MEL GIBSON'S 'APOCALYPTO' IGNORES GREAT CIVILIZATION
by Vicki Adame
Mel Gibson's Blood Libel (2004)
movie 'Apocalypto' isn't what it appears to be.
The film has been billed as being about the beginning of the end of the Mayan civilization. This is a stretch.
The movie is about the Mayans. Director and co-writer Mel Gibson took a bold step by having the entire film spoken in an ancient Mayan language. Subtitles are provided. This actually adds to the movie. It would seem rather ridiculous to view a film featuring Mayans speaking English, considering the fact that all the actors are Mayan.
From the very first scene there is blood, violence and outright gore.
Gibson himself has said this movie is his attempt to reach the Latino community, but I'm left wondering why he chose this particular theme. That's not to say the story of the Mayans shouldn't be told. It should. They were a highly advanced civilization, but this film doesn't begin to scratch the surface of these mighty people.
Instead it shows, what we today would call savagery.
We all know the ancient Indian civilizations worshipped gods and practiced ritual sacrifice to appease them. This film focuses on that. We watch as men are placed upon an altar, their hearts are cut out and finally their heads are chopped off and sent rolling down the steps of an immensely tall pyramid. All of this to appease the god Kulkukan's thirst for blood.
The movie follows Jaguar Paw, who will be the one to fulfill the prophecy of the end of the Mayan empire.
The movie is about family and one man's determination to get back and save his pregnant wife and young son. His small village is invaded by warriors from another tribe. Jaguar Paw is able to save his wife and son by lowering them into a pit, but before he can get them out he is captured as he helps his friends defend their village.
Jaguar Paw and a couple dozen people from his tribe are marched to a large city with an imposing pyramid.
As the women are separated and sold off, the men have blue paint smeared on them. The significance of the blue paint is revealed as they are marched down a corridor. On the walls are pictures depicting blue men being sacrificed to the god Kulkukan.
Jaguar Paw is saved by an eclipse -- which the high priest determines to be a sign from Kulkukan.
But Jaguar Paw's struggle to stay alive doesn't end there. He is able to reach the jungle but is chased by eight warriors. It is here the prophecy begins to reveal itself.
In his bid to escape, Jaguar Paw climbs a tree only to come face to face with a jaguar. In an ensuing chase Jaguar Paw manages to escape after one of the warriors inadvertently comes between him and the fierce animal. The warriors kill the jaguar -- a bad omen, one of them says. From that moment their destiny is revealed.
We only see the Spanish conquistadors at the end of the film as they begin to come ashore in their boats. But Jaguar Paw has fulfilled the prophecy through a series of events that he couldn't stop.
'Apocalypto' offers a very small glimpse into the Mayan culture. Moviegoers who know nothing else may leave the theater thinking they were nothing but brutal savages.
But they were so much more. They were accomplished astronomers, mathematicians and created their own writing system.
Gibson does a disservice by not showing this in the film.
'Apocalypto' is a good first step to learning a little about the Mayans, but your education shouldn't end there. The movie isn't suitable for children -- or adults with a queasy stomach.
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Albion Monitor December
7, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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