Thursday, December 20, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Apocalypto (2006) ***

R, 139 min.
Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia
Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernández, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Carlos Emilio Báez, María Isabel Díaz, Raoul Trujillo, Gerardo Taracena, Rodolfo Palacios, Ariel Galvan

“The end is nigh!”  — Crazy person holding a sign on the streets of New York City.

I’m sure many other people said that throughout history, not the least of which being the Mayans. How frustrating it must be for an entire culture to be misrepresented in such a way, but such is the case when your civilization is responsible for a calendar that ends in the age of Facebook. Never the less, I feel obligated to give in to popular trends and submit a Penny Thoughts on a film that takes place within that former culture that made the date 12-21-12 such a trending topic.

Mel Gibson’s film “Apocalypto” is not about the end of the world, but it is about the end of the Mayan culture. He begins his film with this quotation from W. Durant, "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." Durant was a teacher and historian whose definitive work is called “The Story of Civilization”.  Gibson also ends his film with a title card stating, “In remembrance of Abel.” Basically, his film argues that civilizations don’t end through prophetic calendars, but they destroy themselves, just as the people that make them up do.

“Apocalypto” was as much of a dream project for Gibson as his “The Passion of the Christ”. The success of the latter is what allowed him to finance the former. Gibson’s distant retelling of the Cain and Abel story is a little muddled by the facts of the Mayan’s demise, but the parallel is far from a stretch. In the movie, he depicts a more secluded and natural lifestyle that is destroyed by a more built up city culture where wild beliefs about sacrifice and the theatrical display of those beliefs causes a self destructive cycle that destroys both sides of the Mayan culture. Certainly there are parallels to be drawn between this and any civilization, including our modern industrial complex. However, the foundation of Gibson’s story is very basic. Big bully pushes peaceful warrior. Warrior bites back.

Upon its release, “Apocalypto” underwhelmed audiences, including myself. Of course, most people weren’t willing to commit to another story by Gibson about a dead culture told in a currently unspoken language. Without an obvious draw of Christianity as the subject matter, although the Christian undertones were his inspiration, people weren’t as interested in this as they were in his “Passion”. It’s actually a better film, but it’s far from profound. It makes for a good action adventure, but never transcends its style to attain the height of its aspirations to send a greater message. Of course come tomorrow, it may not matter.

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