If you haven’t seen Mad Max, this post is about specific plot points. Read at your own risk.
A lot has been made about Mad Max: Fury Road in the past couple of weeks. There has been a considerable amount of discussion concerning the film as it relates to feminist discourse. Many people are lauding or deriding George Miller for the story he has put on the screen. Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is an amazing character and has garnered a fair amount of attention from the viewing public. The thing that is most interesting, however, is that while the world focuses on the relationship between Furiosa and Max, it has failed to pay attention to the character who is the true heart of the film, Nux (Nicholas Hoult).
It is imperative that in all fiction characters must change from the beginning to the end of the story. Without any changes, the character becomes flat and the whole tale becomes about as dull as watching paint dry. Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent example of a film full of sound and fury, signifying almost nothing. If we pay close attention to the plot, Max and Furiosa race against Immortan Joe to get to The Green Place. Once they get to the desired location and find it to be a barren wasteland, they race back to their starting point. In the long run, neither of these characters change much. Both Max and Furiosa are protectors of the innocent and by the end of the film, they are still fulfilling their roles. Nux, on the other hand, is so much more.
When we first meet Nux, he is a member of the War Boys, a group of juvenile delinquents Immortan Joe has duped into fighting for him. Nux is incredibly ill from radiation poisoning and knows full well that he is going to die. His only desire is to, “die historic on a fury road!” Nux does not wish to die a wasting death while his friends are going out in a blaze of glory. Miller presents Nux as no more than a child when he fights with his best friend and lancer, Slit, over the wheel to his car. Nux doesn’t even have any really idea why he is going out to battle Furiosa, only knowing that she has stolen Immortan Joe’s property.
Now, let us consider that the only reason Max is in the film at all is because he is attached to Nux by a length of chain and tubing as an infusion bag. Nux actually brings Max along for the ride, and therefore is the impetus for the title character’s story.
Throughout the whole first half of the film, we see Nux doing everything in his power to please Immortan Joe, a man he seems to worship to the level of a god. Yet, he cannot seem to do anything other than fail. Time and time again, Nux is given the opportunity to win glory in the eyes of his would be god, but he can never seem to make the leap from War Boy to legend. It is only when he fails at his task in front of Immortan Joe that Nux begins to truly become a man.
The next time we see Nux, he is busy pounding his head on the floor of Furiosas truck, lamenting how he has failed the great Immortan Joe. He has lost all value in his mind, as he knows he has been abandoned by his god. He is found by Capable (Riley Keough) who manages to talk him off of his ledge. It is in that moment where Nux realizes both the value of life and the level of evil Immortan Joe is capable of. This change of heart is what makes Nux the true center of the film.
As the story continues, the audience is given glimpses of Nux doing anything within his power to preserve the lives of his traveling companions. More than once, he risks life and limb to make sure that everyone else makes it to their final destination. He has abandoned his worship of Immortan Joe and become a man who thinks for himself. From this point forward, Nux spends most of the film making sure that the truck, which is so integral to survival, keeps running at peak levels. He is the one who gets it out of the mud, he is the one who properly stokes the fire, he is the one who fixes the engine when Max blows it out.
As if all of this were not enough, Nux is the member of the traveling group to make the ultimate sacrifice, overturning the truck and saving the rest of the characters. We know from the outset of the film that Nux is going to die in a spectacular blaze of glory on The Fury Road, but what we do not know is how. At the beginning of the film, it is easy to root his death. He is a fool, incapable of independent thought. He functions only as comic relief, an idiot who sees no value in human life. By the time of his death however, he has become so much more. Miller has designed Nux’s story line perfectly so that the audience feels sadness at the loss of a young man who is finally coming into his own.
The brilliance of all of this is that George Miller even telegraphs the change in the character design. The War Boy’s as a whole are a relatively indistinguishable mass of bald, pale skinned cannon fodder. Not Nux though. Nux has one very defining feature, his scarification. Raised on his chest, as though carved with a jagged knife, is an engine block. As we all know, the engine is the heart and soul of a car. It burns the gasoline, and keeps the parts moving. Without the engine, a car is nothing more than a shell of itself, a few thousand pounds of worthless metal.