Let Mel guide us!

Certain anthropologists, or archaeologists work in the field of Mayanist studies, have claimed that the film Apocalypto, has anachronisms and underrates the sophistication of Maya culture.

I have no doubt they are probably right. But hey, nobody can be a hundred percent accurate in historical matters. Even if they believe they are, it might turn out that they are wrong in the light of new discoveries. And after all, a film is a fictional construct aiming to entertain the mass (to recover its production cost) and to convey a message (to realize the artistic ambition of the filmmaker). It does not bear any obligation to historians, not to mention that the historical material we possess does NOT yet have the authority of the History.

The strange and important thing for this film called Apocalypto is that, although it is meant to be a revelation, a divine disclosure to us human beings living in the chaotic twenty-first century, it can be viewed as simple as an action film set in a most exotic locale. How did Mel Gibson do that? Simple. Just wrap up a conventional, most engaging action setup with “ritualistic” observations. Following is a simple description of the four sections I find in the film.

The film begins with a hunting sequence and introduces us to the peaceful forest, its lovely inhabitants and their splendid life pattern. Basically your life consists of hunting tapir, making jokes to your fellow hunters, loving your wife (despite the grudges of your mother-in-law) and after dinner (tapir meat of course), sitting around a camp fire listening to the elder’s fables and then, finishing the day with a dance. 30 minutes.

The nightmare is doomed to come after all these luxuries, just as we witnessed in The Deer Hunter. At dawn, our happy villagers are either dead or turned into captives. The act of capture and deliver lasts about thirty minutes.

When they are approaching the city, we are presented with a girl who is “infected” and starts to prophesize, along with many other “city” scenarios. The sacrifice and the solar eclipse. Thirty minutes.

The next section is a flat out Hollywood action adventure. It shows how Jaguar Paw is able to escape his pursuers and kills them one by one in the typical Rambo fashion. 40 minutes.

The epilogue: Our hero, safely reunited with his wife and two children, looks thoughtfully at the sea where the Spanish is arriving with their conquistadors and priests. “Should we go to them?” his wife follows his eyes and asks. "We must go to the forest," he declares with the confidence of a war chief Almost-Noah, "and make a new beginning."

From the above summarization you will see that without the Rambo sequence the film is not going to make through the box office. Not that people are looking for an action adventure film here (I for example am not aware of its intention until he killed the third pursuer), but that a film just won’t sell without a proper catharsis.

The ending is sort of clever. It places the last piece of a puzzle work and allows us to see all of a sudden the whole picture. The city people are superior in their brutal forces, or may one call it the level of civilization, but here comes the men with bible (superior knowledge) and gun powder (superior force). The event depicted in this film is thus annexed to an atemporal pattern which can be applied to countless occasions in the human history. Imagine Jaguar Paw an Iraqi. Although his fellow villagers are easy to capture under the pressure of Black Hawks coming from the air and are consequently sacrificed in the altar of divine “democracy”, the impressive pyramid of the empire can be swept away easily by a few warships arriving from outer space.

This said. After forty minutes of intense action sequence intensified by the usual rescue montage, only a handful unsettled meaning-seekers would likely to notice this statement and that it is trying to give a message regarding our own civilization.

Mel Gibson is worth noting in the framework of Hollywood filmmaking, not because he is always trying to make a personal statement or forcing the audience to read subtitles, but because he established, and is still in the process of establishing a subversive visual style. Scenes of violence and gore are not a rarity any more, but somehow the majority of them are sort of cartoon-like. Monstrous creature is a staple on today’s screen: from the good King Kong, the stupid dinosaur, to the evil mechanical octopus. But none of them is really frightening. Nor are the cuirass-men fighting in Rome or Jerusalem. They are just visually too polished to be true and their act of violence can be expected in advance. Moreover, it is violence with little brutality and it produces a destruction of no consequence (NYC must have been destroyed a thousand times). Mel’s is a different animal. In all his three films brutality is always heavily pronounced and intentionally prolonged. Apparently David Cronenberg shares a similar view in his A History of Violence.


No comments:

Popular Posts

Blog Archive