Of Mad Max and Molars

Posted: June 21, 2015 in Movies


I’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road three times so far and, despite loving it instantly, it’s somehow improved on each showing. Much has already been made of the stunts, the depth of the world Miller has built, the editing, the photography, the feminism, the redemptive themes and how Furiosa’s unspoken-of disability has enthralled and inspired people both young and old. Not to mention how the First History Man’s question as the credits roll alludes to our ultimate need for redemption and rescue. So, despite being many of the reasons why I love it so, I won’t be writing on any of those aspects; others have written far more eloquently and personally than I could on these things. Instead, I want to talk about teeth.



Yes, teeth. Because you see, there is a thread that I’ve noticed amidst all the hurling metal and desperate bids for survival, and it’s all about teeth – both their presence and their noted absence. Take Immortan Joe, for example (see above). We are never allowed to see his whole face in its entirety, only treated to glimpses as he positions his mask in place before addressing the crowd below. His mask has horse teeth embedded across its front. They are quite hideous, they are a chosen means of inciting fear and reverence. There’ll be more on Joe later.



Even the citadel’s great icon of power – the skull and steering wheel – bares its over-pronounced incisors from beneath which Joe rules and ‘gifts’ the Wretched with his teases of water (and note their own predominant lack of teeth as they approach the temporal waterfall). Joe controls the life-giving source and does so with the emblem of power hovering divinely above.



Even Furiosa’s War Rig, the prime location for the film, has the semblance of teeth on its front plough. Here lies opportunity and strength, the means of rescue or doom for the Wives and their saviours. This dental imagery pops up in far more places once we start looking.



Each time one of the War Boys prepares himself to enter the gates of Valhalla in a triumphant suicidal act of war, he “chromes” himself with silver spray across his lips and teeth. It’s his mouth that is shiny and gloried, not his hands or his eyes.



When we first meet the Wives, The Dag is removing Cheedo the Fragile’s chastity belt. And what is it Joe has adorned the belt with? Beside his betoothed skull/steering wheel emblem, it is actual teeth in further warning and threat to any who may attempt to besmirch his beloved possession. A fanged orifice – a real-life version of Mitchell Lichtenstein’s trope in his 2008 film “Teeth” – awaits any man foolish enough to risk his own emasculation.



Even the Bullet Farmer, general of the local lead mine, has had bullets grafted into his teeth. The Splendid Angharad is quoted as having referred to bullets as “anti-seed” – “Plant one and watch something die”. Here is a man whose mouth is a graveyard full of the things. There is little more blatant a message than here.



One of the first things the Vuvalini take note of when meeting the Wives for the first time is that The Dag “still has all her teeth”. These women are old, past their prime, preserving seeds that bring life not death for future generations to embrace and enjoy, and they are quick to acknowledge that these newcomers are not only young enough but strong enough too, full of vigour and future promise. Perhaps this could be the turning of power they have been hoping for all this time? Just perhaps?



Now to recognise two significant instances of the absence of teeth. The first is Max’s muzzle. Why place a muzzle over a man who has been chained to the front of a car, tattooed as the property of others, and his own lifeblood being drained for the sake of a dying “Half-Life“? What difference would it make whether he has a muzzle on or not?

It’s because this is about far more than preventing him from biting someone. This is the War Boys’ demonstration of the removal of whatever power or strength Max may have previously had. It is a sign of their ownership, of his subjugation.




And finally, let’s reflect on Immortan Joe’s demise. What happens? He isn’t crushed in a tangle of metal, nor shot or stabbed – nor even is his mask removed that he might die from asphyxiation without his life support. No, his horse-toothed mask is categorically ripped from his face in such a way that his entire jaw is removed. When Max reveals Joe’s body to the Citadel, all we can see is a lolling tongue remaining and a gaping lifeless throat. There are no teeth. The despot’s power has been stripped, he is already nothing more than a carcass to be decimated by the very people he ruled so maniacally only the day before.


Teeth are often understood as a symbol of power – they appear in times of transition from one season of life into another (teething from baby to child, and a new set from childhood into puberty), they disappear as we grow feeble and old. Apes bare their teeth in a show of prowess and threat, a display of potential force.

Bad dental hygiene can cause serious cardiac issues – this is no fallacy, I have personally treated a patient whose bad teeth caused a cardiac arrest and subsequent car crash. Thankfully, with our and others’ medical intervention, he survived. But all that because of tiny rooted lumps of enamel and pulp.

Teeth are a clear symbol of power – even in the Bible, Psalm 3 and Psalm 58 both describe God as “shattering” the teeth of His people’s enemies.

Mad Max: Fury Road is not just a simple tale of people driving up one road and back again. Nor is it inane car porn, a turn-your-brain-off barrage of ideas. George Miller has crafted a tale that speaks into the hunger for power and how “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It isn’t power itself that is the issue – it is the heart behind it.

Next time you brush your teeth, perhaps consider what kind of power we each desire and what we might do with it.

  1. Leah Doner says:

    After the dust storm, when Max is trying to uncouple himself from Nux, he literally tries to chew himself to freedom, but his teeth are rendered useless by the muzzle.

  2. […] watched the new Mad Max film (I haven’t yet) then you may have noticed the teeth. Steve Dunn certainly did. Very […]

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