Apocalypto (a derivation of apocalypse; the title meaning both revelation or disclosure and impending judgment) reminds viewers at the outset that “a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” Set in the fifteenth century, Mel Gibson’s stunning bravado depicts the excesses of a culture which prized blood and death over personhood.
Those familiar with the end of the Mayan civilization will be impressed by the accuracy of historical backgrounds revisited. With the constant drumbeat of political correctness (i.e. “all cultures are equal”) in our 21st century ears, Apocalypto re-examines something closer to the truth. Depraved, steeped in bloodlust, Mayan culture was set to fall at the entry of Spaniards into the New World. For those who would vilify European settlements in the Americas, historical records are visually recalled in Gibson’s film. The historian Will Durant’s quote sets the world stage for a singular family crisis in film.
Rudy Youngblood, playing the part of Jaguar Claw, is a father and husband who is desperately trying to be reunited with his wife and children after a Mayan attack on their village. Beautiful Yucatan forests frame the film opening with a village hunt for food and closing with vengeful hunt for human skin. Important to Gibson’s vision was the need for a flat forest floor from which to capture the non-stop action. Central to the film is the Mayan temple built from scratch for Apocalypto. The visual artistry of the setting—everything from the craftsmanship of jewelry to tattoos to a market square—leaves one’s mouth agape at attention to detail. Bereft of computer imaging, 700 extras were used to film city sequences, adding truthfulness through real people.
Brutally honest to the time period, violent conflict and human sacrifice is the key to unlocking the theme of cultural suicide. Emblazoned in memory are two crucial scenes from the story. A prophecy is foretold midway through the movie by a little girl left for dead with sickness whose penetrating black eyes hold the warriors entranced with the fearsome expectation of their impending death. For me, however, it is the storyteller’s tale set around the community campfire that made my eyes go wide. The conclusion of the matter is that we humans, given everything creation has to offer, still have a hole in us that cannot be filled. We can only take and have need of One who only gives.
Subtitled. Rated R for graphic violence and unsettling images.
Dr. Mark Eckel believes Apocalypto is an important reminder from history