What will fear drive us to do? Would it make us go to war for a cause that is uncertain or hand over our rights willingly to someone who says they know the way to safety? It is clear after viewing Mel Gibson’s latest period epic; “Apocalypto” that civilization has not changed.

“Apocalypto,” depicts a small tribal village that is caught up in mass raids by Mayans who are desperately trying to save their civilization by human sacrifices to the Sun God. “Apocalypto” focuses on Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who is a prominent young male in a remote tribe outside of the Mayan city. Jaguar Paw is captured in a gruesome raid of his village and taken to the Mayan city to be sacrificed. Through some pretty amazing luck, Jaguar Paw manages to escape being sacrificed. The film then changes from an epic about a civilization to a full on action film, with Jaguar Paw running for his life to return to the site of his village to save his pregnant wife and son who are trapped in a cave-like hole.

In many ways “Apocalypto,” has a split personality disorder. On one hand it is a period piece that explores a long-gone civilization through the use of the Mayan language and the use of real people from Mexico. On the other hand, it is an action-adventure film about one man’s journey to save his family.

If the split personalities of the film were not enough, the film has an imaginary friend. The trailer leads audiences to believe they will see the downfall of the Mayan civilization. In actuality, the Mayans’ decline is barely present and seems like an afterthought on the part of Mel Gibson.

The truth is that “Apocalypto,” could be set anywhere. The main plot – one man’s journey to take down a civilization in order to save his family – is very common. It’s so common that you can see it in other Mel Gibson works such as “Braveheart,” and “The Passion of Christ,”(just replace family love with God love.) Can anyone see a parallel?

It is very easy to get sucked into “Apocalypto.” The acting is incredible, especially from first timer Rudy Youngblood, as Jaguar Paw. Gibson shows his talent as a director by getting a cast of people who have never acted and turning them into Oscar material. In fact, it is so easy to get sucked into “Apocalypto,” that it is easy to forget what you are really watching.

Although “Apocalypto” has been presented as a risky film to make, so much so that Gibson financed it himself and then paid a fee to get it into theaters, there are very few risks taken in the actual film. Many viewers will stay clear of “Apocalypto,” fearing that it is too challenging because it is in Mayan with sub-titles and about an entirely different culture. Aside from the massive amount of blood and guts, which is nothing compared to “Saw II,” the film manages to stick closely to contemporary Christian morality. There is a clear line in the film between good and evil. Jaguar Paw’s small tribe outside of the village is pure good and the Mayan city is pure evil.

Gibson presents the small tribe as not really differing from contemporary society: they live as monogamous couples, hunt only for food, have nagging mother-in-laws, and only kill in self-defense. Whereas the Mayan city is presented as a place that sacrifices people, not for survival, but for fun with a large party gathering around the base of the temple. Slavery is rampant, mothers do not really care for their children – as shown when the Queen-like woman pushes her fat child away, and they care only for the development of their amazing temples. In fact, the Mayan city is depicted so horribly that it will have you wondering how any civilizations ever got started.

Gibson seems to be presenting a parable for life, somewhat similar to the story of Sodom and Gomorra, where God destroys a city because of its evil ways. The second half of the film had to become an action film because, what would a flat, pure, good character such as Rudy Youngblood’s do if he stopped running, except die. Audiences will have difficulty interpreting “Apocalypto” from different vantage points and this is the weakness of the film. Although it provides amazing acting and intense action, it will never be able to reach beyond its one-dimensional characters to create a more complex understanding of this civilization’s existence.

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.