Jan 182010

I am still reading Adorno’s essay on Spengler.

Jonah and I went to see The Book of Eli Saturday night and then last night, pursuing our quest for the roots of dystopian movie-making, we rented Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome. The Mad Max movie was infinitely superior–wittily baroque and light at the ending with great 80s music (sounded like Maurice Jarre). The weirdly touching ironies of the “tell” are parodic, human and funny (the girl framing each cave drawing with sticks tied together at the end of a pole). Both movies have the same plot: stranger wandering through dried up, post-apocalyptic landscape comes to a town run by evil-doers and adventures happen. Both strangers are really good at fighting. But The Book of Eli is a violent pseudo-Christian strangeness. It reveals the paranoia, selfishness and self-righteousness behind some (not all) recent threads of Christian discourse (surprising to a Canadian who grew up in a country where Christian-based political parties fired the push for universal medical care in the 1950s). Denzel, intent on his mission (to save the book), can’t stop to help a woman being raped and murdered by a bunch of motorcycle thugs. Whereas Mel as Mad Max gets into trouble repeatedly for showing pity and forgetting to save his own skin. There are no children in The Book of Eli, but Mad Max is surrounded by innocence. (Both movies make young women look great in animal hides and rags.)

I’m not sure what this has to do with Adorno except that in my head I keep thinking about how he tells us the culture industry has rolled over for the unnameable powers of repression contained in our late stage capitalist so-called democracy, pouring out infotainment, reality tv and comforting or distracting folk tales which lull our pulverized synapses. All the modern dystopian, end-of-the-world movies have happy endings, often sneakily Christian (remember the “arks” that save the world at the end of John Cusack’s latest).

Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome doesn’t escape unscathed by Christian symbolism. The cave painting of Captain Walker is Christ on the cross. What does this mean? The Bible is a paradigm of a novel with a happy ending? The Biblical message has turned inexplicably dark between the 1980s and 2010?


  No Responses to “Adorno and Mad Max”

  1. A blog! Great idea, looks great, and love the resources on the right. Thanks for sending me the link, will be a frequent visitor.

  2. The Gordon Lish notes are great. Inspired me to get my ass out of bed early this morning to write. I particularly loved this section:

    “Gordon told us beginners at the end of the first night of class to go home and throw everything away. He told us not a one of us knew how to write, that our present and past work would be the anchor that would surely sink our boats, that our ability to emblazon the page would be directly connected to our ability to throw our work away. He said most of us would not be able to do it, and most of us would never make it — and even the ability to throw work away will not guarantee success.”

    It echoes what Phyllis Barber said to my class on our first night in Montpelier. She said to adopt the Zen koan, “zen mind, beginner’s mind.” She said to let go of what we were holding onto and trust the process.

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