The Haggadah of Mad Max

I recently read a rather convoluted reworking of the message of the brilliant Arthurian-themed movie “The Fisher King” as an analogy to the Passover story (Fisher King- A Fictional Exodus Story, BJN 4/20/23).  For me it did not work. There is a far better movie, almost a parody, taken from the Book of Exodus. That movie is “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.”  In fact, at least two of the three of the Mad Max movies have a Passover theme, but the third offering of the original trilogy, “Beyond Thunderdome” is the clearest. Starring, appropriately, noted antisemite Mel Gibson (Moses did not love the Hebrews until he found out he was one) reprising his role as the nomadic Max Rockatansky, a self-absorbed fallen prince (police officer) who, while murdering many (just as Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster), goes a-wandering in the dessert.

While the narrative jumbles the Exodus order of what happens when to whom, all of the elements of Exodus are there: A people in need of redemption, a reluctant hero, a plague, chariots, led by the ruler, chasing after the departing slaves, spies checking out the promised land, the hero staying behind as another picks up the mantle bringing the children into the promised land, and the remembering through the telling.

The prologue sees Max entering Barter Town (an Egyptian treasure city) ruled by two competing factions, one above ground, Auntie (Tina Turner looking every bit the part of an Egyptian queen) who keeps the town on even keel, and the other below providing the power the town needs to run (run by slaves). Max is enticed to bring down the supplier of power so that there is only one ruler but finds he cannot do it, breaking a deal, an unpardonable crime in Barter Town, just as Moses believed he had committed an unpardonable crime by protecting Hebrew slaves from a taskmaster. Before he is sentenced, Auntie tells him “You had it all.” Just as Moses, a prince of Egypt, had it all.

Like Moses, Max goes into the desert, exiled and likely to die. Like Moses, Max is rescued. Like Moses, Max is now a stranger in a strange land. His rescuers expect him to be their savior and to bring them into the “Promised Land” land, but first they give him the background information, what they call the Telling, including the story of the ten (spies) who left to scout the new land, promising to return but had not as a generation passed.  And that is the literal translation of the word Haggadah – the Telling. Just as Moses initially refused to heed the angel of God demanding he return to Egypt to save the Hebrews, Max initially refuses the entreaties to save those he is now among, giving just as many excuses as Moses gave for not doing the will of God. Even what appears to be a sign from God does not persuade Max.

Some of the others, seeing this omen as a sign that they should go into the desert in search of the promised land, attempt to leave but Max sees this as a march to an unwitting death and forcibly restrains them, after all, life is good in Midea. However, their “priest” sets them free, and they leave. Max is begged to go out and save them and something awakens in Max, God knows what. He rises to the occasion, just as so many flawed Jewish heroes before and after Moses and goes back into the desert and does rescue those searching for the promised land from a certain death, only to find that they are now only a few miles from Barter Town.

While the reason for going back into Barter Town was likely lost on the cutting floor, the same as the cause of Max’s spiritual epiphany, they do enter the city through the underground, rescue the slaves, and depart, destroying the town from underneath with a plague of fire. Auntie leads the chase after them and Max, sacrificing his chance to go (fly) into the promised land, single handedly stops the motorized chariots. At the end, those who entered the promised land under the leadership of another (Joshua) retell the story while they eat, just as we do during the Seder.  So, next Passover, during Chol HaMoed, get a copy from your local public library and see how many references you can find.

About Jack Sigman

Jack Frank Sigman is a Ph.D. candidate in the Holocaust and Genocide program at Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pennsylvania.

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