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Mad Max’s apocalyptic world tells us where we think we’ll find salvation

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May 15 at 10:01 AM
Theatergoers will flock this weekend to an imagined story set in a steampunky dystopian hellscape.
Or will they just be looking in a mirror?

We’re all about the apocalypse and its aftermath these days, from “The Walking Dead” to “The Last Man on Earth.” So it’s not surprising that the 1980s dystopian “Mad Max” franchise has been revived, this time with actor Tom Hardy swapped in for Mel Gibson as the wandering eponymous hero. “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which releases this weekend, is the rare blockbuster that will likely please critics and action-loving audiences alike.

It is a little surprising that we spend so much time and money on watching stories about all the horrible ways our civilization will end. But the preoccupation is not new. Since humans started telling stories, we’ve been imagining the end: how it will come, who will survive and what will happen afterward.

The genre of apocalyptic literature has always been both religious and political, meant to pull back the curtain and show us what’s really going on behind our everyday reality. Ancient readers of the Book of Revelation, for instance, would have understood it as both a prophecy about the end of time and as a specific critique of the Roman Empire.

One great way to see what a culture thinks about ultimate reality is to take a peek at its apocalypse stories. “Mad Max” is plenty entertaining, but it also tells us something about what we believe about the warring forces that drive human behavior — and where we think our salvation lies.



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