Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Apocalypto" (2006)

The persistent myth of “the noble savage” is on full display in Gibson’s “Apocalypto.” The film is particularly effective at presenting an ideal, uncorrupted humanity in contrast to the corrupting influence of civilization. It is a silly, romantic dream. However, I am almost willing to tolerate it because that corrupting civilization is a reality of which we constantly need reminding.

The film presents an idyllic Mayan village on the eve of its destruction from more advanced, savage Mayans intent on feeding their sacrificial system. Once the hostages are brought to the Mayan city where the sacrifices are to occur, we witness a truly apocalyptic, nightmare scenario. This city is clearly more advanced in every way, but it is also clearly somewhere we would never want to live. In spite of its technology and science, the civilization is dying from illnesses and drought. The masses are being kept happy and hopeful through a religious institution requiring overwhelming amounts of sacrifice. (This aspect seems to reflect true history, although I always thought it was the Aztec cities that flowed with human blood from sacrifice.)

It is clear that the leaders of this civilization are manipulating and controlling the masses with their false religion. They know enough of astronomy to make the people think that an eclipse is a sign of appeasement from the gods, but we the viewers know that things will not get better. Especially when the ultimate reveal comes at the climax of the action. (Eliciting a laugh at my viewing of the film.)

As with all Mel Gibson films—which are really quite well-made and thought provoking—this film is over-the-top graphically violent.


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