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In Mad Max: Fury Road, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) wants to escape from the clutches of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). She has a strong need to protect the women enslaved by him. At the beginning of the story, she makes the difficult decision to drive some of the women away from his tyranny. Furiosa has a plan, a place where she and the women can live in peace and start anew.
Of course, as soon as Immortan Joe hears of Furiosa deviating from her route, he goes after her in full pursuit. He feels betrayed by her. Furiosa believes “kidnapping” the women is the only solution left and best represents what they can live for. Despite the harrowing journey, Furiosa knows deep inside that a better place awaits them. She is crushed when she learns that there is no green world to escape to. In one of the best moment in the film, Furiosa falls to the sand hill and screams in agony.
Being the strong character that she is, Furiosa refuses to give up. She leads the women back to Joe’s Citadel, the city they desperately escaped from. Severe injuries will not stop her. Finally, she confronts Immortan Joe and kills him during a pursuit. Furiosa does this out of necessity, not joy. She has to eliminate him in order for all of them to survive and be free.
Betrayal also features prominently in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, where Caesar (Andy Serkis) has difficulty trusting humans. It is in fact his ape friend Koba (Toby Kebbell) who turns on him. Caesar suspects Koba to be unstable and unreliable. But he gives him the benefit of the doubt. Until Koba shoots Caesar and leaves him for dead. It is Caesar’s human friend, Carver (Jason Clarke), who nurses him to health.
Caesar feels betrayed by Koba, never imaging a fellow ape to be the one to try and kill him. Caesar is forced to reevaluate his opinions of his own species. He realizes the enemy is an individual, not a species. After recovering, Caesar has no choice but to confront his old friend, who has now taken over the ape community.
When Caesar and Koba meet for the final time, they fight physically and intellectually clashing over ideologies. Caesar faces a dilemma when he holds Koba’s life in his hand and decides his community will be better off without his old friend’s influence. Reluctantly, Caesar lets Koba fall to his death. There is no satisfaction, only sadness.
Koba pushed Caesar to the limit, similar to the Joker (Heath Ledger) forcing Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) to question his actions in The Dark Knight. The maniacal clown demands Batman to give up on his morality, his one rule not to kill. The Joker loves to push Batman’s buttons.
In the fascinating interrogation sequence, the two opponents have a philosophical duel with the Joker continuously trying to get under Batman’s skin. And he succeeds. Batman turns the battle into a physical one punching the Joker repeatedly. “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with,” says the Joker. How does one deal with an opponent like that?
The Joker tries to get Batman to break his one rule, not to kill. That would be his victory. It takes all of Bruce Wayne’s inner strength not to give in. But in the process, he loses his childhood friend, Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal). The cost for Bruce Wayne is high.
Desperate not to give in to the power of the Joker and become like his opponent, Batman develops a sonar machine that can track every phone call in Gotham. It is highly illegal and morally askew but the Dark Knight sees no other way to stop the crazy clown. Even his mentor Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) disagrees with the technological interference but agrees to help this one time.
The Dark Knight finally locates the Joker and a final confrontation ensues. After the Joker falls off a building, Batman stops him from crashing to his death. He will not allow his opponent to make him break his one rule. But the Joker is not done. He taunts Batman to the end. The Joker not only killed Rachel but also convinced Harvey Dent to give in to darkness and transform into Two-Face. “I took Gotham’s white knight, and brought him down to our level. It wasn’t hard. You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little… push.”
Batman finds Two-Face holding Commissioner Gordon’s family hostage, Dent pointing a gun to the son’s head. Batman makes a sacrifice to stop him. In the end, Batman saved the day but at great cost. He takes the fall for the Joker’s scheme, is injured and on the run. The Dark Knight prevailed but not in the traditional sense.
In all three movies, there are willful heroes being pushed to their limits by strong worthy opponents. It is the duelity that make these movies memorable. The clash of fascinating characters over what each feels is right. In each case, there is an unstoppable character meeting another immovable character. A difficult decision made by the protagonist forced to stop the antagonist. A duelity to the end.
- Mario Boucher