Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto.”

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There’s no way to even begin to talk about this film without talking about the ending, because that’s the entire point of the film. And, what a – retarded point it is. I wish I could be more eloquent, but there really is no way around it, or better word for it. What Gibson seems to be saying is that – and, I’m far from the first to say this – the Mayan culture was so evil, so rotten to the core, that it required saving. And so, the Spanish are seen offshore – three hundred years early – and their crosses displayed in highlight. I should reiterate that last part – the Spanish show up three hundred years earlier than historically recorded, after the last Mayan city had been deserted, because that’s really the crux on which any strength this message might have had lays. Gibson’s said previously that the film is primarily supposed to work as an allegory for the current state of Western civilization (and I’ll leave that alone for the sake of brevity), but with such a huge misstep along with everything else, any kind of value that might have had is muddled, in the context of the intended allegory and the film itself. OpenDemocracy’s Kanishk Tharoor states it succinctly: “Gibson’s supposedly anti-imperial critique of American involvement in the middle east is nothing of the sort, but a thoroughly imperial vision of Christianity. Faith will protect the romantic savage and faith will purge the sickness of the Mayan polity. Victorian Anglicists could not have written a better script.”

But, the film has to bend over backwards to paint the Mayans in a way that would support this thematic center even beforehand – skewering history with a large, large pair of scissors, and instead relying (by Gibson’s own admission) on the director’s cobbled together impression of the people’s cultural history – indeed, according to him, there was no research done before or during the screen-writing process. And, as with The Passion of the Christ, there’s a strange reliance on overly cartoonish hyper-violence, although here it seems to serve a far uglier purpose because of the impression it leaves, coupled with the ending of the film.

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Speaking of which, to go off on a tangent for a second, if you’ll allow me – what is it with Gibson and his strange, almost fetishistic obsession with seeing bare-bodied human males getting battered, stabbed, beaten and whipped? At least in The Passion, it could have been construed to have a point, but here it serves nothing, save that final colonial riff. There’s naught artfully done, here. The film begins with the dismemberment of a boar (which is funny, because Mayans were agriculturalists, but Gibson doesn’t care) as the organs are pulled out and passed around, and used for some admittedly pretty basic yuck-yuckery. And later on, Gibson’s camera lingers almost lovingly on the main character Jaguar Paw’s father getting his throat slit, near the beginning of the film for no other reason that I can think of than because, well, he wants it to. People have called these last two films of his ‘big budget snuff films,’ and I’m beginning to see the logic in that.

This is a film that will make you angry. It made me angry, at first only because of the brain-thumping anticlimax that happens after the Spaniard sequence. The entire crux of those final sequences is Jaguar’s race to save his wife, son and son-to-be from drowning in the rain-filled crevice – and so, after pulling that last guy’s spine out through his nose, Jaguar races to the hole, rain still pouring down, and his wife struggling to keep her head above water. What can Jaguar do? How will this situation resolve itself? Cut to, Jaguar and his wife walking through the trees, looking at the Spanish ships. And, that’s it. We were given no indication beforehand that Jaguar had found a way to rescue them – not even a look, or a sly glance – and, the last we saw, his wife’s head was going under. But, that’s it.

Then the other stuff starts to get at you. And, it’s a shame, because if there’s one bolster in the film, it’s Australian cinematographer Dean Semler’s photography. There’s a master, and some of his frames – particularly of the silhouetted main character against a ravishing water-fall are breathtaking.

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And, that’s it.

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2 thoughts on “Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto.”

  1. shadenfreude says:

    Yeah it’s a fairly simple transposition of Mayan and Aztec civilizations, and once you make that distinction the depiction is flawless, which makes it ironic that you’re accusing someone else of being historically ignorant. I don’t blame you for your kneejerk response though; nothing enrages a liberal like suggesting a non-Western civilization was anything other then sweetness and light.

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