The Apocalypse of Mel Gibson
- A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.
The film begins with a hunt sequence reminiscent of The Last of the Mohicans (1992), another of my favorites. (The music and another scene echo yet another favorite of mine, The Mission (1986); I like movies about Indians.) An exchange about tapir testicles, with humor as familiar as it is alien, serves as an ingenious method to draw the viewer to the protagonists of the film. Playful scenes of family life in "The Village" heighten the viewer's identification with Jaguar Paw, a young husband and father, and his friends. Around a night-time fire, an elder narrates a myth that illustrates his people still maintain the memory of the Fall of Man.
What follows is a horrific depiction of war waged on civilians, and we deceive ourselves if we think it is any less brutal if waged with cluster bombs from 35,000 ft. in the air rather than with Mayan clubs and axes in hand-to-hand combat. Jaguar Paw is separated from his pregnant wife and son, and dragged off with the entire adult population in a mass Via Dolorosa. A pre-Catholic prayer to "Gentle Ixchel, tender mother of mercy" is offered by a woman separated from her children.
Along the way to "The City" they encounter burned villages, pestilence, a prophetic child who speaks of a man "reborn from mud and earth," and famine. They arrive at a cinematic depiction of Hell. The women are sold off into slavery and the men marched to the top of a pyramid in the most dramatic scene of the film.
(Fifteen years ago I travelled La Ruta Maya and was blind, in my political correctness, to the sheer satanic horror that took place on "those evil stones," in the words of Thomas Merton, "soaked in the blood that was once poured out in libation to the devils by forgotten generations of Indians"─The Seven Storey Mountain. Sure, Tikal, of which the film's pyramids reminded me, is architecturally impressive: as impressive as was the efficiency of Bergen-Belsen.)
I cannot offer a better description of this climatic scene than that offered by John Médaille in his review─Apocalypto Now!:
- There is even a Dick Cheney look-alike in a feathered headdress who gives a rousing speech to a cheering crowd about the strength of the empire--just before he cuts the heart out of a victim, beheads the life-less corpse, and hurls head and body down the temple steps, a gesture that pleases the crowd no end.
- The precursors to a civilization that's going under are the same, time and time again... What's human sacrifice if not sending guys off to Iraq for no reason?
The film was dedicated to Abel, the first victim of homicide.