30 Jun 2007

Apocalypto, a movie review

I just managed to watch Apocalypto, a movie directed and co-written by the notorious Mel Gibson, about the trials and tribulations of a small tribe during the decline of the Mayan civilization. I have to say, amidst the likely gasps from the peanut gallery: I really enjoyed it.

The movie and the man are fiercely criticized by bitter people that I can only conclude have a spooky agenda to find yet another celebrity to draw blood from and expose his or her imperfections in order to validate their own. First off, I can't believe that any mentally balanced critic, who has surely at least glimpsed the trailer shown months in advance, could possibly have expected that this movie strives to be "historically accurate". Yet some scholars cry bloody murder. Perhaps it's the title "Apocalypto" (an obvious allusion to common global myths and prophecies) that gives the real intent of the movie away: To explore a make-believe, mythological universe just as any other well-respected saga of yore has done, from Beowulf to Fengshen Yanyi. Secondly, people far too often have the hypocritical chutzpah to complain about the high level of violence in Mel Gibson's movies as if it were some sort of darkly delicious indication of his own "sadomasochistic tendencies" when at the same time we glorify Quentin Tarantino's gun-obsessed epics and Eli Roth's plotless chainsaw porn for sociopaths called Hostel as examples of modern cinematographic art. We can hardly go around accusing some unfortunate scapegoat for societal violence when we're still telling weirdo stories to our children about creepy old ladies having a taste for little children as in the story Hansel & Gretel.

To me, the violence was an ironic smokescreen, which I think, helped keep superficial dolts from truly understanding important messages and morals in the film. While watching Apocalypto, I couldn't help but recognize an interesting analogy between the night sky and its bloody savagery. Much like the night sky, there is so much blackness that it's hard to see the small points of light that shine forth. In the same way, there are clear moments of tenderness, compassion and self-sacrifice in the film if you keep your eyes open (the innocent, brotherly teasing of Blunted at the beginning of the film; a mother with son in the hole lovingly tending to his wounds; Blunted trying to help Jaguar Paw escape from their oppressors; etc.).

It's not high on deep plot or academic accuracy perhaps, simply because it's meant to be a mythology with a moral commentary on society as a whole, and our own society. It may be a different time and a different culture with different values, but it emphasizes both the self-centeredness, fear and greed festering within humankind like a disease, and the potential for these things to destroy us when these flaws go untempered.

Finally, I have to say that for a purportedly racist alcoholic like Mel Gibson, it's somewhat odd that, were this true, he would choose to collaborate with Iran-born screenwriter Farhad Safinia to write the film, choose Yucatec Mayan as the language of choice of this unique film, and employ talented indigenous actors to play the parts! Has media corrupted our minds yet again?

Do watch the film. You'll be surprised and for linguaphiles out there, the living sounds of Yucatec conversation are beautiful to hear.


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