“It’s the oil, stupid!”
Mad Max, the 1970 Australian dystopian movie which went on to be part of a hit trilogy will soon be back with a fourth edition. Going by the trailer, it promises a lot more explosions, high speed crashes and other such violent thrills the franchise is known for. The film was a landmark for many reasons: it was shot with a budget of under 4,00,000 Australian dollars, but went on to make US$ 100 million worldwide. It made a global superstar of Mel Gibson, then an unknown face. But what makes Mad Max most relevant is that it was the first, and perhaps the only time the theme of oil depletion was explicitly featured in popular culture.
Here’s the premise of the original film, courtesy Wikipedia: “In a dystopic future Australia, law and order has begun to break down following a major energy crisis. Most of the Outback has been reduced to low-populated communities with low fuel and a relatively peaceful life, with major metropolitan cities still continuing to exist. However, motorcycle gangs scavenge the lands and terrorize the population. As such, Main Force Patrol, an out-run police force, has been created to patrol the lands to uphold the remains of law and justice.”
The film’s director George Miller was a doctor in Sydney, working in a hospital emergency room, where he saw many automobile related injuries and deaths, when the 1973 oil crisis arrived. According to the film’s co-writer James McCausland, both he and Miller drew heavily on their observations of the crisis’ effects on Australian motorists.
In a 2006 article, McCausland wrote of his inspiration for the script: “There were signs of the desperate measures individuals would take to ensure mobility. A couple of oil strikes that hit many pumps revealed the ferocity with which Australians would defend their right to fill a tank. Long queues formed at the stations with petrol – and anyone who tried to sneak ahead in the queue met raw violence. … George and I wrote the [Mad Max] script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late… ”
Connecting the film to Peak Oil (“… at its core was a sizeable kernel of truth. That kernel has taken root, and it’s called peak oil”) McCausland’s conclusion was grim, “The sombre fact is that no matter how dramatic the consequences, it is difficult to get anyone excited to the point of taking action.”
Is the violent dystopia envisioned by Miller & McCausland what’s really in store for us? Yes, no, maybe. What is undeniable is that 45 years later, our thirst for oil has only grown, and our addiction to it more desperate. And that is bound to have consequences.