The following post contains SPOILERS for the end of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, should you choose to witness them.

Prequels don’t usually end with mysteries. They exist to explain; to illuminate the backstories and secrets of characters and events from other movies. In the case of George Miller’s Furiosa, the film reveals more than a decade of tragedy and pain in the life of the title character, who was introduced in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road as a haunted survivor (played by Charlize Theron) who wants to escape the clutches of her future’s brutal dictator, Immortan Joe.

Where did this woman come from? What happened to her? That’s what Furiosa is about.

And most of the film’s 2.5 runtime answers those questions. Furiosa (now played as a girl by Alyla Browne and a young woman by Anya Taylor-Joy) is kidnapped from her childhood home, a mythical oasis known as “The Green Place,” by bikers loyal to a rival of Joe’s named Dementus (Chris Hemsworth). Though Furiosa’s mother tries to mount a rescue, Dementus kills her and makes Furiosa his slave. Then he barters Furiosa to Joe in a power play for control of “Gastown,” the refinery that makes the seemingly endless supply of “guzzoline” that fuels Mad Max’s nightmarish automobiles.

Furiosa manages to sneak away from Joe’s harem and becomes a mechanic in his garage, disguising herself as a young boy and gradually working her way up to running supply runs with another reluctant warrior named Jack (Tom Burke). Furiosa and Jack whisper about sneaking away to the Green Place to start a life together, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Mad Max. Instead, the pair are ambushed by Dementus’ forces, Jack is killed, and Furiosa loses an arm.

Warner Bros.

READ MORE: Our Full Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Review

She survives, of course — it wouldn’t be much of a prequel to Fury Road if she didn’t. But that moment seems to harden Furiosa forever. Pretty soon she has shaved her head and added a robotic prosthetic limb to her arsenal, while Anya Taylor-Joy starts talking in a much deeper voice so she sounds more like Charlize Theron. Joe and Dementus start an all-out war for control of the future and eventually Furiosa makes her move against Dementus and confronts him for all the years of misery he caused her.

And then... well, that’s where Furiosa gets intentionally vague. Furiosa gets her revenge again and again while an unseen narrator describes different versions of the story. In one, Furiosa simply shoots Dementus in the back of the head. In another, she drags him from the back of her car, an echo of how Dementus killed Jack. We also see Furiosa crucify Dementus, another callback to his despicable deeds. (That was how Dementus killed Furiosa’s mother near the start of the film.)

Then the narrator tells a final version of the ending that he supposedly heard directly from Furiosa herself. In this scene, an old, decrepit Dementus lies somewhere in Joe’s Citadel with a tree — a full-blown tree — growing out of his body. This tree is supposedly the product of the seed that Furiosa’s mother gave her as a child. Throughout the film, we see the extreme lengths Furiosa goes to protect this seed, even going so far as to make a wig of her own hair that she can use to hide it.

After this strange reveal, Furiosa goes to visit Joe’s wives — the same ones we recognize from Mad Max: Fury Road. She sneaks them into the War Rig and as Furiosa’s credits roll we see glimpses of their journey from that earlier film, including footage of Charlize Theron as the original Furiosa.

Furiosa screaming in the desert
Warner Bros.

Furiosa’s climactic moments have already inspired a fair amount of debate among those who’ve seen it. Which ending is “true”? What “really” happens to Dementus? Are we meant to take the ending with the tree literally? And how much time has elapsed during this conclusion? Does Fury Road begin immediately after Furiosa ends?

Last one first: Yes and no. If by Furiosa’s ending you mean the scene where Furiosa meets Joe’s wives and they sneak into the War Rig, then yes, Fury Road begins right after that. But while Miller isn’t explicit about it, some time definitely passes between Dementus’ death (or his turning into human tree soil) and that final moment between Furiosa and the wives. For one thing, Furiosa is still Anya Taylor-Joy (age 28) when she kills Dementus and she’s Charlize Theron (age 40 at the time) in Fury Road. At least a few years had to pass for that change to make sense.

As to the specifics of what transpires between Furiosa and Dementus, the lack of clarity is the part of the point. The narration and the use of chapters as a storytelling device give Furiosa the structure of a myth. And myths like the tales of Oedipus or Icarus, passed down orally for centuries, were often told in different versions based on who was doing the telling and where they learned the story in the first place.

Warner Bros.

Greek myths were also filled with impossible events; gods and magic and moments that defy rational explanation — like, say, a tree someone growing out of Chris Hemsworth’s desiccated body. The world of Mad Max similarly exists outside the bounds of rational science. This is a fictional universe populated by War Boys and assorted mutated weirdos with all sorts of robot appendages. This place does not adhere to our rules and laws.

If you planted a seed inside a guy’s body, nothing would grow from it. (You’d probably be charged with attempted murder too.) In Mad Max, it’s not that much of a stretch that something like that could actually happen. Is a tree growing out of Chris Hemsworth any weirder than the Doof Warrior, the guy who rides around on the back of one of Immortan Joe’s trucks playing a flame-throwing electric guitar? Not really.

But it’s also possible to read that sequence as the moment when Furiosa transforms from a young woman into a mythic hero whose deeds take on larger-than-life qualities. And the tree scene itself is laden with symbolism. The first images of Furiosa are the title character in the Green Place, plucking a piece of fruit from a tree, an obvious allusion to the Garden of Eden and the story of Adam and Eve. Not long after Furiosa takes the fruit she is stolen from her home by Dementus’ goons; cast out from Eden, as it were, to a world full of violence and pain — and no trees at all.

So turning Dementus into a tree is the ultimate act of revenge; not only killing him but restoring a small bit of what he took from Furiosa in the first place. (It’s also an image of fertility that stands in contrast to the destruction of the Earth and the pillaging of its few remaining resources by Furiosa’s otherwise mostly male cast.) Coming as it does after Furiosa’s ten-plus years of suffering, it also calls to mind the old expression “patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

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