Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Heroes Need Not Apply

Yesterday, I had something of a revelation about a film. In itself, this is not uncommon: the majority of revelations are inspired by movies. In fact, while it is not commonly acknowledged, the Book of Revelations began when John experienced a vision, two thousand years into the future, centered on a multiplex. It is unknown what movie John watched, gazing in fear and doubt through the swirling vortex of time, but a careful reading suggests it may have been Roland Emmerich's Godzilla.

But we aren't here to discuss Emmerich's failure. Rather, we've gathered to consider an under-appreciated work by George Miller. I refer, of course, to the 1985 classic, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

It occurred to me yesterday that Thunderdome was released before its time; shown to a world which was unprepared to fully appreciate its nuances. As a result, it was viewed superficially. Sure, critics and audiences were able to note the religious connections, with Max serving as a Moses figure (for more on this, I again direct you to Gabriel McKee's Gospel According to Science Fiction). Likewise, the references to Lord of the Flies were easily noted, as were the allusions to Peter Pan. And I doubt anyone failed to comprehend Miller's statement that a civilization built wholly upon self interest was destined to collapse: it was as straightforward, after all, as his observations on the nature of myth and development of religion.

Certainly, these were in the movie, but they were dressing for the surface. The true brilliance of Thunderdome lies beneath. The movie, I've realized, is an allegory for unemployment.

The first half of the movie concerns itself with Mad Max acquiring and losing a job. Despite promising skills, he is simply unwilling to work as required by his job description. As a result, he is summarily fired by his employer. Of course, Thunderdome is the sort of job one doesn't mind losing. It's difficult work with demanding responsibilities and an unimpressive benefits package. But at least it's something.

At this point, the film delves into symbolism. Unemployed, Mad Max must set out in search of new work. To illustrate this existential state, he is depicted as being tied backwards to a crazed donkey while wearing a giant novelty head.

I can think of no better description of the job-hunting process.

Through luck, he finds himself at an oasis, where a group of children are seeking a savior. He is given an interview, but it quickly becomes apparent he lacks the required skills; in this case, the ability to summon wind and carry them to a promised land upon the skeletal frame of a crashed jetliner.

By the end of the picture, the children embrace another applicant. While the pilot lacks the credentials the children had hoped for, at least he has a plane, which transports them to a new home. In the gutted remains of Sydney, they hang lights as signals to the wanderers and the lost: "Help Wanted."

Thunderdome's message was wasted in the 1980's, but perhaps today, it will have better luck attracting a sympathetic audience. There are, after all, plenty who now have time to rewatch the film and consider its implications.

And, if anyone sees lights in the distance, do let me know. Because, as of today, all I want is what's beyond Thunderdome.

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