Finally saw Apocalypto
Nonetheless, it was bleeping brilliant. Mel Gibson may be a tortured genius, but this proves he's a genius for sure.
Gibson used a cast of actors totally unknown in the States, many with no previous movie credits, and did the whole thing in Mayan with subtitles. That took huevos. (We will forego to quibble with the assumption that everyone in the culture area speaks the same language.)
Briefly, it's the story of a pre-Columbian Indian village in the jungle that is raided by a Mayan war party seeking captives, some for slaves but mostly strong young men for sacrifice on the top of a pyramid.
One young warrior named Jaguar Paw manages to hide his pregnant wife and young son in a hole in the ground, from which they cannot escape without help.
However, he is captured and taken for sacrifice. Due to an eclipse, plans change and he is instead used for cruel sport. Captives are released to run while being pelted with arrows, slingstones and atalatl darts. Jaguar Paw manages to escape, killing one Maya warrior in the process. A war band led by the dead warrior's father chases him through the jungle as he attempts to reach his family before they starve.
(This is a bit reminiscent of a classic Cornel Wilde film, The Naked Prey.)
The movie works well on many levels. It's visually beautiful, the action is heart-stopping, the human relationships are very well-portrayed in the time available, the costume and technology are accurate and the fight scenes are excellent. It's a bloody son-of-a-gun, but then, tell me how to make a movie about the Mayan culture at that point in history that isn't?
Apocalypto was nominated for Oscars in four areas, none of them for acting or directing. It was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a few other prestigious critics awards.
It actually won awards from the Central Ohio Film Critics Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards.
What the heck gives? This was easily the best movie of all this year's nominees.
Well, that was the subject of discussion between my wife and I after the movie. She thinks it's because of Gibson's meltdown, with attendant disgraceful anti-Semitic tirade.
I think that while that certainly didn't help, a lot probably had to do with the fact that the film showed pre-Columbian Mayan culture as savagely brutal on a massive scale. Hollywood PC has it that only Western culture is irretrievably base and indigenous cultures live in idyllic harmony with nature.
Remember John Boorman's The Emerald Forrest? I actually liked it a lot, but the cloying screen message at the end "They know what we have forgotten" made me want to barf.
Gibson dared to remind audiences that history is that proverbial "nightmare from which we are only beginning to awake"* and that the history of the West (which intrudes into the scene at the very last minute), for all its brutality is actually an improvement on the normal state of the world throughout history. Now that's a frightening thought!
* That quote is attributed to James Joyce by one source I consulted. Another Irishman counter-commented, "History is a long nightmare during which I am trying to get some sleep."