Apocalypto (Mel Gibson, 2006)
Repulsive. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is just repulsive. You always sense perversity in every frame. Mel Gibson, who just came out of the racist closet, with his recent drunken tirade against Jews, can't seem to keep his perversions in the closet with this film. It's quite obvious. His camera wafts like a curious little boy in moments of violence. In one chase scene, he carefully makes sure you see the accurately depicted weapons of torture before cutting to a Mayan man on the run. It's as if he forces you to delight in imagining how the spiky stone, the javelins, the stone arrowheads would look if grimly punctured in that man's body. And that's just Gibson being cruelly suggestive --- most of Gibson's violent depictions here are unabashedly shown onscreen --- faces being ripped apart by a panther, decapitations, embowelments, and just plain human (and also animal) cruelty. It's as if Gibson has lost all sense of humanity. There's a strange lingering delight in portraying humanity in its most depraved.
It's not the lack of beauty that distresses me; the film is actually expertly shot by Dean Semler. The accuracy of the weapons, the tattoos, and other implements is quite impressive. Gibson, after all, did his homework by recruiting a Mayan expert to make sure his film is as realistic as possible. He even recruited a cast of mostly Mexican Indian non-actors speaking a Mayan dialect.
It's that level of realism that troubles me --- that kind of realism mixed with Gibson's ignorant perceptions of the non-Catholic White world can actually be quite destructive. The Mayan civilization, may it rest in peace, and those remaining descendants of that glorious culture, are put in a bad light, and it can't simply do anything about it; not against a hundred million dollar box office return, not against those who'll watch the film and believe it as sacred scripture (as most Filipino audiences did with The Passion of the Christ (2004)), and definitely not against Gibson, who sadly has acquired some sort of an auteur status (probably true, with his consistency in his cinematic inhumanity). I can just imagine how an uninformed world history teacher would show his students this diatribe, believing its academic potential unaware of its malignant tactics. Sigh.
The plot's paper-thin. A village is ravished by Mayan slave-traders who force the men and women to trek to a Mayan city to meet their fates as offerings to their god. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) escapes and is chased through the jungle, while trying to rescue his pregnant wife and first born from death. It's so simple it seems like it can rightfully fit in a thirty minute running time. However, Gibson stretches the plot to something like two hours and twenty minutes; just enough extra time to show the excesses, the disgusting diseases, the evils of a dying civilization, and just enough time to portray salvation from hellish humanity by aping the first encounter sequence from Terence Malick's The New World (2005), without the latter's majesty and romanticism, just Eurocentric snobbery and a pompous "good riddance" attitude.
It's quite easy to dismiss the wickedness of the film; especially since Gibson garbed it in a genre that doesn't require you to make use of your thinking facilities. It's actually quite pornographic. There's a masturbatory quality in the violence depicted, in the exoticized faraway world sense that human depravity is set in. You'd instantly think in the safety of a dark room, "those goddawful injuns, killing themselves to oblivion." Gibson makes you delight, in the most Hollywood sense, in seeing bodies disposed of like trash (which actually reminded me of Alain Resnais' Night and Fog (1955), but without the short documentary's remorse and forewarning), heads bounce down a Mayan pyramid, hearts removed from their proper places, peasants wail and suffer with some kind of disease. The greatest danger of this film is that it makes you feel good about yourself, about how civilized you have become, how Catholic or Christian you are, and how good this world has become since the death of that unfortunately maligned Mesoamerican culture Gibson has set his nasty paws on.