I’ve written diaries about my impressions upon seeing Fahrenheit 911 and about (not) seeing The DaVinci Code. I recently saw Mel Gibson’s controversial film Apocalypto, and I wanted to share my thoughts about that as well. I saw something so obvious in it, that I couldn’t believe that no critic mentioned it, something that DOESN’T have to do with the ancient Mayans!
Most of the reviews stress how graphically violent this film is. I did not find this a problem (and I’m someone who had to leave “Saving Private Ryan”). I did not find the subtitles a problem either; in fact, I think they are what “saves” the film, since it has a rather pedestrian plot.
The costumes and scenery are wonderful, but the plot is the problem, because it does not try to explain (except for a few references to drought and low crop yield) WHY the Mayans may have started practicing this degree of human sacrifice, in a desperate attempt to pacify the gods. Apocalypto is actually the story of the ancient Aztecs, whose culture began to rise up in the 14th century AD, about a century after the Mayans had disappeared.
James Howard Kunstler wrote an extraordinary book called The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition about the rise and fall of cities, in which he said that the Aztecs had villages that were in reality “farms” for breeding humans whose hearts would eventually be ripped out of their living bodies and fed to the insatiable gods (as if they were cattle, unknowingly being fattened for slaughter). I frankly found this image, of a seemingly benign village where people are being raised like farm animals, more chilling than any of the graphic violence in the Gibson film. You think to yourself, “Since people would be regularly be taken away and not return, they MUST have had at least an inkling about what was going on. Maybe they even watched these ceremonies, which were held in a public square.” In the book, Kunstler asks the obvious question about why didn’t they rise up and rebel.
An agent I know who went to a screening of the film said that it was woefully under attended and that Mel Gibson even joked about this, saying that everyone “must have gotten stuck in traffic.” This was undoubtedly the reaction, in a largely Jewish town, to his earlier film, The Passion of the Christ (which some people found anti- Semitic), as well as to the diatribe against “the Jews” that he made when he was recently arrested for drunken driving. Gibson was raised by a fanatic father who is an extremely doctrinaire Catholic. I think that this embarrassing driving incident is an indication that he is currently living in a state of religious conflict and confusion.
I saw this in his film as well. What I found intriguing about it was something that no reviewer has mentioned: the film is a clear cry from the heart from someone who has become TOTALLY DISILLUSIONED with his own religious dogma! As far as I was concerned, he might as well have printed this out in large block letters on banners that he hung from the trees in the background of every shot. Once that idea got into my head, I noticed many references to this in the script (which Gibson co-wrote). The horrible things that the Mayans did to each other in the name of placating the gods was a metaphor for him of the turmoil going on inside his own heart.
He did say something wise recently, when referring to the war in Iraq: “Civilizations always end the same way, with human sacrifice.” He later recanted that statement, but I think he was right.
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