US, 2006, 135 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Mel Gibson
With a name like Apocalypto and a director like Mel Gibson, this film could be about anything. As it is, it is an immersion of the audience in the last, dying days of the Mayan civilisation.
The film itself offers no background explanation as to the Mayans and their history. Obviously, much of the history is speculation, information coming from archaeology and conclusions drawn from what remains of a civilisation which, except for its buildings and ruins, is lost.
The film opens with a quotation from scholar Will Durant stating that dying civilisations decay from within before they are destroyed from outside. Apocalypto presents a society of hunters who are menaced by lethal warriors who plunder, rape and kill (with quite some visual impact) and who enslave their victims so that they can be sold in markets to an effete nobility or can be slaughtered as human sacrifices (quartered and their hearts cut out – memories of Braveheart – and then beheaded at the top of the high temple staircase so that their heads can roll and bounce down to the bloodthirsty crowds and then be impaled). Gibson evokes the bread and circus atmosphere of the Roman arenas as well as the lance and arrow gladiatorial pursuits of victims by the temple guards.
Gibson has decided to tell the story of a hero, a hero who is a victim, a hero who has to endure almost unendurable torture and suffering. This means that Apocalypto is definitely a Mel Gibson films in terms of subject and treatment and the visual, visceral presentation of pain. William Wallace and his execution, Jesus and his passion and death, were not exceptions to Gibson’s concerns.
We can see now how Mel Gibson’s sensibilities are strong, male, suffering-oriented, focused on heroic endurance with some kind of hope that the heritage is redemption and freedom.
The language of the film is Yucatec. Gibson’s films contribute to a mainstream’s acceptance of sub-titles.
The first part of Apocalypto shows the peaceful and happy hunting villagers. It opens with a chase and a division of the meats – interrupted by an ominous appearance of some displaced tribes people. However, there is camaraderie, respect for elders, strong leadership and earthy jokes about sex and families.
Then comes the attack in all its brutality, massacre and the enslavement of the warriors, their trek through forest, river and cliffs to the centre of ‘civilisation’ with its temples, priests, sacrifices and atmosphere of superstition and appeasement of the Gods.
In the tradition of Run of the Arrow, The Naked Prey or A Man Called Horse, the Mayan leader, Jaguar Paws (Rudy Youngblood) endures extraordinary pain and danger to outrun his pursuers and rescue his pregnant wife and child.
And, there coming to the shore, are the ships of the conquistadors and their friar chaplains. The era of the Mayans is over.
This is not a particularly appealing film. Rather, it is one that can be admired on a storytelling and technical bravura level – an example of cinematic ethnography.
1. A Mel Gibson film? As a manifestation of himself, his personality, style, interests?
2. The research done, the Mayan civilisation, the attempts of the film to recreate this civilisation and world? Immersing the audience in the Mayan world?
3. The Mexican locations, Costa Rica, the lush jungle, the hunting grounds, the devastated jungle, the rivers and waterfalls, the towns, the buildings and the temples?
4. The use of subtitles? The Yucatec language? Its tone, sound, authentic atmosphere? The audience hearing people speaking their own language? The style of the subtitles?
5. How much did the audience need to know about Mexico, its history, the Mayan civilisation, its decline, the coming of the Spaniards? The film immersing the audience in the experience of the Mayans? The disasters?
6. The tradition of films of pursuit, The Naked Prey, Run of the Arrow? The universal message of the man pursued by enemies? Surviving in the jungle? The relevance of this story for all indigenous peoples?
7. The cast, the locals, the Indians? Costumes and style? Tattoos, make-up?
8. The musical score, tones, echoing the period?
9. The title, the end of an era, Apocalypse and Revelation? Disaster? The quotation from Will Durant about civilisations and their inner corruption before their being destroyed? Decay and the end of the Mayan civilisation? The 16th century , the achievement, the hunters, the villages? The cities? The arrival of the Conquistadors and the images of the boats, the military and the chaplains landing?
10. The prologue, the experience of the hunting, the chase of the wild boar, the warriors, their talk amongst themselves, the tensions, humour, the jokes for Blunted? The earthy sense of humour? Dividing up the meat? Meeting the frightened tribe, their fear, wanting to pass through, the permission? An ominous sense of disaster?
11. Life in the village, a hunting civilisation, the families, the hunters, the homes? The feasts, the storytelling at night, the legends? Marriage, children, fertility, impotence, rituals – and the pressure of the mother-in-law? The warrior chief and the jokes on Blunted and his having to sit in the water trough?
12. Jaguar Paw, his relationship with his father, the father as leader, Jaguar Paw to be his successor? Athletic, hunting skills? His dominating the other hunters? His relationship with his wife, her pregnancy, the young boy? His dream about the tribesmen, the ominous indications of fear and destruction?
13. The invaders, their look, make-up, weapons? Attacking when the village was asleep? The brutality, the violence, putting the huts to fire, the assault on the women, the rapes? The children? The killing, Jaguar Paw and his putting his wife and child in the hole, lowering her, trying to conceal this from the enemy? Her pregnancy? The malevolent leader, the individuals in the attackers, the killing of Jaguar Paw’s father, his dignity, his stance, his throat being cut? His kneeling dead as an icon?
14. The capture of the warriors, the humiliation, their being bound together, the wounded warrior, his falling, the danger for the rest of the group, his being cut loose, thrown down the cliff? The trek through the jungle, the hardships, the wounds, crossing the river? The children gathering, following, the young girl promising to look after the children, their being left behind? The devastated jungle? The cliffs, the dangers, the falls?
15. The personalities of the warriors, in the tribe, Blunted and his size, relationship with his wife, grief at her being taken? His impotence? The mother-in-law? The butt of jokes? The invaders, the chief and his son, cutting his eye wound? The contrast between the tribes and the invaders?
16. The arrival of the town, the aristocracy, their clothes, manner, effete? The women and children? The parallel with the Roman Empire, the crowds, the towers, the slave market, the mother-in-law not being able to be sold and set free, her looking at Blunted?
17. The warriors being painted blue, ascending the steps, the human sacrifice? The priests, the prayers and superstitions? The brutality of laying the warriors down, stabbing them, taking out their heart, their entrails? Beheading them, the heads falling down the steps to the crowd, being seen on pikes? The people enjoying the spectacle?
18. The experience of the eclipse, the effect on the priests, the effect on the crowd, their fears? Their interpretation of the eclipse? Jaguar Paw, his being on the block, his being saved?
19. The tribesmen being taken, into gladiatorial combat, the run, arrows and spears, the brutal deaths?
20. Jaguar Paw, his skill in avoiding the weapons, his being wounded? His killing his pursuer? The reaction of the warriors, coming to his rescue, finding him dead? Jaguar Paw going into the cornfields, the pursuit, the visuals of the pursuit, the moving camera? His blood, the drops from the leaf on the tree? The jungle, hiding in the tree? The jaguar and the young, the threats? His eluding the animals? His running, the warrior intervening and his being mauled to death? The snake biting the other warrior? The coming to the falls, Jaguar Paw’s decision to go over, his survival? The others deciding to go over, the warrior bumping his head on the rocks underwater, their continued pursuit? Jaguar Paw and the quicksand, his survival, covered in pitch? The final trap, the piercing of the chief? The fights at the hole where his wife was hidden?
21. The intercutting of the experience of his wife, her son, the burden of the pregnancy, finally trying to throw the rope, climbing, falling? The rain, the accumulation of water, her standing on the rock, giving birth in the water? Her husband’s return?
22. The warriors and Jaguar Paw going to the shore, seeing the fleet, bewildered? The impact of the military and the religious – and audience knowledge of what was to happen?
23. Jaguar Paw, his wife, the rescue, leaving, going up the cliff with the children, the end of an era? Their not meeting the invaders? Wanting a new beginning? Audiences knowing the subsequent history?
24. The film as entertainment, male-oriented, macho, a film of visceral suffering, endurance? Redemptive? Hope? The ethnographical interest of the film and its portrait of the Mayans?
Created by: malonelast modification: Tuesday 28 of April, 2009 [10:21:56 UTC] by