Mad Max, Innocence, and Following Your Passion

I stepped into a way back machine last night and it took me straight to being 11 years old again. I was 11 in 1982. My bicycle was my stallion, my father was still alive, I hadn’t discovered girls yet, and I was still reeling from the knowledge that Darth Vader was Luke’s father. I had a house full of Star Wars figures and space ships (that are currently cluttering my son’s room) and Dungeons & Dragons occupied many an hour of my day even if it was just sitting and gawking at the drawings of all the amazing creatures in the “Monster Manual”.

When I was 11 I lived in a suburb of Chicago called Glen Ellyn. It was an interesting place to grow up, if a bit quiet and vanilla. It has what has to be one of the coolest looking High Schools in the world, train tracks that run right through the middle of town, and a village center that, to this day, has the residents fighting to maintain the quaint, nostalgic feeling that fills my memories of how it was in the 70’s and 80’s. They’re slowly losing the battle to Starbucks and progress.

One of the centerpieces of my memories when it comes to Glen Ellyn is the small movie theater in the village center aptly called “The Glen”. Back then, I believe “The Glen” was a small two-theater venue. It typically ran second-run movies and had some of the most uncomfortable seats on the planet. The ticket booth to the theater was straight out of the 1920s. It was an Art Deco bubble that sat one person behind a rounded arch of glass with a hole in front of their face through which you had to yell your movie selection and a slot through which you slid your money.

Inside this ticket-taking bubble sat a woman. In my memory it was always a woman….the same woman. I don’t think I’d recognize this woman if I tripped over her in the street today, but she was the stoic guardian of “The Glen” movie theater back in 1982. My 11 year old brain thought that she looked like she was 748 years old. She was probably in her 40s or 50s. The best part about the ticket lady was that she didn’t give a rat’s ass how old you were or what movie you were going to see. Movie ratings? Ha! Those were mere glimpses of what one might call a guideline to who can, or can not, see a movie.

In the summer of 1982, “Blade Runner” was just released. It had flying cars and robots. I hadn’t seen it yet, but surely it was going to be the coolest movie of the summer. It starred Han-fricking-Solo for crying out loud! Of course it was going to be amazing!

It was at this point in the story that George Miller and fate stepped in to change and influence a couple of 11 year old boys. You see, as an 11 year old boy, the idea of checking to see what the title is of the movie you want to go see is relatively optional. Based on this premise, my friend Joey and I saw on the marquee of “The Glen” that  “Mad Max: The Road Warrior” was playing and we had to go see it NOW. Because, you know, it starred Han-Fricking-Solo and it had flying cars and robots and stuff!

We sauntered up to the ticket booth and, naturally, the wonderful woman in the booth took our money. We walked into the theater sat down vibrating with excitement that we were about to see Han-fricking-Solo and flying cars and robots and stuff! Boy were we wrong. What came onto that screen was not a dark and brooding world of Ridley Scott’s imagination, rather a slightly over-exposed desert nightmare of George Miller’s that was a world filled with characters who look like they fell out of a professional wrestling ring and onto a movie set.

Flash forward to present day. I went to see “Mad Max: Fury Road“. I sat and watched that movie and felt 11 again. The same excitement came flooding back similar to when I thought I was sneaking in to watch Blade Runner and tripped into The Road Warrior. While this post so far has been predominantly about the nostalgia of early 1980s pop culture and Chicago-suburbia, my excitement last night was far less about seeing Han-fricking-Solo on the screen and all about turning off my brain and letting my testosterone drive the bus for a couple of hours.

But there was an interesting connection between seeing “Mad Max: Fury Road” and many things that have happened in my life in the last few years. I literally giggled out loud scened after scene. I watched the movie and smiled like an 11 year old pretty much the whole time and walked out virtually bouncing with energy.

As I drove home it dawned on me why I was so giddy about a mindless adventure movie set on post-apocalyptic Earth. It had nothing to do with Mad Max, or being underage while watching an R-rated movie in suburban Chicago. It had to do with the fact that every scene of that movie was fun. You could tell that every visual, every cut, every explosion was George Miller having the time of his life. I mean, drums? Seriously? How awesome is that? (If that doesn’t make sense…go see the movie).

How does this apply to anything else in life? For me the operative word is “fun”. Wikipedia tells me that George Miller is 70 years old and was stomping around in the desert of Namibia to film the movie. He had no reason to make this film. He could have retired and not spilled a drop of ink on the production of “Fury Road” and rolled out of here fat and happy. But something tells me that he made this movie because he loves everything about what he created with the Mad Max franchise. His imagination is allowed to go ape shit while envisioning all the messed up vehicles and characters of these movies. Who in their right mind would cast Charlize Theron as an amputee with shaved head and a chip on her shoulder if they’re not wanting to do anything but turn around and walk up stream?

The net result of all this babble is that creativity is fuelled by your passion. I look back on the best work I’ve done and it has always been during times when I’ve cast off my inner voice that tells me to march a certain way. I’ve come to realize that humans are meant to create. We’re built for innovation. There is no such thing as someone making a difference in their world without something driving them. Those who have danced to a different beat tend to be the ones that have figured it out. Even for a brief moment in time.

It is amazing at how hard the world works to get you to line up in a row. To do things a certain way and to not think differently. I’ve always been at my happiest when I’ve stopped listening to the voice in my head telling me to stand in line. Thank you, George Miller, for reminding me of this.

What is your passion? What is your Mad Max? I’m still searching for mine. But I think I’m close.

  • Joe A from GE

    Jon, this is awesome. You nailed seeing R rated movies at the Glen. Now I have to go see Mad Max back there….Joe A from GE

    • Thanks, Joe! The movie was a blast and the trip down memory lane of sneaking into The Glen with Joe O’Connor was just icing on the cake.