Study Guide

Mad Max: Fury Road Furiosa (Charlize Theron)

Furiosa (Charlize Theron)

Everyone's favorite girly girl, Imperator Furiosa spends the movie lovingly nurturing those around her, and waiting to be rescued by the men in her life.

Wait.

That doesn't sound right.

Ah, we meant the exact opposite.

Fierce Femme Fatale Finds Forgiveness

Furiosa is, if anything, fierce. She's driven by a powerful need for redemption—she says as much to Max—and she will stop at nothing to get it.

But we have a question: what exactly is she seeking redemption for? When we meet her, we don't know much about her and her past. Eventually, we learn that she was born in "the green place," before she was taken by Immortan Joe's men and brought to the Citadel. That sure sounds like Furiosa's the victim of some pretty terrible trauma—not a perpetrator of whatever crimes she's seeking forgiveness for.

The answer, dear Shmoopers, lies in her name: Imperator Furiosa. "Imperator" is a Latin word used by the Romans to refer to victorious generals, and later, the emperor himself. The fact that Furiosa has been granted this title in the Citadel means that she's got some power and clout there. So while she may have been a victim of kidnapping early in her life, by the time the movie takes place, Imperator Furiosa is very much apart of the all-powerful Citadel system.

Citadel Baby

We see that power in action early on in the movie. As Imperator, she's trusted to drive the War Rig to trade the Citadel's produce and milk for the all-important guzzoline from Gas Town. She commands the war boys in her convoy, and they obey her without question—even when she's clearly deviating from Immortan Joe's orders. Furiosa quite obviously has a privileged position as a member of the Citadel's elite, and she has earned the trust of the men in power.

Given her power in the Citadel, it makes sense that Furiosa might be feeling a bit guilty. After all, she's lived in a position of relative privilege in a system that flourishes on the oppression of women and the poor. In a sense, she has benefited from the suffering of others. That may be an oversimplification of the situation, but it's a totally plausible explanation for Furiosa's need for redemption.

Strength and Disability

But we have one lingering question: why and how did Furiosa earn her position of privilege? In a world of war boys, how did a woman become an Imperator? The truth is, we'll never know, but could it be possible that her disability actually saved her?

Think about it. Furiosa is obviously drop-dead gorgeous. She's Charlize Theron, for pete's sake. How is it possible she didn't end up like the breeders—an unwilling wife to Immortan Joe? Well, we see early on in the movie that Furiosa has a prosthetic arm, as her left arm ends somewhere near her elbow. Immortan Joe clearly values women who fulfill the stereotypical idea of a beautiful women. Because of her disability, Furiosa doesn't fit.

But the joke's on Joe, of course. Furiosa's mechanical prosthetic arm is anything but a hindrance. She can do anything with it—drive a truck, shoot guns with alarming accuracy, and yes, beat the poop out of any war boy who so much as looks at her wrong. And in her fight with Max, Furiosa proves that she doesn't even need her prosthetic arm to kick butt. She takes him on without it, and nearly bests him. In a world where a disability could be devastating, Furiosa manages to thrive with hers.

P.S. For more on illness and disability in Fury Road, check out "Symbols and Tropes."

Furiosa and Max: Unlikely Heroes

Speaking of Max, let's, um, speak of Max. Specifically, his relationship with Furiosa. As we mention in Max's "Character Analysis," Furiosa's strength and power nearly eclipse that of Max for much of the movie. Plenty of critics and pop culture aficionados have remarked on the fact that in Fury Road, Max is relegated to the role of sidekick, thanks to Furiosa's general awesomeness.

But perhaps more important than that dynamic, is tracing the relationship between these two, and how it develops as they travel along Fury Road. When she first encounters Max, he's a threat. He tries to steal the War Rig, threatens the women with physical violence, and is quite clearly bad news.

The two fight, and though Max manages to best Furiosa, it could have just as easily gone the other way. And just when you think Max has won the day, he messes with Furiosa's truck. No sooner does he drive away then it breaks down. Furiosa catches up, and tries to negotiate with him:

FURIOSA: Kill switches. I set the sequence myself. This rig goes nowhere without me.

MAX: You can get in.

FURIOSA: Not without them.

MAX: So we wait.

FURIOSA: You're relying on the gratitude of a very bad man. You've damaged one of his wives. How grateful do you think he's gonna be…You're sitting on 2000 horsepower of nitro-boosted war machine. I'd say you got about a five-minute head start…You want that thing off your face?

Check it out—after displaying impressive physical prowess, Furiosa shows she's no slump in the brain department either. In the span of a few moments, she tries just about every argumentative tactic with Max, until she lands on just the right one—the fact that he's wearing what must be a very uncomfortable metal muzzle. And boom—she and the women have their ride back.

And when Furiosa decides to throw in her lot with him, things start to shift. Their relationship becomes something much less antagonistic. They're not friends, exactly, but they've got a good enough thing going.

Max earns Furiosa's trust and she begins to rely on him, handing over some of her duties as the driver of War Rig. By the time they arrive at the home of the Vuvalini, it's clear that Furiosa considers him a comrade—someone to hit the road with. She cares about what happens to him, offers him a fully loaded motorcycle, and invites him to tag along on their journey across the salt.

When Max refuses, she looks disappointed but unsurprised. But that all changes just a brief scene later. When Max changes his mind, chases the women into the salt flats, and convinces them to head back to the Citadel and take it for themselves, he's demonstrating the new and profound trust that these two characters share. But perhaps more importantly, he's giving Furiosa a chance to achieve ultimate redemption—to do more than just escape.

One of the Many Mothers

We know that Furiosa seeks redemption for her complicity in Immortan Joe's corrupt and oppressive feudal rule. At first, her plan lies in freeing the breeders from Immortan Joe's inevitably grubby and grabby hands. Of all the things she could do to triumph over Immortan Joe, why is this the path that she chooses?

One pretty convincing theory is that she's from feminist stock. After all, she's a descendant of the Vuvalini—she's one of the many mothers. And in many ways, she acts like a mother to the breeders—albeit not in the most gentle, nurturing way—by telling them what to do, and helping them survive. She's the tough-love mom type for sure. And if that identification with the oppressed women of Immortan Joe's society has any explanation, it lies in her roots.

Her ancestry sets Furiosa up as a feminist heroine of sorts, a champion for oppressed and objectified women in the post-apocalyptic world. Of course, her feminist heroine status isn't exactly hurt by her utter kick-butt-ness. Furiosa proves time and time again that she's just as boss as the boys. She can shoot a gun, handle herself in a fistfight, and drive a big rig with the best of 'em. Furiosa is the kind of character a feminist action-movie-lover can get behind.

It's worth noting that Furiosa doesn't achieve ultimate redemption until the end, when Max convinces her to head back to the Citadel, defeat Immortan Joe, and take the future of his oppressive and unequal society into her own hands. In this sense, she's not just delivering a blow to Immortan's power—she is upending the society entirely, finding redemption and equality for all of its citizens. But does the fact that she achieves this redemptive victory only after Max plants the idea in her head lessen her agency? Does that make her any less of a feminist figure, since a man had to give her that final push? Shmoop amongst yourselves. (In any case, it's worth noting their mutually assured redemption: just as Max gives Furiosa the final push, so her brush with death finally forces Max to face himself—and share his name.)

Whatever the case may be, we can tell that when she has her final showdown with Immortan Joe, it's personal. She's the one that must kill Immortan Joe—both to redeem herself for her sins, and to ensure a more equal and free future for anyone and everyone who lives in the Citadel's realm.

Kick-butt Charlize

Here's a question: where does Furiosa get her ferocity? If you ask Shmoop, it's got everything to do with Charlize Theron's performance. She brings a certain kick-butt stoicism that never completely masks Furiosa's compassion. Furiosa fights, but she does so as a descendant of the Vuvalini, a child of the green place. She's not all warrior—but she's a warrior who's equal to all the men around her. She's fierce and kind, and Theron's performance does a lot of work to bring that out on screen.

But it's a real life anecdote that we think says it all. It all went down at a costume fitting on location in Namibia. When Theron told Fury Road's Oscar-winning costume designer that she liked her costume, the designer demurred. So what does Theron say back?

"Take the compliment, b****."

Yeah, that sounds like Furiosa to Shmoop.