WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
I don't believe, as some movie critics have stated, that Mad Max: Fury Road is about female empowerment. A more accurate description would be to say that it's about women reclaiming their humanity. There's a difference. 'Female empowerment' concerns itself with gender in particular (just a small slice of what makes up a person's identity); in reality the women at the center of this film flee slavery from the movie’s villain as a means to become more whole, complete people.
They aren't passive witnesses to their own fate.
In popular culture, women are portrayed as nurturers, but never as soldiers. George Miller makes the very simple choice—though strangely under practiced—to give his female characters traits borrowed from both of these personas. In short, he simply wrote each character as a complex person, regardless of gender. Even Max, who is left intentionally flat, is conflicted about whether or not he wants to risk helping Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa.
Furiosa is the leader of this band of escaped women. They decide to take back agency over their lives, who decide that they’ve had enough of the roles assigned to them by the men in power, who reject victimhood to fight for their right to freedom—both physical as well as mental. They aren't passive witnesses to their own fate.
Their mantra? “We are not things.”
In one scene, one of the women, who is pregnant, bursts out of hiding to block a gun shot aimed at Furiosa. **SPOILER: The same woman is eventually killed saving Max, and later, there's a graphic scene in which one of the villain’s henchmen cuts her unborn baby—also dead—out of her. My mind lingered with this scene for a long time. This woman took her fate into her own hands, and risked the supposedly most sacred duty of motherhood, to take control of her life. In the last moments before her death she had the ultimate authority over her fate—removing the power from her oppressors by making a choice that might kill her. It's a violent and compelling statement: these women would rather die than be forced to live a life they didn't choose. Their mantra? “We are not things.”
Women are accomplished fighters, and committed survivors. We’ve been struggling against power structures that demand we remain submissive since the invention of society. George Miller has made a movie that recognizes our innate warrior-like tendencies. That was thrilling in itself. I’m not asking for women to completely replace men as the new action heroes, or saying that any sign of fear or femininity in a female protagonist is a step backward for Hollywood. My point is that I want to see true representations of the infinite personas that women can take on in movies. There isn’t a lot of speaking in this movie, but it’s actions that matter: these female characters aim to dismantle an entire societal system of oppression—and they succeed, their various romantic entanglements merely an afterthought as they (literally) rise to power. A revolutionary and entirely humanizing message for women.