Study Guide

Mad Max: Fury Road Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Fury Road has two heroes, Max and Furiosa, and their journeys are different—at first. We'll tackle them individually at first, and then, as we move through the stages, we'll check out how their fates—and therefore their Heros' Journeys—merge.

The ordinary world is anything but for Mr. Rockatansky. Established in his opening narration, we learn that—after oil wars, water wars, and yes, nuclear war—the world is now an apocalyptic wasteland where he has been reduced to a single instinct: survival.

For Furiosa, the world is ordinary in the sense that she's got a job that she wakes up and does every day. She's an Imperator, the driver of the War Rig, and she's part of Immortan Joe's Citadel society.

Call To Adventure

So Max's call to adventure is not one he willingly answers. Having been trapped by the War Boys, he becomes a blood bag thanks to his status as a universal donor with O-negative blood. And because he's a blood bag, he goes where Nux goes—and in this case, that means he joins the war party and finds himself strapped to the front of a car, hurtling through the desert in pursuit of the War Rig. Though he might not have a choice in heeding the call, it's definitely an adventure. And little does he know, the true call will arrive when he decides to throw in his lot with the women.

Furiosa's call to adventure came before Max's, and it happened off screen. At some point (in a story covered by the comic book prequels) she must free Immortan Joe's wives from their captivity. It's a call she answers because of her desire for redemption—her need to atone for the sins she's accumulated as an Imperator for the icky Immortan Joe.

Refusal Of The Call

Still hell bent on survival and nothing else, Max tries to take the War Rig from Furiosa. We know, we know: how is that a refusal of anything? Well, in this case, it's a temporary refusal to acknowledge that he's better off with them—at least in terms of achieving redemption. Until he fights for and with the women, he's just a loner in the desert, half-crazy and half-starved. Once he decides to join their ranks, he becomes part of a team, and therefore capable of redemption.

We learn that Furiosa may very well have refused the call of helping the women escape. After all, Miss Giddy tells Immortan Joe,

"She didn't take them. They begged her to go."

That tells us that Furiosa wasn't exactly eager to defy Immortan Joe and risk her life. Ah, but she did. And that's what counts.

Meeting The Mentor

When Max and Furiosa finally meet, their fates—and the fates of those they fight for—become inextricably linked. As the two establish a weak trust (seriously, one of 'em looks at the other wrong, and it'll all be shot to hell), they mentor each other in a hand-off sort of way. Max learns about Furiosa's backstory, and Furiosa learns…well, very little about Max. But now that their survival is mutually assured, they've found in each other a path to redemption.

Crossing The Threshold

Since Max and Furiosa's trust is so shaky at first, it takes some points-of-no-return to solidify their partnership. For Max, it's when he risks his life to blow up the Bullet Farmer. For Furiosa, it's when she trusts Max enough to let him drive. We think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

At every turn, Max and Furiosa must fend off enemies—Immortan Joe's war parties, the Bullet Farmer, even the desert itself. But thankfully, once they cross the quagmire and what used to be the Green Place, they come across some allies: the Vuvalini.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

When Max convinces Furiosa and the others to forgo their doomed trip across the salt and take back the Citadel instead, the two of them can finally face what they're really after: redemption. And they need each other in order to achieve that for themselves. Furiosa needed Max to convince her that true redemption lies in ensuring a better future for everyone—not just freedom for the women. And Max needed Furiosa to remind him that this is his chance not to turn his back on people who need him.

Ordeal

Well, if the race back to the Citadel isn't an ordeal, we don't know what is. Our heroes face everything: pole cats, fist fights, guns, knives, and every other kind of weapon your crazy head could dream up. The race makes up the climactic moments of the movie, and it acts like a mobile storytelling vehicle. All important plots are challenged and resolved on the road.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Furiosa kills Immortan Joe, which means she has definitely seized her sword. Redemption achievement unlocked. The only problem is, she got stuck in the gut and is now bleeding out on the War Rig floor. Oops. Good thing it's time for Max to seize his sword, too. He's a universal donor, after all, and it's totally within his abilities to save Furiosa's life—which he does, thus earning the redemption he's been after this whole time.

The Road Back

Once Furiosa, Max, and crew have defeated Immortan for once and for all, they literally take the road back to the Citadel, returning as heroes, rather than rebels. Need we say more?

Resurrection

Furiosa, in killing Immortan Joe, has resurrected herself as a person redeemed. She's ready to take back the power at the Citadel and fight for what's right. And now that Max is redeemed, he's ready to share that one part of himself he couldn't quite muster the courage to before: his name.

Return With The Elixir

What's this about an elixir? Sounds like water to Shmoop. As Furiosa and the females rise up into the Citadel, the nursing mothers release the aquifer, showering water down onto the Wretched, who so desperately need it. Sure, the elixir may have always been there, but it took Furiosa's return to free it for the people. And as for Max, well, his elixir is his anonymity, which he returns to with little more than a knowing nod for Furiosa. We guess he's not a city dude.

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