Study Guide

Mad Max: Fury Road Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne)

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Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne)

Where to start with this piece of work?

How about with his crimes against humanity? By Shmoop's tally, here are all the terrible things Immortan Joe has done:

  • He rules over the Citadel with an iron fist.
  • He controls vital resources—like water—and withholds them from people who desperately need it.
  • He holds a bunch of women hostage as sex slaves, whom he uses to produce a viable male heir.
  • He holds some other women hostage in order to harvest their constant flow of mother's milk.
  • He effectively enslaves the war boys in order to maintain a fighting force to defend his Citadel.
  • He maintains his power through violence, rape, murder, extortion, and every other bad thing you can name.

Okay, so we know he's bad news, but the question is why?

A Feudal Warlord for the Apocalyptic Age

We like to think of Immortan Joe as an old-school feudal warlord gone totally evil. Sure, his kingdom may be small, but he rules over it with an iron fist, because the alternative is probably ending up like one of the masses in the wasteland—starving, desperate, and alone. As a warlord, he knows that whoever controls the world's few remaining resources has all the power. And Shmoopers, Immortan Joe digs his power.

Just take his first scene, for example. From the moment we meet Joe, we see that he controls everything around him. We don't see his face at first, just his poisoned body, being tended to by a war pup. Then, we see him being dressed, and striding out confidently to a high-up precipice on the Citadel. As he looks down at the masses, he gives the following speech:

"Once again, we send off my War Rig to bring back guzzoline from Gas Town and bullets from the Bullet Farm! Once again, I salute my Imperator Furiosa! And I salute my half-life War Boys who will ride with me eternal on the highways of Valhalla. I am your redeemer. It is by my hand you will rise from the ashes of this world! It's coming. Get ready. [Immortan Joe turns on the water, which flows out of the aquifer onto the crowds below, and then quickly shuts it off.] Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you and you will resent its absence."

A short speech, but it packs a punch, right? Let's break it down.

Check out the first part: Joe tells the masses below that he is sending his "War Rig" to bring back resources that we assume are pretty important in this wasteland: gas and bullets. The language here is all about violence and war.

Then he starts getting religious—and megalomaniacal, if we may say so. He suggests that the War Boys who do his bidding will get a one-way ticket to heaven—or Valhalla, as the case may be. And he calls himself a "redeemer" for the people of the Citadel. Um, he does not look like a redeemer to Shmoop. He looks much more like an oppressor if we may say so.

Then comes the kicker: he promises that it is only through him that the people will be saved, and he gives them what they so desperately need: water. But he gives them just enough to whet their taste buds and absolutely no more. And then he has the gall to say they shouldn't get addicted to water because then it will be that much worse when they don't have any. Except, um, the whole reason they don't have any is that you hoard it all for yourself, thankyouverymuch, Immortan Joe. Harrumph.

If we may play Freud for a moment, allow Shmoop to say that this is textbook megalomania. Immortan Joe hangs onto his power with the iron grip of a toddler clutching a teddy bear, and any threat to that power must be dealt with swiftly.

Which is what makes Furiosa and the breeders' defiance such sweet, sweet revenge.

Immortan and the Women

But Immortan Joe's villainy isn't just limited to his total control of resources. He's also out to control the ladies, in some of the worst ways possible.

First, there are his so-called wives, a.k.a. the breeders. He keeps these beautiful women locked up as his slaves and repeatedly has sex with them without their consent in the hopes of producing a viable male heir. It's clear he doesn't see these women as individuals—or even human beings. They are his property, which is why he sends an entire war party after them, to retrieve his "goods."

Then there are the women whom he keeps around to produce "mothers' milk." They're strapped to chairs, clearly held captive, and their bodies are used to provide nutrition for him, his sons, and other lucky folks in the Citadel.

As both these examples show, and as feminist interpretations of the movie like to point out, Immortan Joe's villainy stems from his view that women's bodies are commodities for consumption, not vessels for human souls. And if we really want to call him out, we'd point out that he treats pretty much everyone in the Citadel this way—from the war boys who put their bodies on the line to defend him, to the workers who run the machinery of the Citadel, right down to the crowds below, who survive (barely) at his mercy.

Not What We'd Call a Looker

In a movie that relies so much on visual storytelling, it's worth spending some time on the looks of our characters—especially Immortan Joe. When we're first introduced to him, we see his body before we see his face. And he's not exactly in good shape. His skin is thin and wrinkled, covered in pock marks and growths. Then, when we finally see his face, we discover that he must wear a breathing mask, which makes him look like a skull.

If looks could kill, Joe's definitely would. His grotesque appearance is an outward expression of his inward grossness. He's a terrible person, and he looks like one, too.

But that's not to say he's just a walking physical deformity. Despite his ill appearance, he cuts a pretty intimidating figure, what with his apocalyptic armor, skull mask, and deathly makeup. Immortan Joe seems to have done a good job of using his deformities to his advantage, making him appear that much more intimidating to the people he oppresses.

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