There are many, many jaw-dropping scenes and elements featured in Mad Max: Fury Road, from the giant sandstorm that initially allows Furiosa to escape her pursuers, to the sight of a blinded man firing off machine guns against a pure dark blue sky, but there is little question that just the visage of central villain Immortan Joe – played by Hugh Keays-Byrne. Miller turns his actor into an incredible monster in the film, and just the sight of him makes you want to urge Max, Furiosa and the others to drive just a little bit faster. What it may interest you to know, however, is that Joe is much more than just a man wearing a scary mask, and that director George Miller put detailed and researched thought into every aspect of the character.
Prior to Mad Max: Fury Road’s theatrical release, I had the immense pleasure to sit down for a one-on-one chat with the director to talk about his latest film, and during the interview I took the opportunity to ask about his approach to creating the post-apocalyptic tyrant known as Immortan Joe. Miller revealed that his course of action was to take a historical approach to the material, and look back into the past to discover the key techniques people keep power over people. Even before the discussion of Joe’s physical appearance, the filmmaker explained that the entire drive of villain’s entire aesthetic was even present in the tower he calls home. Miller explained,
There are citadels all over the world, never knew anything about each other, that have almost precisely the same architecture of power. They do! It’s a geological advantage - very hard to get to siege of power, you’ve got to go through a whole gauntlet of things.
Of course, Immortan Joe’s high seat in the Citadel is only one way that he puts himself above people – and this is where his robust battle armor and freaky mask enter the game. As seen in Mad Max: Fury Road, Joe isn’t seen merely as a king to his followers – he’s seen as a full-fledged god. The status of a god, however, comes with the expectation of both immortality and invulnerability – meaning that Joe can absolutely never show weakness. As such, the terrifying breathing equipment covers the fact that it is a necessary health device, and the armor covers his blistered, bubbling skin. Said Miller,
They do use a kind of, coercive power of mythology or religious belief. It means that you don’t have to work very hard [laughs]. It’s much more efficient. People are motivated. The mask he wears is for the sense that somehow he himself is immortal. From afar, he looks quite formidable, but his mask is basically a breathing mask, to help him breathe, to help him breathe fresh air, and so, but what better than to turn it into something that also looks horrific?
It all really feeds back into the overall aesthetic that George Miller worked to create in Mad Max: Fury Road - which is an idea of a certain practical madness: things can look over-the-top, but they do actually serve a function.
The guitarist, it’s not only the sound of war, because they don’t have radio mikes and stuff, but it’s also a flamethrower, because it has to have a double purpose.
Mad Max: Fury Road is in theaters now.