The Lord Humungus is a perfect example of how an outwardly one-dimensional villain can become human through small details. Looking at The Road Warrior’s script, one would get the impression that Lord Humungus is just a means of creating conflict, but the visual medium of film allows this character to become two dimensional. Cleverly, director George Miller planned for this from the beginning and wrote backstories for all of the characters in the Mad Max franchise.
The complexity of Lord Humungus shows itself in four key ways.
- Personal Effects
- Speech Patterns
The best ways to make a villain memorable is in their appearance. The best way to make an appearance memorable is to obscure someone’s face. This simple act does two things: It makes the viewer want to know what’s under the mask and the viewer more easily recognizes a specific mask than someone’s face. These are just a few of the reasons why Star Wars’ Darth Vader instantly became a culture icon. Lord Humungus is instantly recognizable as well. Humungus’ hockey mask is iconic and noticeably different from Friday 13th’s Jason Voorhees.
Humungus’ mask serves a purpose. It is hiding something. Director George Miller went out of his way to get a shot showing Lord Humungus has no ears, his head is sickly (with visible veins on the scalp), and his hair is wispy (outwardly looking like radiation sickness). Notice we see Humungus’ scars just as he says “We all lost someone we love”. This leads the audience to wonder if the two are connected, if somehow Humungus got his scars while trying to rescue someone he cared about and it is because he failed that he became a monster.
From the standpoint of art direction, the genius of Humungus’ appearance is more than a mask, it is also his clothing and physique. Notably, Humungus wears a large rubber collar which enhances the size of his neck, giving him a more masculine and intimidating appearance to match is already intense muscle-mass. It is also worth mentioning that during the final battle, Humungus wears a fur cloak. A large fur coat in a post-apocalyptic setting is an obvious sign of wealth and power, solidifying Humungus as the marauder king.
They say you can tell a lot about a person by the contents of their wallet. In Mad Max 2, you can tell a lot about a bandit by the contents of his gun case. In a world where everything is decaying, Lord Humungus has a beautiful case for his .44 revolver. The chest contains a few pins of the Australian army, a WWI-era military photograph, many missing bullets, and most interestingly, a Prussian Totenkopf (more on that later). Just by looking at this case we know a lot about Humungus. Primarily, we are led to believe he was once a soldier (which may explain why he has so many cops in his tribe). In a 1984 interview, George Miller confirmed these suspicions, saying that Humungus was written as having been a “military man.”
When Humungus actually uses his revolver, notice he fires into the engine block, rather than taking aim at Max. This seems to reinforce the idea that Humungus is willing to compromise and wishes to avoid violence and pain in possible. It’s a subtle touch, but an important one.
Humungus’ vehicle also says a lot about him. The marauder king’s truck is like a mobile throne, adorned with tritons, nitrous, and hides. The two prisoners strapped to the front of the vehicle have always captured attention and been a landmark of the Mad Max franchise. It is especially interesting that Humungus singled out Pappagallo (the leader of the opposing tribe) and killed him personally. A killing spear thrown from a moving vehicle shows Humungus’ immense strength and demonstrates why he is in charge.
The minions of Lord Humungus are reflections of the man himself. Toadie (the herald) shows his leader’s dramatic side, building him up as a prophetic figure of the wasteland. Wez (the warrior) represents the insanity of the post-apocalyptic world, where men chase their desires without any forethought to their consequences and devolve into animals.
The relationship between Humungus and Wez is perhaps the most interesting. Wez is his master’s Id, desperate to slaughter and get his revenge, but he is physically kept in bondage by Humungus’ chains once he is revealed to be too bloodthirsty. Wez is Humungus’ last resort, a true dog of war who is unleashed only for the most desperate situation.
Finally, there is Humungus’ speech style. Whenever Humungus speaks, the audience gets a glimpse at an educated man in great pain. Though his followers are primarily ruthless vultures, Humungus offers Pappagallo a chance to “just walk away”, stating that there has been too much violence and too much pain. Whether or not this was a genuine offer or a trap only George Miller knows, but it shows that Humungus is cunning, intelligent, and perhaps even merciful.
Also noticeable about Humungus’ relationship to his soldiers is the use of homoerotic undertones. In once scene, the warlord can be heard calling to his “Gayboy Bereserkers” and “Smegma Crazies.” This throwaway line combined with Wez’ relation to the Golden Youth raises questions about the tribe’s role in a post-society world. Certainly the marauders aren’t exclusively gay as there is the infamous”tent scene.”
Finally, in Lord Humungus’ gun case we find a Prussian Totenkopf which is combined with a small detail that greatly expands the bandit king’s character. During the night torture scene, where the marauders wave fire sticks and rev their motorcycles, Humungus can be heard reciting “Mein Sohn, mein Sohn” and “Mein Vater, Mein Vater”. These are lines from the Prussian philosopher Goethe’s (pronounced Ger-ta) poem “Der Erlkönig”. The poem describes a child who cries to his father that he is being attacked by unseen forces. The father ignores the boy and when he finally looks down, the child is dead (perhaps Humungus is using this is a metaphor for the collapse of society). What’s more impressive is that Humungus (presumably an Australian soldier) delivers this in the German tongue. From this tiny quote, we know Lord Humungus is tremendously well educated as he is able to recite an 18th century Prussian poem without any scripture to read from.
The character of Lord Humungus shines through in the visuals and movements. The little details about this antagonist tell the audience everything they need to know about the marauders without any exposition. Subtle characterization is best achieved by knowing your characters before putting them in a situation. For over 30 years, George Miller has been a master of this subtle character development starting with The Road Warrior and showing that he still has it with the characters of Fury Road.