Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online




Mad Max (1979)

Synopsis

In the near future, in a collapsing society, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) patrols the highway in a super-charged patrol car, the Interceptor, like a modern-day samurai. When a bikie gang declares war on him and his family, Max takes justice into his own hands.

Curator’s notes

The influence of Mad Max would be hard to overstate. Some would say it is the most influential movie ever made in Australia. The film had a profound effect on filmmakers and audiences around the world. It redefined the idea of what kinetic action cinema should be, along with audience expectations. It also threw a well-timed wrench at the polite veneer of much Australian cinema. The film was neither highbrow nor historical, as many Australian films of the 1970s were. At the same time, Mad Max is profoundly local in its attitudes and origins. Dr George Miller grew up in Chinchilla in south-western Queensland. The hot, flat plains and 'a profound car culture’ had claimed the lives of several contemporaries before he left school. As a young doctor, he saw the impact of road carnage at close quarters, in casualty wards. The film has both a love of speed and an apocalyptic view of its effects. It also has an ambivalent, even jaundiced view of authority. There is no justice, only vengeance. Mad Max was made for $380,000 raised from friends, so it was completely independent of the Australian film funding bodies. It was, in short, a piece of larrikin cinema – impolite, independent, and in a style not considered respectable. Miller was strongly influenced by silent cinema, particularly the techniques of comedians Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Mad Max was an experiment, he says, in making 'pure cinema’. Critics compared Miller to the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa but Miller says he did not know who Kurosawa was at the time. When it was shown in the USA, the Australian voices were dubbed into American accents. The sound design by Roger Savage was particularly influential, the tones of different engines being used as a kind of music.