Aside from the cult-based fanaticism, chrome paint huffing, and murderous impulses, of course.
What I think makes Mad Max: Fury Road work so well as an action film is its world-building. There’s hardly any dialogue; everything you need to know is communicated through setting, design, and its freakish and fantastical characters. The “war boys” of warlord Immortan Joe – bald and brilliantly white against the desert sand – are particularly evocative and disturbing. They are soldiers born to die dreaming of Valhalla. Also leukemia.
Within the first five minutes of Mad Max we’re introduced to Joe’s ghostly army, whose ferocity comes with a price. The war boys are born with a “half-life,” presumably meaning a seriously shortened lifespan. But from what? The apparent inbreeding, the irradiated wasteland, and the need for “blood bags” gives us a possibility: some form of the blood cancer leukemia.
Leukemia refers to a group of blood cancers that affect bone marrow – the spongy tissue inside our bones that produces our red blood cells, platelets (which clot up to stop bleeding), and white blood cells. Leukemia causes an abnormal increase in the production of white blood cells, impairing the immune system and often leading to a decrease in red blood cell production.
So why would a doctor in The Citadel diagnose the war boys with leukemia? Fevers, chills, night sweats, weight loss, and loss of color are all symptoms of leukemia. And patients with the disease often receive blood transfusions to supplement their falling red blood cell count. While we’re not sure what causes various forms of leukemia, exposure to ionizing radiation and inherited genetic factors play some role in its onset. The inbred, irradiated war boys fit all these bills — and aren’t exactly the picture of health.
A war boy would eventually need a blood transfusion–as many patients with leukemia do–but even a donor like Max wouldn’t save them. The term “universal donor” usually refers to someone with an O negative blood type. But donating blood is more involved than just hooking up a blood bag and driving off into a fray. Universal donors can only donate red blood cells without worry – the red blood cells of universal donors lack the surface proteins that would be foreign to a recipient’s immune system.
However with blood plasma, the liquid component of blood that makes up the majority of our blood volume, the situation is reversed. Donors with an O negative blood type can only donate plasma to others with that same blood type, again because of proteins on the surface of the plasma. The blood type AB is actually the universal donor when it comes to blood plasma. These complications are why we use screening and filtration to separate blood’s components before giving it to anyone.
But all things considered, the possibility of acute kidney failure is probably not the biggest worry when you’re spraying chrome paint into your mouth and begging everyone to witness your fiery demise.
Kyle Hill is the Science Editor at Nerdist Industries. Follow on Twitter @Sci_Phile.
IMAGES: Warner Bros.