course being the throughline…but what if Tom Hardy’s Mad Max in Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t THE Mad Max?!
“Everything in the story has to have some sort of underlying backstory. Not just every character, but every vehicle, every weapon, every costume,” Miller states in the interview. Well, what if this new Max has his own underlying backstory?
There’s a fun fan theory making its way around the interwebs that proposes that Hardy is Max in moniker only. As if Gibson’s Max passed the torch along with his jacket and his V8 Interceptor on to a new Road Warrior…but if this is true, then who is this mysterious man hesitatingly calling himself Max in Fury Road?
Maybe someone not so mysterious after all, someone we were already introduced to long ago, though he was only a boy then…a growling, grunting, boomerang-throwing boy. None other than ‘The Feral Kid’ from Road Warrior (played then by Emil Minty)!
When Max Rockatansky happened upon Pappagallo’s tribe, The Feral Kid became enamored with The Road Warrior — who gave him a small wind-up music box. A music box similar to the one that we see Hardy’s Max have in his possessions, found by one of the wives in the War Rig. And that’s the first major clue at what could be one of the coolest subtle plot points in the Millerverse.
Like any fan theory, it can be poked and prodded and holes can be torn in it. Which is why I think the best way to approach it is a good old fashioned pros and cons list, just like dad taught me to do in confounding situations. Warning: it’s about to get super nerdy and analytical up in this breakdown.
A line heavily used in the trailers for the film that’s a key moment in the film itself is when Charlize Theron’s Furiosa asks the drifter his name, which is met with blank stares from Hardy’s character (so she resorts to calling him “fool”). At the end of the film he finally reveals his identity with the line “Max. My name is Max. That’s my name.” It’s delivered in a way that feels like it’s the first time he’s saying it, almost assuring himself that he is now The Road Warrior.
One of the few things we see in the film that gives Hardy’s character any glimpses of backstory are flashbacks are to a little girl being run over by a big truck. Some are remembering this incorrectly as flashbacks to the original Mad Max when Toecutter and his biker gang ran down Max’s wife and child. However, Max had an infant son (Sprog), not a toddler daughter…and they were killed by motorcycles, not a truck as seen in the flashbacks of Fury Road. Definitely one of the most mysterious, unexplained aspects of Hardy’s character in the film.
Like the aged voice of the once Feral Kid in Road Warrior, Hardy’s Max narrates Fury Road (Remember, his world is fire and blood?). If you subscribe to this theory that they’re one in the same, it’s an interesting way to bookend the character.
At the very end of the film, we see Feral Kid on the bus with the surviving villagers of Pappagallo’s tribe, looking longingly out the window. Through narration, he tells us that he writes the history so The Road Warrior would be remembered for saving them. And that the kid goes on to become the leader of the villagers, who go on to re-establish civilization. This could be used as an argument against the theory. Though on the flip side (with some suspension of disbelief), this could be what inspired The Feral Kid to go on to be The Road Warrior and thus one day re-establish civilization after the events seen in Fury Road.
Granted, the elder Feral Kid’s narration at the end of Road Warrior reveals he never saw Max again…but perhaps he did, happening upon him in the wasteland, their paths crossing once more. Or perhaps found him already dead?
The Grunts & Growls
Hardy’s lines from Fury Road could likely fit on one page double spaced, but his grunts could be pages 2 through 10. Coincidentally, those are the only sounds we ever hear The Feral Kid make. We know he learned to speak over time since, as mentioned, he narrates Road Warrior as an old man. So the argument could be made that Hardy’s grunts are left over from his days as a wild-haired mongrel.
There’s a scene early in the film where we see Max’s back covered in tattoos done by the war boys, including one that reads “Day 12045” (legible here in this concept art), which is 33 years even. If that’s intended to be his age, then that timeline doesn’t exactly work out. Though it kind of does with The Feral Kid who is 9 or 10 in Road Warrior.
Miller is a little fuzzy himself on where Fury Road fits in the timeline. “If you put a gun to my head, I’d say after Thunderdome, but it’s very loose. I can’t even work out the chronology of the first, second and third, let alone the fourth thirty years later.” Though he did state when Fury Road takes place: “The apocalypse of some form happens, and you wind up 45-50 years in the future. That’s where we pick up.”
So, even if 1979’s Mad Max takes place in dystopian future “a few years from now…”, and Fury Road is 45-50 years after the apocalypse (which hasn’t yet happened in Mad Max), then Hardy’s character is far too young to be the same Max, who would be closer to Gibson’s actual age.
While his overall outfit is similar but different, Hardy does have a few iconic pieces of Max’s outfit on — namely the leather jacket right down to the football pad pauldron and half-sleeve, which the character has worn and modified throughout the entire series. He’s also wearing Max’s leg brace, made from the hinges of a truck tailgate, which the character began wearing in Road Warrior after he was shot in the knee in Mad Max. Though this could also be argued as a pro if you simply believe along with the Mad Max identity, he also adopted his look (jacket, leg brace, car).
He never throws one! Enough said.
Again, believing in this theory does require some suspension of disbelief. But I wouldn’t put it past Miller — a mastermind who, when it comes to story and script (but definitely not action), it’s all about stripped-down restraint, minimalism, and things unsaid yet implied. He drops us into this universe that has now existed for so long that in the period of time between Thunderdome and Fury Road, it has developed a culture and a language and a deity all of its own. But the film doesn’t come with a Wiki. We’re left to figure out the abbreviations without knowing what they stand for. So, all that to say, it doesn’t seem out of character that Miller would have created this elaborate connection between his old trilogy and his new trilogy, leaving us breadcrumbs to follow.
And perhaps one day those crumbs will lead to something. Hardy is, after all, signed on to three more films, as was announced exclusively by Nerdist on Monday (two of them are prequels). So maybe more of this new Max’s backstory will be revealed (or if he is in fact the old Max, what he was doing all those years since we last left him)…or maybe it’s just a super nerdy fan theory that will prove itself not true. Either way, it’s fun to debate…that’s what fan theories are all about!
So debate away. Poke your own holes. Give us your own pros and cons. And have a lovely day doing it!