Mel Gibson’s latest pioneering work in gore-nography opens with a prophetic quote: “Before a civilization falls from without, it must fall from within.” I say prophetic, not because it aptly describes the fall of the Mayan civilization that is glanced at in the film, but because it describes Mr. Gibson’s own self-immolation.
Mel is a great cinematic storyteller, that much is made plain in this Popol Vuh-inspired story of Jaguar Paw, a forest-dwelling hunter who is captured by Mayan invaders bent on gathering sacrifices to appease a sun-god who has brought pestilence and famine on their nation. Jaguar Paw must make a series of seemingly impossible escapes to return to his village and the place where he has hidden his pregnant wife and young son. The sequence in the Mayan city is breath-taking; the chases are pulse-pounding — this is some pure, if violence-wallowing, filmmaking. Too bad that Mel is an anti-Semite and a drunk. Admire the art; revile the artist.
The story, by Gibson and his former assistant Farhad Safinia, isn’t my exact ideal. It does suffer from two deus ex machina moments.
Continue reading about Apocalypto (plot spoilers)…The first is when an eclipse occurs at a fortuitous moment, which is interpreted as a sign from a god; the second is when the white man arrives in a machine called a boat with a cross representing his god. God isn’t far from Gibson’s mind, and Jaguar Paw has some Jesus-like qualities. But Jesus he is not, and a Catholic message is much harder to discern. If anything, the story reveals Jaguar Paw’s faith is borne out only by luck and gumption. All his forest friends have similar faith, and they all meet grisly ends.
It is tough to believe that the actors on screen are inexperienced. Even small roles have great nuances. The dedication it took for Gibson to communicate what he wanted across multiple language barriers is nearly unfathomable. Gibson dreamed big, and succeeded. Admire the art; revile the artist?