Keays-Byrne’s tyrannical trajectory culminated in his performance as Immortan Joe in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Toecutter may have had mythmaking aspirations (“That is his name. The Nightrider. Remember him when you look at the night sky!”), but Immortan Joe is the true realization of every budding fascist’s imperial dreams.
The film — which features a female warrior lead (Charlize Theron) to whom Max plays second fiddle — garnered intense publicity before its release thanks to a hysterical response from the dark misogynistic sewers of the internet. Max Rockatansky, incels whinged, had been turned into a feminist. Despite their claims to the contrary, it was clear that the character they truly identified with was not Max but Toecutter. And in Fury Road, he’d been elevated to the status of a vengeful emperor-god.
The corpulent and radiation-sickened Immortan Joe rules over a postapocalyptic desert kingdom where he sorts his subjects into deranged categories: war boys, breeders, polecats, milkers, and organic mechanics. In a world of terrifying scarcity, the Immortan has a monopoly over clean water. His cancerous warrior-devotees and the very unwell masses endure his messianic rants (“I am your redeemer, it is by my hand you shall rise from the ashes of this world!”) in exchange for anything to quench their thirst. Fed up, his head enforcer Furiosa takes off with several of his pregnant “wives” in search of sanctuary. Joe’s lily-white army follows in slobbering, snarling, screaming pursuit.
As vile as all this sounds, Keays-Byrne imbues the glowering Immortan with a sort of pathetic impotence. The bellowing and crazy-eyed Joe spends the entire chase being openly defied by his rebellious “property.” Whether it’s the elderly teacher Miss Giddy (“you cannot own a human being!”), the fleeing wives (“we are not things!”), or the vindictive rogue Furiosa (“remember me!?”), the dictator continually locks ferocious eyes with his “subjects” but fails to scare them into submission.
Keays-Byrne perfected the art of playing a particular kind of monster — megalomaniacal, misogynistic, monopolizing — but what was remarkable about his performances was the way he made clear where his sympathies truly lay. So vale, Keays-Byrne. You artfully terrified us with on-screen oppression, but made sure we always knew that — despite their monstrous bluster — all these fascists are bound to lose.