In Beyond Thunderdome Max faces justice from The Wheel. The wheel lands on Gulag and Max is cast out on a horse. The most common understanding of Gulag in English is the Soviet era labour camps so my question is how does the story get from "labour camp" to "exile" without skipping a beat?

EDIT: The more I think about this the weirder it gets. Bartertown actually has a "Gulag", the Underworld (where we meet Pig Killer) is a forced labour death camp. So having escaped what is effectively "a gulag" Max is sentenced to GULAG which is not a gulag at all. Makes me think it could be a production mistake, like The Goonies famous octopus.

I can only imagine the in-world explanation is the meaning of the word has changed in the years since the apocalypse but this feels like an unnecessary ass-pull of world building. The Wheel lands on Gulag

  • 5
    No that horse is clearly being sent to die in desert with Max. Unclear what the horse's crimes were. Commented May 29 at 21:15
  • 2
    Where were the Soviet Gulags? They were far away from society. Prisoners (and those wuo guarded them) were in exile. IMO the film borrows the word "Gulag" and uses it to mean "Exile".
    – Sotto Voce
    Commented May 29 at 21:30
  • 3
    @gingerbreadboy - Maybe he was guilty of ... stirruping trouble.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 30 at 9:09
  • 2
    Saddled with a record like this may be a just desert :) Commented May 30 at 9:21
  • 3
    "GULAG" is actually a post-apocalyptic acronym for "Go Undertake Long, Arduous Gadabout". Commented May 30 at 12:16

2 Answers 2


The term, in universe, seems to have been corrupted to simply mean banishment. But not simply exile but being sent into the 'Devil's Anvil' to die.

What the hell was Gulag? He tried to force his dazed brain to remember, searching for a memory decades old: Something about banishment, exile ... disappearance.


Twisting his aching, battered body, he turned in the saddle to look over his shoulder and winced as the blinding furnace of the Devil’s Anvil drove fingers of light into his eyes.

So this was Gulag . . . the fate that the Wheel and his own stubborn refusal had chosen for him. He looked down, blinking his dazzled vision clear, in time to see Entity step forward and pour a beaker of water into a glass flask hanging just in front of his horse’s nose, suspended from what looked like a fishing pole lashed to his saddle.

Beyond Thunderdome - Official Novelisation

  • 8
    The fact that when they chant “gulag” they emphasize the wrong syllable supports the idea that they don’t know what the word originally meant nor how it was pronounced. Commented May 30 at 1:31
  • 3
    feels like the author of the novelisation also found this aspect of the movie needed clarification. Commented May 30 at 8:40

I contend that it should not invoke the depiction that Solzhenitsyn described; this is specific to the film.

It does not need to correspond to the Soviet version of Gulag.

The word itself is mysterious and foreboding. Certainly anyone seeing the film for the first time would not know what to expect.

The author of the novelization showed his hand by not knowing what to make of its use.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .