Archive for the ‘Apocalypto’ Category

325 – Apocalypto

June 27, 2007

In Mel Gibson’s searing look at familial love and the declining dominance of Mayan civilizations, a hunter-gatherer tribe is raided in the middle of the night by a warrior tribe, and its surviving males are taken to the Mayan city to be sacrificed to the gods as a way to end drought. One of the men, Jaguar Paw, must escape and make his way back to his pregnant, trapped wife and their young son.

In all honesty, if Mel Gibson’s name hadn’t been attached to this movie, if there hadn’t been so much attention paid to the film because of its violence level, its big budget, its on-location shooting, and its reliance on the ancient Mayan language, this might have been another largely forgotten film set in a foreign land during an indeterminate time period.

The violence is very brutal and jarring (114 on-screen deaths), but that’s as it should be. Gibson doesn’t want us to view the tribulations of this particular tribe as disinterested souls watching a Hollywood blockbuster, he wants us to understand how perilous every aspect of their lives was, how strong they needed to be, both physically and mentally, and how important one’s family and friends can be.

The beginning scenes had me a little skeptical, because the comedy was a little broad. How broad, you ask? The tribesmen make mother-in-law jokes. No, I’m serious. There’s a nagging old hag who keeps haranguing her son in law about making a grandbaby for her, and he’s impotent. Oh, and there’s a bit about someone getting tricked into rubbing a painful ointment onto his private parts. You know, intellectual humor.

But that quickly dissipates, as the tattooed, bejeweled, and totally armed-and-dangerous warriors attack, beating, slaying, and torturing the members and putting the entire hamlet to the torch. Jaguar Paw, who’d dreamed of the attack, awakens just as the intruders arrive and is able to stow his wife and child at the bottom of a pit. This safety is somewhat short lived, however, when one of the warriors notices the rope that was to allow them to escape the pit – and cuts it off.

Don’t watch this if you can’t stand women in peril, or if you can’t stand watching people sacrificed to the gods. Come to think of it, the woman-in-peril bit is just a mask – turns out that Jaguar Paw’s wife, Seven, is extremely tough, inside and out, and her resiliance and fortitude give her and her child a fighting chance.

The focus is on Jaguar Paw, though, and how he gains almost superhuman abilities as he dodges headhunters and wild animals in his quest to return to his loved ones. That might sound implausible, but as most parents know that when your child’s health is in jeopardy, it’s possible to do things you never thought you could do.

I don’t see this as quite the epic that Gibson was going for, but his directorial touches lend quite a bit of panache and anxiety to the proceedings. Some of the action shots of Jaguar Paw running through his beloved forest, pursued by bad men, are seamless, jaw-dropping views, allowing us to figure out Jaguar Paw’s on-the-fly plans right after he does. Gibson’s style, along with the cinematography of Dean Selmer and the performance by Rudy Youngblood keep this movie afloat; the conclusion, while lacking the intensity of the rest of the movie, is satisfying.