"Nonverbal." That's not exactly the first word we think of when we think of modern-day movies. After all, there are people in movies, and people have a tendency to, you know, verbalize—even if it's just to a volleyball.
But "nonverbal" is exactly the word Director George Miller uses to describe his movie in an interview in the DVD extras. "People obviously speak in the movie," he says, "but they only speak when it's absolutely necessary."
So if the movie doesn't have a lot of talking, how can we follow the story? Typically, movies rely on ample dialogue to build their characters and provide exposition for the storyline. In a relatively nonverbal movie, we viewers don't have that resource. Instead, Miller relies on visual storytelling; almost everything we need to know we can glean with our eyes—if we only know where to look.
Acting Without Speaking
Allow Tom Hardy to explain:
[We were] acting in a move that is visually driven, as in we're watching what a character does by seeing them go through one physical event after another and how it affects them. It was a very difficult story to tell.
What he means is that since the characters in Fury Road don't go around talking about their feelings and explaining their thoughts, we're left with their behavior—their actions, body language, and decisions—to determine what's going on in their heads. They tell the story through their physicality.
Looking for a great example of that technique? Look no further than the scene when Max arrives at the War Rig and first meets Furiosa and the wives. He hardly says a word—after all, he's half-crazy from years of wandering the desert. Instead, he gets his messages across with wild gestures, and his facial expressions, which is all the more impressive, considering most of his face is hidden by his muzzle.
We see confusion in his eyes when he sees the breeders—and particularly when he sees them remove Cheedo's chastity belt. We know he's thirsty because when he sees the water, he licks his lips. We see that he senses Furiosa is a threat, because he has Dag bring him the bolt cutters to remove the chain that attaches him to Nux. And we know all this despite the fact that in this moment, he speaks a grand total of two words: "water" and "you."
A Few More Tidbits
But of course visual storytelling isn't just about what the actors do—it's also about the way the world looks, and the little details that contribute to the overall picture. For example, the fact that the screaming skull decorates everything—including the bodies of those who do his bidding—tells us that Immortan Joe's power is both violent and absolute. For more on this, see "Symbols and Tropes."
Aside from visual storytelling, Fury Road makes use of a few other narrative tropes. Brief, disorienting flashbacks both enhance our understanding of Max's madness and also hint at a dark past. His voiceover narration at the beginning, coupled with audio snippets, gives us all the exposition we need: the world has gone to pot, and Max is struggling to survive. These narrative tropes don't define the movie or create any sort of overarching framework. They're simply utilitarian, allowing the storytelling to remain largely visual while delivering the audience important information in an artful, subtle way.