Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterwork of cinema. There are so many elements to analyze, from the hyper-fast, highly saturated stylism, to the spiritual allegory, to the brilliant pacing and tension, to the genuinely moving character development of Furiosa and Nux. Luckily, the internet is filled with reviews and analyses constructed by more savvy film critics than myself, so today we can focus on the significance of Furiosa’s overall character design.
Though Max technically serves as the film’s protagonist, Fury Road is arguably Furiosa’s story first. She is the Moses in the film’s narrative and thematic arcs, mirroring the biblical figure’s role as a former authority figure in a regime that oppresses and enslaves their kin as well as his quest to free these people. She is a bridge between worlds—the high-octane violence of the War Boys and the tough but steadfast community of the Vuvalini, and also the man’s world and the woman’s world—and this role is reflected in her costume and makeup design.
When we first see Furiosa, her eyes and forehead are covered in black makeup similar to the skull makeup and goggles worn by the War Boys. Her makeup disappears in scenes where she interacts primarily with women, then reappears during the scene in the canyon where she tries to make a deal with the biker gang. Coupled with this literal and figurative mask, Charlize Theron’s performance conveys the complex web of emotions underpinning Furiosa’s guarded nature during her interactions with men—resulting from her stoic attempts to mask her deception, her slowness to trust, her rage at the abuses of her people, her compassion for her sisters, and her tenuous place in the men’s world.
Furiosa’s outfit is a gender-swapped representation of the War Boys’ garb, with pants in the same cut and color and a skin-toned top in lieu of the men’s toplessness. The length of her hair suggests it had been previously shaved off—which would give her the same bald look as the War Boys—but has started growing back. Her hair and the fabric of her top, which mirrors the color and texture of the wives’ clothing, conveys a sense of gender fluidity that can be interpreted as her transitioning from male to female. Furiosa’s backstory as a Vuvalini who had been kidnapped as a child and forced to live under Immortan Joe’s rule supports this idea of transition and the experiences of many LGBTQ+ people who were raised to embody an identity that conflicted with their own.
Furiosa’s costume and makeup design equip her with armor and a mask that stands in sharp contrast to those of the antagonist, Immortan Joe. Like Darth Vader, Immortan Joe’s mask and armor serve both as symbols of authority and physically keep him alive, as evidenced by his death when his mask is ripped off—a comment on the fragility of his reign and of toxic masculinity in general. In contrast, Furiosa’s armor and mask hinder her in a way, since her dealings with men while wearing the black makeup ultimately fail. Wearing these symbols of authority that connect her with the men’s world reveal her vulnerability, as Theron’s performance becomes more passionate and spirited when Furiosa removes the mask (in essence, revealing her true self).
I could probably write a full dissertation analyzing Furiosa, which is a testament to the skill of everyone involved with bringing her to life in Mad Max: Fury Road. She is truly a complex, fully realized character who can be read as a progressive, positive icon to the LGBTQ+ community in subtext, if not directly stated.