Monday, December 18, 2006

An adrenaline rush of a movie

I just got back from watching Mel Gibson's latest movie, Apocalypto. I know there are some historical inaccuracies - show me a period piece movie that doesn't have any - but Apocalypto was a masterpiece just the same. Where the movie shined was in costuming and understanding human behavior; both that of the characters and of the audience.

The costumes in this movie were breathtaking. The feather-adorned headdresses, the masks worn by the sacrificial priests, the face and ear piercings of the villagers, and even the garb of the conquistadors who make an appearance at the movie's end, all made you feel as if you were watching real events in Mayan history, not a bunch of actors dressed up for the screen. The Mayans had the right amount of dirtiness and grubbiness that you would expect from people who are living in conditions where they are too crammed together. Gibson did the same thing in The Passion of the Christ. I still think about the gnarly yellowed teeth and grimy uniforms of the Roman soldiers in that movie. That is so much more accurate than the pristine costumes that came right off the hangars for movies like Spartacus and The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Mel Gibson's script and direction made for some truly heartbreaking scenes. The part of the movie where Mayan warriors have raided a village and are killing, raping, and taking prisoners made me sit there and thank my lucky stars that I live in the relatively peaceful calm of my beloved country. As I watched the male villagers get taken down and hogtied on the spot by the Mayan warriors, while the villager's wives and children looked on, visions and bad thoughts swam around in my head as I placed myself and my family in that very same predicament and I thought about how horrible, how hopeless, I would feel. For most of this movie, my heart raced and my pulse pounded in my neck as I squirmed with unbearable anticipation at the fate of the protaganist and his family. Gibson did a masterful job of getting my emotions invested into the movie's characters; even of the villans who chase the protaganist in the movie's third act.

Oh, and then there were the scenes of human sacrifice that Meso-American civilizations were so fond of practicing. Gibson made the scenes very graphic, but he could have made them even more graphic, and didn't. Don't let any horror stories you may have heard about the human sacrifice scenes in Apocalypto scare you away from seeing this movie.

Apocalypto is a real gem, not only as an achievement in filmmaking, but as a check on reality. Many people believe or have been taught that North America was this Garden-of-Edenesque paradise until the Europeans came along and ruined everything. Apocalypto demonstrates that humans live up to their reputations as cruel beings not only in all periods of history, but in all locations as well. Most people are unaware that one of the factors that made it possible for Hernan Cortes to defeat the Aztecs was the help of smaller tribes that so hated the Aztecs, they were willing to cast their lot with the Spanish in an effort to get rid of the Aztecs. And why did these tribes so hate the Aztecs? The Aztecs were always on the search for humans to sacrifice and they found many victims by conducting raids on the weaker tribes outside their empire in a fashion very similar to the raid you see the Mayans undertake in Apocalypto. Did the Europeans commit atrocities against the Meso-American civilizations? Of course. Were the hands of these Meso-American civilizations clean before the arrival of the Europeans? Not on your life. Apocalypto shows how "human" the Mayan civilization could be.

Go see Apocalypto.

Good Day to You, Sir


Darren said...

A well-written and cogent review. Wonder if any magazines would be willing to publish it?

Not likely. You didn't genuflect enough at the altar of multiculturalism.

ms-teacher said...

My 6th graders are always amazed to learn that the U.S. is not the only country that practiced slavery. Good post on this movie, but I'll probably still wait until it comes out on video.

Dan Edwards said...

I might add, based on my limited understanding of Mayan history, that when the Spanish arrived, the Mayans were at the tail end of several hundred years of secular warfare (pitting one region against another) for slaves, resources and trade. Kind of like the Europeans....