20th December 2006
Nothing like a bit of human sacrifice to get you in the mood for Christmas! I saw Mel Gibson‘s latest film, Apocalypto last night. While I am still ruminating on the meaning and significance of this film, I can’t say I liked it, nor can I say I didn’t like it (similar to my reactions to Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ). To say I found the film “intriguing” is probably the most accurate. (Spoiler Alert)
If you take the opening quotation from Will Durant (“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within”) as a hermeneutical lens through which to view the entire film, then Gibson is perhaps providing a commentary on the decadence and spectacle of modern western civilization. Of course, if this was his point, Gibson is complicit by making such a violent and gory film. Perhaps the irony was lost on him as it often is on much of Hollywood.
Others have took the film as an apology of sorts for Catholicism, seeing the coming of the Spaniards at the end as a sign of the coming of Christianity and a better civilization. This to me makes no sense. If anything, the end provides an ironic reversal as the hunter now becomes the hunted (this of course raises questions of the role — if any — of the colonial powers in the decline of Mayan civilization). If anything is elevated in this film it is the notion of the noble savage: Jaguar Paw and his forest dwelling clan are presented as an ideal (this seems to me to be the meaning from the last line of the film where Jaguar Paw says to his wife that they shouldn’t go to the Spaniards, but “we must go to the forest. To seek a new beginning. Come, Turtles Run….”).
Peter Chattaway provides a similar interpretation when he reads the film through an oracle given by a little girl near the middle of the film. According to Chattaway, the girl says to the violent Mayans,
You fear me. So you should, all you who are vile. Would you like to know how you will die? The sacred time is near. Beware the blackness of day. Beware the man who brings the jaguar. Behold … [something about the man rising from the mud]. For the one he takes you to will cancel the sky and scratch out the earth. Scratch you out.
And it is the Catholic Spaniards who bring an end to the violent Mayan civilization.
Whatever its meaning, this film is violent and gory. Of course, many would say that the violence and gore is all in the name of verisimilitude and historical accuracy, so it is acceptable. I am not so sure any more. It seems to me that the film industry is caught up with the spectacle of violence and that such extreme violence and gore in film can not help but degrade all who watch it.
At any rate, those are my initial thoughts on the film.
UPDATE: You may want to check out Loren Rosson’s review here.