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The Untold Truth Of Mad Max's Furiosa

Director George Miller began kicking around ideas for sequels to Mad Max: Fury Road shortly after the dust settled from its massive critical and commercial success. A prequel to Fury Road, Furiosa, which will focus on Charlize Theron's acclaimed character, was eventually announced. Miller originally considered casting Theron again, using the de-aging technology that is becoming more common in Hollywood, but ultimately decided to recast the role with a younger actor, Anya Taylor-Joy. Taylor-Joy will star alongside Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and sci-fi-fantasy staple Chris Hemsworth in a story that reveals Furiosa's origins.

Theron has said she is "heartbroken" not to return for the prequel, but that she understands and respects the director's decision. For her part, Taylor-Joy feels humbled by her casting and has nothing but awe for the work Theron did in creating the role of the warrior savior. Many moviegoers would agree that the character is one of the most unique in recent cinema. And yet Imperator Furiosa remains something of an enigma, a taciturn and mysterious figure who reveals only glimpses of the trauma she has suffered. Let's explore some untold truths of the character and her creation, from her shadowy origins to her fascinating future.

She was originally called The Praetorian

Miller seriously considered using Furiosa as the title of the movie that became Fury Road. Though he decided against it, he was reluctant to part with the name, and eventually attached it to Theron's character. But it wasn't always so: A 2002 version of the script refers to Furiosa as "the Praetorian," and introduces her thusly: "She is THE PRAETORIAN. In another time she may have been renowned for her beauty but, in this world, she is an ELITE WARRIOR. A Barbarian with fierce, battle-hardened eyes." 

During the Roman Empire, the Praetorian Guard served as bodyguards and intelligence agents for emperors and Roman generals. Beyond the obvious associations of this name, the character's actions in Fury Road also echo the true history of the Praetorian Guard: Not only were they protectors of emperors, but betrayers and assassins of them as well. The Guard played a role in the murders of Caligula and Commodus, among others, and were also instrumental in installing new emperors. Like her true-life counterparts, Furiosa betrays and  kills Immortan Joe, before presumably filling the leadership vacuum herself, or with someone she approves of.

Though the character was later named Furiosa, she still echoes Roman military history with her rank of "Imperator," a title awarded to victorious Roman commanders. Even though Imperators and Praetorians didn't fill the exact same function in the Roman Empire, both are titles that fit Furiosa.

Her original design was also much different

Like most of the characters and vehicles in Miller's post-apocalyptic universe, Furiosa's appearance radically evolved during development. The 2002 design of the Praetorian, as envisioned by Fury Road designer Peter Pound (who also contributed designs to Babe, Contact, The Crow, and other films), was fitted with more armor and wore a leather jacket similar to the one Max wears throughout the series. Like the finished character design, this early iteration features a claw on her left hand, though it appears much smaller and less elaborate, and does not extend up the arm. It certainly doesn't appear strong enough to, say, rip Immortan Joe's face off. Another prominent element of the Praetorian's early design is a moko tattoo on her chin, of the kind worn by Māori women.

Finally, the Praetorian's costume is black, whereas Furiosa sports desert colors of olive, cream, and brown. This black armor bears a resemblance to the moisture-retaining Fremen stillsuits from Dune – perhaps a nod to the desert environments common to Dune and Mad Max. It also echoes the costumes of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation, highlighting the cyborg similarities between the Praetorian and the merciless Trek villains. Not only does she have a prosthetic arm, she has also been kidnapped and assimilated against her will into Immortan Joe's world.

Charlize Theron came up with Furiosa's final look

By 2012, Pound's character design had evolved into something much like what's seen in the film. Furiosa's lower left arm is a prosthetic that terminates in a claw, and is attached with various wires and straps that disappear underneath a wide shoulder guard. She wears three leather belts around her midsection, while a fourth hangs down over her hips. Attached to that belt is a steel buckle, flowing with decorative tassels. The buckle's skull emblem is also branded into the back of her neck, designating Furiosa, along with many others, as Immortan Joe's chattel.

The one key difference between Pound's final Furiosa design and the version seen in the film is the hair: Pound's is long, and done up in a ponytail. It turns out that Charlize Theron herself was partially responsible for the final character design, along with Oscar-winning designer Jenny Beavan: Theron suggested Furiosa have a shaved head. As a young woman, the character had been discarded by Immortan Joe for being unable to conceive. As Theron sees it, for Furiosa to survive, it was necessary that men all but forget that she is a woman. An androgynous look allows Furiosa to recreate herself among the mechanics and War Boys and establish herself as someone with value beyond the Citadel's restrictive ideas.

She originally resented the wives, before deciding to rescue them

The movie doesn't provide much backstory between Furiosa and Immortan Joe's wives, consisting of Angharad (Immortan Joe's favorite and pregnant with his son), Toast the Knowing, Capable, The Dag, and Cheedo the Fragile. Furiosa simply steals the War Rig, and the movie eventually reveals that the precious cargo she is ferreting out of the Citadel happens to be Immortan Joe's concubines. Viewers don't know the nature of their relationship, or how Furiosa came to make the decision to liberate them from their rapist patriarch. The movie just gives a vague idea that Furiosa hopes to deliver them to a better life in the fabled Green Place, where a fierce female tribe might shield them from the horrors of men.

However a Fury Road comic book tie-in provides some of the backstory for her decision. In the comic, Immortan Joe tasks Furiosa with guarding his wives from his son Rictus, who wants them for himself. As a warrior, Furiosa resents this duty. She initially resents the wives as well, for complaining about their captivity. She thinks they should be grateful to live in the lap of luxury, compared to the wretched lot of most of the Citadel's dwellers: "You would be maggot food before the end of the first day," she tells them. But after a few weeks of witnessing Joe brutalize and rape them, Furiosa decides to risk her own life to save them.

She was initially a wife herself

Fury Road only hints at Furiosa's own past. The movie reveals that she and her mother were stolen from the Green Place when she was a child. Her mother died three days after the kidnapping, but Furiosa survived and endured unimaginable horrors at the hands of Immortan Joe. She was unable to have children, and so she became a warrior apprentice to one of Joe's Imperators. When the Imperator was killed, Furiosa took over his command, becoming a ruthless warlord in her own right, and being given the nickname "Bag of Nails."

The comic tie-in spells out her past in more detail than the movie does, controversially focusing on the rape and abuse the wives endure, and implying that Furiosa was in their position at one time. She seems to make her decision to help them when she contemplates what the lives of their babies will be like. She doesn't want anyone else to suffer like she has, and so she takes action.

In the movie, Furiosa's costume also subtly points to her having been a wife. Underneath her leather and armor, she wears a cream-colored muslin wrap similar to the ones worn by the other wives, rather than a T-shirt like Max or a leather jerkin like some of the other characters sport. The wrap reflects the idea that Furiosa doesn't want to completely forget her traumatic past — she wants to use her former identity as motivation.

Vengeance drives her

Although liberating the wives is important to her, Furiosa's primary motivation is vengeance against Immortan Joe. Even Theron has said she wanted Furiosa's actions to be personal. The movie and comic book suggest enough of her abuse at the hands of Joe and his blood-soaked society to convey how much she must hate him — and that's before she loses Angharad and several of the Many Mothers in combat with Joe and his War Boys. And, of course, there's the fact that she discovers that the one thing that's kept her going through years of suffering — the Green Place — has dried up in the desert.

Given all this, the feral rage that emerges in her fights, including with Max, suggests that doing violence is cathartic for her. Most tellingly, when she finally engages Joe during the climactic battle, she asks him, "Remember me?," before she uses her mechanical arm to rip off his breathing mask along with part of his face. This is a curious question. Of course he remembers her — she's one of his top commanders, sent out on a mission a few days earlier. But the question has deeper meaning. She's asking if he remembers the girl he crippled and traumatized. It's not just some action movie quip before the bad guy is dispatched. For Furiosa, it's an assertion — and restoration — of her identity.

Miller imagines that she might become a dictator after liberating the Citadel

Miller has many intriguing thoughts about what happens to Furiosa after the conclusion of Fury Road. In the movie, she almost dies in battle, but is revived with a blood transfusion. Because she is too weak to do it herself, Max unveils Immortan Joe's body to the gleeful reaction of the people. Bathed in the crowd's gratitude, Max could probably take over the Citadel. Instead, he fades into the crowd, while Furiosa ascends to the top, to presumably take power. But what kind of leader would she be?

Miller has mused that her leadership of the Citadel could go one of two ways. The first would be what he considers the boring outcome: Furiosa becomes a democratic leader, who releases the water and puts the people to worthwhile work. In the second scenario, Miller references the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell, who said that the hero often paradoxically becomes the sort of tyrant they deposed. They've worked so hard to change society for the common good, they can't bear to see it change again, and so they become authoritarians themselves. Miller even believes that Immortan Joe was once a hero who went through this exact process. Ultimately, though, the director has said that Furiosa is too wise to fall into the same trap, having already seen it unfold first hand.

It's never made clear how she lost her arm

One of Furiosa's most distinguishing features is her mechanical left arm, a prosthetic for the limb she lost above the elbow prior to the events of the movie. At several points during the film, she removes the prosthetic, revealing the missing appendage. Charlize Theron, of course, is in possession of both arms: The illusion of the missing arm is achieved through the use of digital VFX technology. Theron wore a green sleeve that was digitally erased during filming. It's a great effect, but one the movie doesn't dwell on. So what happened to the arm?

The movie doesn't disclose how Furiosa lost it. Neither does the comic book, even though one of the wives directly asks her how she lost it. Theron herself has said in interviews that she knows what happened to it, because Miller gave her access to all the materials he prepared on Furiosa's backstory. However, other than promising viewers that "there is a really cool story behind it," she has remained tight-lipped. Miller himself has said a bit more, detailing that she lost it in "a hardcore battle." Her castmates seem to be in the dark on the matter, with Nicholas Hoult, who played the War Boy Nux, speculating that she somehow lost it in a wet T-shirt contest. However, given how many people in the wasteland don't wear shirts at all, the existence of such a contest seems unlikely.

She's not just a feminist hero -- she's a disabled one as well

Fury Road is widely acclaimed for the feminist ideology at its core. Strong women who are willing to fight for equality populate the movie, including Furiosa, the wives, and the Many Mothers, who have no use for men at all. Miller even enlisted playwright Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, as a script consultant in order to help create a "feminist action movie." Because of the high bar Fury Road sets, one of the first questions to pop up when the prequel was announced was how it plans to maintain the feminist ideology of the original film.

This is a worthy question. But fans should also recognize how unique Furiosa is as a disabled hero, as well as a female one. Theron has said she "relished" playing an amputee, and is deeply touched by the praise her performance has received from the disabled community. Fury Road, and the Mad Max world in general, can even be said to normalize disability, which is enormously rare in the media. Many characters here are disabled, and though their lives are impacted by this fact, they are not wholly defined by it. In Fury Road, Furiosa does not just manage to get by with her disability — she triumphs both because of, and in spite of it, and she doesn't need to shed it to achieve her power.

She pays homage to other shave-headed heroines

Furiosa follows in the footsteps of other fierce, bald female characters from previous eras, most of whom are also warriors. Perhaps most prominent is Joan of Arc, as played by Renee Maria Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer's classic silent film, 1928's The Passion of Joan of Arc. Joan is, of course, the historical warrior who led French troops against British forces before she was tried and burned at the stake in 1431. In the movie, Joan is portrayed as determined and resolute, willing to sacrifice herself in the name of something bigger — all characteristics shared by Furiosa. Filming Passion was also an ordeal for Falconetti, which parallels Theron's experiences, as she has said that the production of Fury Road left her a little traumatized.

Other dedicated female movie characters with shaved heads include Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien 3 (Miller has cited Ripley as an influence on Furiosa), Demi Moore as a soldier struggling to make it through Special Forces training in G.I. Jane, Natalie Portman as the London revolutionary Evey in V For Vendetta, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, and Danai Gurira as the Wakandan warrior Okoye in Black Panther. Furiosa has carved out an immortal place along these female fighters, as a woman who triumphs against oppression and tyranny