Monday, December 11, 2006

"Apocalypto" (Minor spoiler alert)

So I saw "Apocalypto" this weekend -- or perhaps more accurately, "Mel Gibson's Apocalypto," to quote the name used in Disney's television promotional campaign. I pulled the same trick I did with "Passion of the Christ," buying tickets for another movie -- in this case, "Borat" -- and sneaking into the theater, to avoid paying Mel Gibson an anti-Semitic royalty.

My quick take on the movie? (1) Yes, it's really, really violent, so much so that it overwhelms the movie watching experience. By the final scene, however, when blood is spurting from someone's head in Monty Pythonesque fashion, the audience was laughing. So you get sort of numb. (2) It's also a waste of talent. I have to admit, I really like Mel Gibson's approach to this film (and "Passion"), using native languages and local actors. The opening scenes are terrific, and feel like an authentic representation of life in a Mayan jungle village circa 1500. Unfortunately, Gibson spends about 15 minutes exploring this angle before the splatterfest begins.

But here's what I find most interesting about the movie (warning: minor spoiler coming). As you probably know by now, the movie contains a scene involving graphic human sacrifice in a Mayan city. The local villagers have been captured by warriors from a nearby city. The villagers, including the movie's protaganist, Jaguar Paw, are led to the top of a Mayan temple, where the city's priest cuts them open and rips their hearts out in front of them. The priest then holds the still-beating heart up to the sun as an offering to their god, Kalkulkata (spelling not guaranteed). The head of the villagers are then cut off and hurled down the side of the temple, where the locals bathe their babies in the dead villagers blood.

Here's what I can't figure out. This scene is supposed represent the religious fantacism that gripped Mayan civilization in its final days, a civilization that was suffering from famine, disease and -- according to Gibson, anyway -- an insatiable blood lust. My reaction, and I'm sure the reaction of most viewers, is complete revulsion to this ritual involving a religious blood sacrifice to appease a god figure. But that got me thinking: what other Mel Gibson movie can you think of that involves a brutally violent religious blood sacrifice to appease a God figure?

So what's the deal? Is Gibson endorsing the Mayan ritual of human sacrifice? Does he admire, or at the very least, respect their attempts to preserve their way of life by means of crucifixion, er, I mean, disembowelment?

In the end, I don't really care. "Apocalypto" isn't that good a movie, and Mel Gibson isn't smart enough to warrant all this attention he draws to himself. Do yourself a favor and go see "The Fountain," which is less violent (though it too contains scenes of horrible religious brutality), more interesting and more thoughtful.


Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

I agree... the Fountain was a very interesting film.

And with Mel... I think we really have to ask, is this more of a fetish thing? Regardless of what he says, I don't think Mel has a religious connection with Christ or the Mayans, but I suspect him of having an aesthetic preoccupation with torture.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Jimmimoose said...

Just saw this puppy today, and my take was a little different.

I enjoyed the movie in certain capacities, though as nice as that first 15 minutes was, there's a large part of me that quails before the "living in natural village=always peaceful and happy" motif. But I can get past that, and the ridiculous violence aside, there was a lot of stuff I liked.

But there was something that troubled me throughout the film, and I'm curious if you saw it, Benji. I was aware through the entire thing of Gibson's presence in the film-making, so in the scene outside of the city, when Jaguar Paw had just escaped and was standing in the piles of sacrifice bodies? How Holocaust-referential can you get? They were even covered in chalk, extremely reminiscent of the lime the Nazis used on Jews. Literally the only thing missing was a bulldozer pushing the bodies around.

Now, in the film I think Gibson's making some comments about human nature and the fact that we're all brutal and violent--the story the old man tells in front of the fire in the village refers to the way that man will take and take, and is always unfulfilled and sad. But I'm somewhat disturbed that Gibson would feel justified in drawing a parallel between Mayan sacrifice and the Holocaust (if that is, in fact, what he's doing). He's made some seriously questionable remarks about the Holocaust in his past, and invoking the power of its imagery seems even more disrespectful.

I know I'm reading a lot into this, and I'm not up-in-arms really. Lindsay saw the Holocaust parallel like I did, but wasn't as upset about it. But it's somewhat bothersome, to me, at least. Anyone else have similar feelings?

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Nic said...

Jim - I definitely noticed it too. Nic

9:48 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

I'd be curious to know if Gibson added the scene after what happened during his arrest (probably not). Assuming he did not, the imagery is undeniably evocative of the holocaust -- and I'm not sure what to make of that. The truth is, Gibson has stated he's met holocaust survivors and "seen the tattoos on their arms." He's also said "his dad never told a lie," and as we know, his dad is a lunatic bastard who denies the holocaust occurred. But I think, on the latter point, Gibson may not agree with his dad, but feels morally obligated to pretend that he does. The Mayan scene may be his personal penance. Who knows -- maybe he's just weird.

6:34 PM  

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