Saturday, December 09, 2006


It's rather rare that I get the chance to see a movie, but I just saw Apocalypto this afternoon. On the level of an action film, I'd rank it up there with Diehard as among the best that I've ever seen. Also, I share Daniel Larison's utter bafflement that so many reviewers are complaining about the "violence":
Unfortunately, all the critics have done Apocalypto a grave disservice in their emphasis on its supposedly overwhelming violence. This aspect of the film has been talked up so much that it almost convinced me, sight unseen, to not see it because the way people were describing it I came away with the impression that this was going to be something like the Chichen Itza Chainsaw Massacre. It was nothing like that, and not anywhere even close. In the last decade, we have been treated to a number of non-horror films (and undoubtedly piles of horror movies) that far exceed Apocalypto in brutality, gore and general bloodletting.
Exactly. If I had time, it would be interesting to look at the specific reviewers that have complained about the violence in this film, and look back to see if they were even more upset about the average horror film, or Pulp Fiction, or Natural Born Killers, or Audition, or any of probably a hundred other films one could name. (The scene where someone's heart is ripped out of his chest -- as part of ritual human sacrifice -- was actually less graphic than the scene in Dumb and Dumber, where Jim Carrey's character fantasizes about ripping out someone's heart to impress his would-be girlfriend. How many people complained about the violence in that movie?)

I suspect that complaints about "violence" are disingenuous. A lot of reviewers probably would really like to be able to say, "Mel Gibson is a bad person, and so you shouldn't see his movie." But that looks too much like blacklisting (supposedly not a good thing in Hollywood), and there are a lot of other good films that were made by people with personal demons. Another option is for the reviewer to say, "Don't see this, because it just isn't a well-done film." But that clearly isn't true. So the only thing left for the reviewer to say is, "Oh my, heavens to Betsy, I'm so shocked to see all of this violence."

On a deeper level, the theme of one of civilizational hubris: The good guys in the film are those who live in a simple village, minding their own business, spending their time with family and friends. The bad guys are from a large Mayan city that has laid waste to large areas around it, that sends out marauders to kill and capture people in other villages, and that seems to be ruled in part by a priest-figure who stirs up a false sense of patriotism by telling the crowds of people that their civilization is the highest achievement of man.

In fact, Gibson and his co-writer already mentioned the modern parallel to Time magazine earlier this year:
"The parallels between the environmental imbalance and corruption of values that doomed the Maya and what's happening to our own civilization are eerie," says Safinia. Gibson, who insists ideology matters less to him than stories of "penitential hardship" like his Oscar-winning Braveheart, puts it more bluntly: "The fearmongering we depict in this film reminds me a little of President Bush and his guys."
It will be interesting to see the reaction to this movie from all sides.

Go see it.


Blogger ScurvyOaks said...

Of course there's more than one way to read the civilizational context. My guess is that the reason the violence is perceived as extreme is that it's shown in the context of a pre-Columbian civilization (i.e., one untainted by contact with those violent Europeans). Thanks to Rousseau, we all know those civilizations were peaceful and pure as the driven snow, right? That's what "The Gods Must Be Crazy" proved to us, too.

5:44 PM  
Blogger John Coleman said...

Thanks, Stuart. I was not going to see Apocalypto because the reviews made it sound kind of mindless and gory -- but I think I will now.

5:54 PM  

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