Mad Max: Fury Road was reported to have been largely unscripted for at least the first three months of its production. It is said that the director provided a storyboard as a basis for filming, but an official script was never written, and only after a significant portion of the filming was completed was even a “rough script” produced. The result? Lots of improvisation on set, and, naturally, many non sequiturs in the characters’ dialogue, such as the following:
“You know, hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll, uh… you’ll go insane.” – Max
Now, as anyone familiar with the work of Seth MacFarlane would know, non sequitur is an element that generally appeals to our most primitive senses of humor. Our brains are so attuned to logical thinking and rational decision-making that the concept of a conclusion that does not seem to logically follow the information that precedes it humors us. A non sequitur is an easy way to add comic relief to a literary work. No actual thought or contemplation is needed to come up with a non sequitur. In fact, a non sequitur derives its very humor from the fact that it makes no sense. Therefore, it could easily be deduced that the purpose of non sequitur in a movie as dark and gritty as Max is to quickly add an abundance of thoughtless comic relief to an unscripted film.
However, a closer examination of this particular film suggests that the use of non sequitur may go a bit beyond simple stupid humor. While there’s the obvious reason for such heavy use of non-sensical language – the fact that the film was largely unscripted and relied more heavily on action scenes for its entertainment value – a prominent source of the film’s credibility as a post-apocalyptic film derives from the depiction of the characters’ mental breakdown. Unlike many of the post-apocalyptic pieces we’ve studied, this film’s setting is a much more hopeless one. Civilization has been completely and utterly obliterated beyond any trace of what used to be of humanity. The characters live in a harsh desert where they are literally warring with each other for blood. It would be unrealistic if such a setting was not depicted to have taken an extreme mental toll on the characters.
Max in particular is an embodiment of the mental toll this apocalyptic collapse of civilization. The film’s title tells us this much. Max literally is Mad. With the devolution of physical society has come the mental devolution of the survivors. As civilized society crashes, morality becomes more relative. Max has undergone a descent down Kohlberg’s ladder of the stages of morality, from the top rung, post-conventional morality, or behavior driven by principles or ethics, to the bottom rung, pre-conventional morality, or behavior driven by basic rewards and punishments. In this case, the “reward” driving Max’s pre-conventional sense of morality is his desire to survive. Max is a demonstration of what happens to humans on an interpersonal level when society collapses in its entirety. People devolve mentally, relapsing into animalistic instincts of survival and acting on behaviors in their own immediate self-interests, with no consideration of long-term consequences of these behaviors on themselves or others.
The use of non sequiturs in each character’s lines suggests the extent to his or her mental breakdown has so far occurred. Max has easily the choppiest, most non-sensical lines, frequently uttering barely intelligible word salads in the form of grunts, suggesting that he has spent the longest amount of time completely cut off from human interaction and has gotten the furthest out of touch with civilization. It was actually quite brilliant that this film was not given a full script. The feel this film creates with its often choppy, awkward, unprepared dialogue not only makes it feel more authentic, but also helps the audience to capture the feeling of descent into insanity that the characters face in a hopeless world. Perhaps unintentionally, the creators of this film managed to depict the thought disorder of derailment that Max is suffering from better than they could have possibly hoped to do using pre-written lines of dialogue.
Quite frankly, I experienced this same sense of derailment numerous times while writing about non sequitur and derailment in Mad Max. It’s a feeling I think everyone can relate to, and leads to my final question. This sense of derailment, of mental breakdown resulting in illogical thought, resulting in non sequiturs of dialogue that Max and others experience in this film…Did the collapse of civilization in this film literally create, out of nowhere, such a devolution of thought in these characters? Or is it possible that, like us all, Max had always had this suppressed desire to return to his most primitive senses of animalistic insanity, and it merely took an apocalypse and the collapse of humanity to bring these repressed conditions to the surface? Do we all have a part of us deep down inside our psyches that is just like Mad Max, just waiting for the collapse of civilized society to come out? Definitely something to think about…