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Free film series gets serious about pop culture – and what it can reveal about society

March 10, 2016

Furiosa sits at the wheel of her war rig as War Boys outside her window try to attack her.
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.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Mad Max: Fury Road

“Mad Max: Fury Road,” which recently received six Academy Awards, will show at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg on March 15 at 6:30 p.m.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” a droll, would-be slasher movie, will show at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg at 6:30 p.m. on April 5.

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