If you haven’t yet seen Mad Max: Fury Road — what are you waiting for?! Cancel your evening plans. Oh, and also, here’s your SPOILER ALERT. The scene I’ll be discussing is near the end of the film.
The battle is over, the way home to the Citadel is clear, and Furiosa is dying. Max is over her, his face full of concern, attempting to diagnose and discern what she needs.
Jurisic, one of the Many Mothers, is able to tell Max what is happening. “She’s pumping air into her chest cavity. She’s collapsing her lungs one breath at a time.” Max apologizes as he stabs between her ribs to release the pressure. Jurisic again: “She’s exsanguinated. Drained all the blood.” And Max apologizes again as he connects the, as Nux called him, into a Blood Bag. And he tells her, for the first time, “Max. My name is Max.”
(If you want to watch the scene, I found it online: Max Saves Furiosa.)
I first watched this unfold in a packed, emotionally exhausted theatre as tears flooded down my face. What is it about this scene that is so impactful? And whatever that truth is, the emotional response indicates to me that it must be holding something of the divine — what is this scene teaching us, theologically?
Cruelty & Kindness
A forced act carries an entirely different meaning than the same act freely chosen.
Early in the film, the War Boys of the Citadel force Max to become a living blood bag in a dehumanizing show of cruelty and power.
Here near the end, though, Max willingly and urgently attaches his blood stream to hers. The same tube the empire had forced into his arm is now the very object that helps Max revive Furiosa’s life. What the empire had used for evil is now being used for good. It’s a redemptive act.
Which helps highlight, for me, how radical and subversive and grace-ful Jesus was in going to the cross. It was both moments at once. It should have been dehumanizing, and yet he did it in a way that was fully human, never losing (I like to think) his own sense of dignity and freedom.
Jesus has all the kindness and grace of Max-saving-Furiosa under the cruel circumstances of Max-saving-Nux.
An Image of Christ & the Church
The symbols at play in this scene are breath, blood, name.
Each, on its own, has an important history in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And the three are brought together in the one who breathes Spirit into and onto the Church, the one who spills blood for the church, the one named God With Us.
And then I thought that perhaps this scene could read as a sort of image or parable. In parable form, Furiosa might represent the corporate people of God, the Church. Max represents Christ. Jurisic, the Spirit.
To add some nuance: I am NOT saying that the person of Max has a one-to-one correlation to the person of Jesus. Rather, I’m saying that this relationship in this one moment can offer us a way to emotionally experience and understand that relationship in all time. It’s similar to the way that the hood-ornament moment offers an image of the crucifixion moment. I’m saying that when we have moments in which we can’t remember why Jesus’s spilled blood is good news or what it meant for Christ to breathe on us or to offer his blood for us, that the emotions we experience in this scene can help remind us, because they’re pointing to that moment.
I’m also not saying that any of this symbolism is intended by George Miller or anyone else involved in the making of Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s possible to be true to the story and for the Spirit to be at work within our human work of creating (indeed, I don’t know if there is any other way to create), as I get into in the Foundations series.
Ok. With that clarified. Here’s a reading of the “Max Saves Furiosa” scene in parable form (which is notably in the reverse of the Jesus story):
Christ is concerned for the Church. He is with her, near her, hovering over her. But to act, he seems to rely on the Spirit to tell him what the Church needs.
When the Spirit tells him that the Church needs air/wind/breath/spirit (in Hebrew and Greek, these are all conveyed with a singular word), Christ acts decisively so that the Church has the ability to receive it. (For Max, this looks like pushing a knife into her ribcage so she is able to receive air into lungs; in John 20, Christ breathes on his followers as he tells them to receive the Holy Spirit.)
Next the Spirit tells Christ that the Church is drained, that she has no life/blood within her. So Christ offers his blood. (Furiosa receives this through a tube; the Church receives it through Eucharist/Communion/Lord’s Supper.)
Finally, Christ reveals his identity. (For Max, this occurs through giving his name. For Christ, it occurs in his naming at birth and is shown in fulfillment in the resurrection.)
On the Name
A moment on Max’s name. Sometimes Max is short for Maximillian, which means “greatest.”
I like to think that this Max’s name is short for Maxwell, which means “great spring,” as in a life-giving spring of fresh water.
Which reminds me of that moment when Jesus talks with a woman at a well and refers to himself as living water.
Not to say that Max is fully the same as Jesus. But in this moment, this heightens the imagery that Max-as-life-source-for-Furiosa provide in an analogy of Jesus-as-life-source-for-the-Church (and also resolves the question: “Why tell her his name now?”).
Jump to the very last moments of the film when Furiosa, the wives, and as many of the wretched as they can fit are crowded onto the ascending platform. Furiosa looks around and sees Max disappearing into the crowd, leaving her and the wives to do the work of re-structuring the systems of the Citadel into more sustainable ones, re-ordering the culture into one that restores the human dignity of the wretched.
It’s a reverse of how we understand ascension. In Christian tradition, Jesus is lifted into the heavens and leaves the disciples staring after him into the clouds.
Here (if we continue the metaphor), Jesus looks up as the Church ascends into the center of power structures in order to dismantle.
In John’s account, Jesus says that his followers will do greater things than he has done. I’ve never really understood what that meant, but I like the image offered in this last moment of Mad Max. Max gives breath and blood to Furiosa so that she can change the systems and redeem the Citadel. Jesus gives breath and blood to the Church so we can do likewise in our world.
For discussion: Does reading this scene as an image of Christ and the Church change your understanding of Christ? the Church? their relationship? If so, how? Does it help or hinder?