- October 2, 2015
Wasteland Baroque and the Mobile Metropolis in Mad Max: Fury Road
CRISTIAN ONCESCU (M. Arch ’14)
On the tabula rasa of the post-apocalyptic wasteland, director George Miller invents a constantly mobile version of civilization comprised of the detritus of our own world. Author Justin McGuirk identifies the vast emptiness of Mad Max: Fury Road’s Namibian desert as home to neither infrastructure nor architecture in the traditional sense. The built environment that exists in such a void is the agglomeration of vehicles pursuing one another. As the camera changes its relative position and speed, the war party fluctuates between an amorphous, shifting mass of vehicles and a tightly composed arrangement of stationary elements, which the antagonistic War Boys easily traverse. Each automobile plays a unique role in the larger ensemble, such as the doctor’s car, the fuel truck, the harpoon car, and the pole car. If the smaller vehicles are buildings, Furiosa’s War Rig is a city with infrastructure, containing McKenzie Wark’s “four flows” of gasoline, milk, water, and blood – the fluids necessary for the protagonists’ survival at various points in the narrative.
Immortan Joe’s totalitarian society crafts its vehicles and tools with an abundance of iconography and a heavy reliance on Baroque aesthetic sensibilities. By drawing visual connections to the Baroque, albeit in a retro-futuristic fashion, Mad Max: Fury Road echoes the period’s aesthetic opulence and political excess. As production designer Colin Gibson explains, the Mad Max films have “always [been] about cars,” as automobiles, much like architecture, are repeatedly used as “a metaphor for power.” The production designers never explicitly mention a Baroque influence in interviews, but when Gibson describes the recycled elements as being “recognizable” yet “jarring,” and possessing “a new freshness” by being “out of context,” he may as well be characterizing Baroque architecture from the 17th century.
During the Counter-Reformation, the architectural vocabulary of the Renaissance was used in a new, theatrical fashion under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church sought to make its architecture more emotive, more accessible to the public, and demonstrative of its wealth and power. As the High Baroque language employs fragmentation of previously indivisible elements, vertical stacking of façade layers, and opulent ornamentation, so too, the vehicles of Fury Road rely on an almost identical architectural language and syntax. Like the once-unitary pediment of the Greek Parthenon, broken up and sheared in transition to the plastic Baroque façade, the Cadillac Coupe de Ville chassis and transmission on Immortan Joe’s Gigahorse vehicle are cut up and stretched, distending the proportions of the once-iconic form. Furthermore, Baroque architects turned to previously incompatible combinations of elements to add drama to single façades. Several bands of columns are stacked for greater verticality, the unifying cornices are themselves composed of many strata, and new flavors of pediments are nested inside older ones. Likewise, vertical repetitions and combinations are immediately apparent in the dual Coupe de Ville chassis of the Gigahorse, the multiple grilles on the front of the People Eater’s fuel truck, and the multitude of speakers and amplifiers on the Doof Wagon.
The new architectural efforts of the Baroque were paralleled by a proliferation of ornament and figural iconography. Architecture and ornament are integrated to such a degree that it becomes impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. In a similar way, the War Boys are so integrated with their mobile environment that they literally spit fuel to over-charge their engines. Their bodily appearance, pale and stone-like, harkens back to idealized Greek sculpture, which sheds any infirmities to portray only youth, strength, and health. The War Boys become living sculptures, memorializing their own martyrdom while riding across the desert wasteland. Like the architecture of the Baroque period, Mad Max: Fury Road re-contextualizes the elements and imagery of an earlier era to create a fresh, but vulgar milieu. In this boundless, barren world, people are untethered and almost continually on the move, yet humanity as a whole has not advanced.
 Justin McGuirk, “Mad Max Cornered the Market in a Particular Vision of the Post-Apocalyptic Future,” Dezeen.
 McKenzie Wark, “Fury Road,” PublicSeminar.org.
 Mad Max: Fury Road, Blu-ray, “Mad Max: Fury on Four Wheels” featurette.