Depression &
Tyrants That Take Over Your Mind

Opportunists in the mind take over in states of emotional deprivation. Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) in Director George Miller’s western style post apocalyptic film, Mad Max:Fury Road, is a good example. As a psychoanalyst who treats severe depressive states, I found this film a fascinating allegorical tale of the conditions under which mental tyrants take over, as well as the kinds of control they exert. We see in the characters of Max (Tom Hardy), Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and Nux (Nicholas Hoult), what it takes to fight these tyrannical forces. And also what causes some to lose.

Mental Invaders

Depression can feel just as barren as the landscape in Mad Max: Fury Road. Access to what is needed seems limited. It may be true that what was needed in childhood was scarce or unavailable. Yet, in depression, the belief persists that those experiences will always be. Along with “knowing” what’s in the present is no different. This conviction is the work of an invader like Immortan Joe. British psychoanalyst, Paul Williams, has written extensively in Invasive Objects: Minds Under Siege about such forces in the mind that hijack hope.

Mental invaders develop from histories of trauma and severe deprivation. And, they become convincing voices in the mind, blocking desire for what’s feared the most: attachment, love, need, and change. To those under siege, mental invaders pose as knowing better than anyone else. Or as the only friend, you, a depressed and lonely person has. They must be discovered in therapy by therapists who know about their existence. Or these voices of conviction continue to endlessly terrorize, advising against any risks of disappointment, hurt, or loss.

Depression’s Wasteland

In Mad Max: Fury Road, Max, and Furiosa have suffered difficult losses. Max lost his wife, and son, and Furiosa, her mother, and her homeland. Depression can feel like the end of the world. As Max says, in a voiceover, at the beginning of the film: “The world fell. I am the one who runs from both living and dead. I exist in this wasteland.”

The wasteland many depressed people live in is the isolation imposed by running in fear of their grief and any new attachments. They convince themselves they need no one. Max is a good example – a loner, with an instinct to survive by his own will and without anyone’s help. He’s willing to help others. But, in fact, helping others likely seems a safer bet than turning to someone who could be lost. Then there’s Nux: depleted, parched, without the will to go on. A mental tyrant takes over easily in such vulnerable psychic conditions.

The Propaganda Of Tyrants

Tyrant Immortan Joe begins the film by taunting his starving, thirsty, desperate captives. He floods them with needed water and immediately cuts it off: “Don’t, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.” In an all too similar way, the tyrannical voice in your mind might warn: “Don’t trust anyone. Whatever you get from people is a tease. They’ll take it away. Don’t get attached. Soon they will be gone.”

In Nux’s parched lips and gaunt face, we see the damaging effects of a tyrant’s control. Nux, one of Immortan Joe’s War Boys, dutifully carries out his orders. This, too, is what a mental tyrant expects. Do his bidding or you’re a failure and brutally criticized, especially if you don’t stop the impulse to escape his control.

Imperator Furiosa, a Colonial in Immortan Joe’s army, is just such an impulse. She escapes in a War Rig with Joe’s five beautiful “wives.” Joe sends Nux to stop them. When he can’t and Joe’s pregnant wife, Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), falls under the rig and dies, Nux collapses in despair. Despair is the work of the tyrant. Dreams of death become Nux’s ultimate triumph and a suicidal retreat takes over. He can’t, at first, join Furiosa and the wives’ angry escape.

Fury’s Saving Grace in Mad Max

Furiosa is an apt name for the kind of anger necessary to undo a tyrant’s hold. In my work with depressed patients, trying to stand up against tyrannical voices, these voices threaten disaster. They tell you you’re crazy to want more. Flaunt evidence of loss and rejection. They convince you it’s best to expect nothing.

Anger at the imposition of such a limited existence is the only remedy. The internal fight against such a belief system is no different than the war between Immortan Joe and Furiosa and her crew.

This kind of fight takes teamwork. In therapy, there’s the help of a skilled therapist. In Mad Max: Fury Road, Furiosa and the wives join forces with Max and, later, the Vuvalini’s. Immortant Joe took possession of many women. Some he’s made wives for breeding, others he chains in pumping rooms to use their breast milk for his purposes. Joe’s “love” exploits.

The fury of the women saves all Joe’s captives from his control. Furiosa and the wives (with Max and Nux in tow) journey back to The Green Place of Furiosa’s childhood, the place from which she and her mother were kidnapped. Furiosa hasn’t forgotten this land of many mothers, care, and love. And, it’s this memory that keeps Furiosa strong.

The Green Place & Mother Love

Knowing love exists is a part of what stokes the war against these perverse forces of tyranny. A mental tyrant will tell you that love is unnecessary, impossible, or dangerous. By convincing you it’s best to need nothing, that tyrant in your head keeps you in a state of depressive drought. You turn away from life. And, you live in loneliness. Furiosa and her team of furious women refuse to retreat.

Yet, when they arrive where the Green Place was in Furiosa’s childhood, the surviving mothers, the Vuvalini’s, tell her The Green Place is gone: “It had no water. Was poisoned and went fallow. We couldn’t grow anything.” Discouragement, though, isn’t an option. This only gives a tyrant his power.

Plus, the old woman, Keeper Of The Seeds (Melissa Jaffer) carries starter heirlooms of plants, trees, and flowers from The Green Place. The Keeper of the Seeds plants whenever she can. None of the seedlings have taken yet, but she doesn’t give up. Neither can we, in therapy, while fighting that tyrant in your mind.

Keeper Of The Seeds & Reclaiming Hope

You need the hope in Keeper Of The Seeds. New things grow. Possibilities exist. The tyrannical voice may say, “No.” That voice must be stopped. In Mad Max, overturning the tyrant’s control means taking back Immortan Joe’s Citadel where an abundant resource of clear water hides underground. Water, of course, allows seedlings to grow.

Learning that love and hope are possible is essential in the battle against the tyrant. We see this in Furiosa when, as she fights Immortan Joe, her eyes turn green. As she remembers The Green Place and the love mothers give, she gathers the strength to lead the others in defeating Immortan Joe. She and her crew return to the Citadel with his dead body. All its parched inhabitants are given the water they need and are free.

After re-claiming the Citadel, Keeper Of The Seeds’ job is done. In therapy, the work has just begun. Therapy, too, must overturn the internal tyrant’s voice with its warnings against desire, need, and trust. If this doesn’t happen, retreat from human relationships, extreme self-sufficiency, and the wasteland of depression persist. But, when the internal tyrant loses its power, a Green Place of love and possibility can be built.

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.