Film Series Gets Serious about Pop Culture

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Furiosa, a war-rig driver for the post-apocalyptic Citadel, embodies female ferocity in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Undaunted and regally resourceful, Furiosa seeks to rescue enslaved women from an evil warlord while at the same time reclaiming her homeland.
Furiosa, a war-rig driver for the post-apocalyptic Citadel, embodies female ferocity in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Undaunted and regally resourceful, Furiosa seeks to rescue enslaved women from an evil warlord while at the same time reclaiming her homeland.

What can a post-apocalyptic action flick, an anime television series, and a comic horror movie teach us about ourselves?

More than you might imagine. That’s the theory, at least, behind the first-ever film series of Virginia Tech’s Department of Religion and Culture. In the series, which is free and open to the public, faculty members introduce a favorite film by briefly talking about its intersections with their own research and teaching.

Any artistic production tells you something about the society that’s producing it,” said the film series organizer, Matthew Gabriele, an associate professor of medieval and early modern studies. “Even seemingly shallow pop-culture fare can inspire deeper discussions of human traditions and values.”

Gabriele cited his own cinematic choice, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” as illustration.

Set in the stark desert landscape of post-apocalyptic Australia, this fourth installment of the Mad Max series brings two action figures – Furiosa, an imperator for a despotic warlord, and Max, a nihilistic drifter intent on survival – together in a quest to escape, and ultimately defeat, the warlord.

“The characters confront a world that has collapsed both politically and ecologically,” Gabriele said. “But how do the filmmakers conceptualize that apocalyptic collapse? What is valued? In this case, it’s not just a desperate need for water, but also a cult of cars, gasoline, and weaponry.”

The movie lends itself, Gabriele added, to serious explorations of both feminism and the power of myth.

“Movies like this give viewers concrete adventures, but they also provide frameworks for conversations about cultural abstractions,” Gabriele said. “We’ll offer the audience a conceptualization – in this instance, the context of apocalypses, both large and small – in order to spark thought and discussion.”

Zachary Dresser, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Culture, will join Gabriele in introducing “Mad Max: Fury Road” on March 15 at 6:30 p.m. at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg.

Already seen the movie? Gabriele believes it rewards repeat viewings, enabling deeper appreciation of its cinematic craft. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to concur; the movie recently received six Oscars, for film editing, production design, costume design, makeup and hairstyling, sound mixing, and sound editing.

On April 5, also at 6:30 p.m. at the Lyric Theatre, Emily Satterwhite, an associate professor in the Department of Religion and Culture, will introduce “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.” This parody on horror-movie tropes finds college students the hapless victims not of the good-natured, rural West Virginians they believe to be serial killers, but of their own preconceptions. In her presentation, Satterwhite, an expert in both horror movies and Appalachian Studies, will examine reversals in film genres and regional stereotypes.

“Attack on Titan” kicked off the film series in February, with Zhange “Nicole” Ni, an assistant professor in the Department of Religion and Culture, discussing the Japanese-graphic-novel-inspired television series about vengeance against the Titans, giant humanoids that have brought humanity to the brink of extinction.