The Buck Stops Here - The Road Warrior

"In Khoyniki, there was a 'plaque of achievement' in the center of town. The best people in the region had their names on it. But it was the alcoholic cab driver who went into the radioactive zone to pick up the kids from the kindergarten, not any of the people on the plaque. Everyone became what he really was." --Voices from Chernobyl,

The Road Warrior, released in 1981 during the first year of the Reagan presidency, is not only a film of its time, but also one for our time and a future we may face. The time of the film is a post-apocalyptic future after the two powers on earth fought over the "black fuel" which powered the world. "Without fuel they were nothing," the narrator comments, and, after the war, "it is a white line nightmare" on roads, as everyone fights for gas and what they might scavenge. More than ever, oil is the lingua franca of survival.

One group, led by Papagallo, attempts to preserve the values of civilization. ("This is my family," a woman tells a newcomer to camp.) They have found a way to pump enough oil to travel more than 2000 miles to freedom in the north, where they might once again establish a just society. Whether they can do so or not against the outlaws gangs which patrol the roads is unlikely, and, in particular,.the band led by Lord Hummungus, aka Ayotallah Rock'n'Rolla, who want the Papagallo oil.

The Road Warrior - "the man we called Max" - is a law unto himself, and in that much like the bikers of Lord Hummungus. He survives on his own through courage and daring. Unlike the bikers, however, Max is, Papagallo says, "an honorable man." He has a code of what is right chooses to be responsible. He is, in short, a peculiarly American type, the lone man who we need in time of danger. Gary Cooper in High Noon, Clint Eastwood.

Papagallo asks Max to help them, and, at first, he declines. "I got everything I need here," he says. "I can offer you a future," Papagallo answers. If you continue the way you are, he adds, you are nothing more than "a corpse of the old world."

After Max gets gas for his car from Papagallo (for having fulfilled a contract he has made with Papagallo), he is attacked by Hummungus's men, his car destroyed, his dog shot. He returns to the camp and tells Papagallo he will help. "Believe me, I haven't got a choice," he says. The rugged individualist can no longer stand alone. He chooses to be on the side of civilization and helps the group to make their journey north to freedom.

Max is, in Walter Benjamin's characterization, "the destructive character...whose deepest emotion is an insuperable mistrust of the course of things and a readiness at all times to recognize that everything can go wrong. Therefore the destructive character is reliability itself." It is why we need him.

History may be a history of kings and queens, generals and battles, but it is often turned at decisive moments by those who have stepped onto the stage of history from the most unlikeliest of places and who disappear after they act before they can be recognized. ("The vision dims," the narrator remarks of the time Max saved them) Their names do not go on plaques. In Lakewood, who would have thought it would have been Jim O'Bryan who stepped forward to begin the Observer?
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Volume 2, Issue 16, Posted 1:01 PM, 07.07.06