Mediocre [Mad Max: Fury Road]

Quotes are the lasting imprint of a film.  They enmesh the fictional story of the screen with the reality we inhabit. One of the great movie lines that has found life off-screen in our non-irradiated world is spoken in Mad Max: Fury Road.  I want to do the line honor, so that someday I may ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

The Set-up

Immortan Joe
Immortan Joe is all things to all people. He is the surrogate father to the entire Citadel, their general as he leads them into combat, their king and ruler, and, quite frankly, a god. 

Nux is a War Boy, just barely getting by on blood bags- like Max- to survive. Unproven, unremarkable, slowly dying in the same way all the other War Boys in the Citadel are dying. His life’s meaning is found in whatever Immortan Joe bestows upon it.

The Plot
The Imperator Furiosa has stolen Immortan Joe’s favorite breeders, The Five Wives, to liberate them from Joe’s enslavement. She also hijacked a souped-up semi, the War Rig, during a run to trade aqua cola for guzzolene and is hoping to make it to the green place where she was born. 

The Moment

The Chase
Immortan Joe had finally caught up to Furiosa, driving Rictus Erectus’ car, The Big Foot. This is his chance to incapacitate the rig or Furiosa and reclaim his breeders, shiny and chrome.

Nux has already failed, in an attempt to die Historic on Fury Road, by racing ahead in the Chevy 5 Window Coupe ’34 with Max chained onto the lancer’s perch as Nux’s portable blood bag, spurred on by the mere fact that Immortan Joe glanced his way, believing he was awaited in Valhalla, hoping as he slowly dies to die with significance. But a hell of lightning, sand, and fire destroy his chances and his car. But he woke up with Furiosa and Joe’s breeders in his grasp, only to be left behind again, no breeders, one shoe, and a punch in the gut. He caught back up to the War Rig one more time, only to be tossed out into the sand another time (He lives, he dies, he lives again). So he catches a ride once the pursuing Army catches up and has now made it onto the Big Foot with Immortan Joe by waving a white cloth as proof of having made it onto the War Rig.

In yet another attempt to reclaim Joe’s brides and Immortality, Nux offers both his knowledge of a secret entrance onto the War Rig and to ‘pike’ Furiosa for Immortan Joe. Joe, in a show of magnanimity, asks Nux his name, offers him his personal revolver so that he can put a bullet in her skull, sprays Nux with chrome and offers, upon completion, to personally carry Nux to the gates of Valhalla, promising him he will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.

Nux’s life revolves around staying alive through soaking up other’s blood, rigging cars, and looking for a way to make his life meaningful by his death. And the only way anyone can die significantly is to do so in the service of Immortan Joe. Most’s actions are only noticed by fellow V8 War Boys in adrenaline fueled kamakrazee cries to “Witness me!” (like Morosov’s suicidal leap with a crossbow bolt in his cheekbone), leaving behind momentary legacies in a desperate search to validate a sad life. Very few have the opportunity to be witnessed by their king, leader, general, father, and god- Immortan Joe. He is the only man that can guarantee their significance and salvation. So when Joe looks Nux in the eyes and offers to witness Nux’s final act and, if successful, to personally walk him to the gates of Valhalla, Nux experiences the greatest possible conclusion to his sad life. All he must do, is do it.

With this windfall of good fortune in an otherwise pathetic existence, Nux leaps from the Big Foot, revolver in hand and tears in his eyes, lands on the War Rig, climbs to the top, and walks towards both the cabin and his awaiting destiny. But the chain, still attached to his wrist from the blood bag, gets caught in the grates, pulls him off balance on an already unstable perch, slams him into the side of the War Rig and sends the gun careening off screen. All under the watchful eye of Immortan Joe.

To which Immortan Joe responds, “Ahhhh…MEDIOCRE.” In the most meaningful and devastating single word in modern film history.

The Line

Music is an important part of Mad Max: Fury Road which has little dialogue and is driven (pun intended) by pounding, orchestral music with banging drums and electric guitars. However, this intensity is often counter balanced with grand and climactic music to indicate a significant or heartfelt moment amidst the chaos

In this scene, the backdrop is mostly the high-octane music that composes most of the chase scenes, however, as Immortan Joe speaks to Nux, the alternate music plays, emphasizing the significance and tenderness of this moment to Nux, who, not too long ago, was excited about Joe merely glancing in his direction and is now being promised to be carried by his father and god to immortality. But as Nux is tugged off of the War Rig, the music unceremoniously cuts back to the no-nonsense pulse pounding beat, right in time for Joe to deliver his line, “MEDIOCRE.” It creates the emotional equivalent of a hit and run. This seems like it should matter, it was everything to Nux, but for everyone else- on with the chase. Nux was forgotten as soon as he was noticed.

Immortan Joe’s voice rattles around in your rib cage like dice in a shaker. From the moment he steps onto the stage above the thirsting masses to rain his voice and water upon them, the growl and bass from his vocal cords make everything he says feel significant. And since there aren’t many lines in general in Mad Max: Fury Road, let alone for him, we have the verbal equivalent of Jaws not showing up until the end of the movie. So whenever Joe speaks it has a special sort of impact. And he shows unique eloquence and word distribution to Nux as he tasks him with the assassination of Furiosa, which makes the growl of frustration with which he declares Nux’s attempt ‘mediocre’ ever the more powerful.

Word Choice
I have always been fascinated with the word choice here. This is not a highly educated clientele we are working with. As far as can be surmised, education doesn’t exist outside the confines of working on cars. And yet ‘mediocre,’ an uncommon word, is in common use. After Morosov jumps off the War Rig to lance a Buzzard, his effort is declared ‘mediocre’ by Slit (probably out of jealousy because that move was some bad-assery for sure- the rest of the War Boys give him a V8 of appreciation after they witnessed him). And now we have Joe declaring Nux’s inadequacy as ‘mediocre.’ It feels so formal and highbrow for a group of car hacking, kamikaze attacking, uneducated half-lives, and yet there is also a lot of innate tradition in this culture. ‘Mediocre’ is an example of this and feels like an all the more impactful indictment on Nux because of the formality involved in the word. He wasn’t just being declared a failure, he was a failure in their culture, cult, and creed.

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