Sunday, December 10, 2006

Apocalypto


Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" is easily the most maddening movie I've seen this year. In his "epic" tale about Mayan society, there are definite moments of beauty, but that all gets buried in a soul-battering barrage of gore that would make any slasher filmmaker smile. And for that reason, it's a failure.

So why, despite all the warnings, was I expecting more? The very clever marketing promised an epic story, but what we get - while at times compelling - doesn't even come close.

It's essentially an action movie, similar in theme to "Braveheart." A young hunter, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), is taken captive along with many of his tribemates as a rival tribe burns down their village (and if tribe is the politically incorrect word here, forgive me; I mean no offense). He hides his very pregnant wife and son in a deep pit, and the rest of the story involves whether or not he will be able to escape his enslavement to rescue them.

Note, it is NOT about why the Mayan society went on the decline or anything else so noble, but there are still some stirring images that will linger on your brain. The human sacrifice in front of a Mayan temple, while hideous, is an electric scene, and the second half, essentially a chase through the jungle forest, has a real rush to it.

But as the gore piles up, I became numb to all of this or anything else Mel may have been going for. I never saw any of those "Faces of Death" flicks, but I could picture Mel doing so, with a checklist. Just about every possibly primitive but highly effective way to kill a man or beast is represented in "Apocalypto," and the cumulitive effect is simply disgusting.

It's a tired theme for sure, but I couldn't help but wonder where the hell the MPAA was in all this. Especially as I heard a poor crying baby who was dragged in to watch men getting beheaded and dehearted (I know that's not a word, but you get the picture) again and again, I had to wonder just how violent a movie has to be to get an NC-17 rating.

In making his movie so sickening, however, Mel has done a real favor to Oscar voters. I don't think he'll be in the running for Best Picture or director, and the ultraviolence here gives voters an easy - and correct, in my opinion - out. I do think Rudy Youngblood will get an Oscar nomination, as much for the bravura of his peformance as for the sheer torture he must have gone through to deliver it.

At the end of all this, I have to say I just felt dirty. Like an enabler of Mel's sick view of the world. And like any true enabler, I promise I won't be back, and hope this time I can stick to that promise.

28 comments:

utenzi said...

The commercials for Apocalypto are beautiful albeit intense. I probably would have gone to see it had it not been for your review. Thanks! I don't like movies with this level of violence and mutilation.

Reel Fanatic said...

I thought I could stomach it, Utenzi, but it was just so far beyond anything I had imagined ...

Chuckling said...

I don't usually like violence in movies either. There are a few very violent films that I like, such as A Clockwork Orange or Natural Born Killers, but that is because they are intelligent and artistically rendered meditations on the nature of violence, and good stories as well.

Apocalypto was not good on that level, but the violence didn't bother me in, I guess for three reasons. One, the Aztec* really were pathologically violent. Had Gibson wanted to portray them accurately and in more depth it would have been much worse. Secondly, most of the gratuitous violence was as cartoonish as a slasher movie. therefore somewhat risable. And finally, I guess I knew it was going to be violent going in and was kind of dreading it beforehand, so when I actually saw it, I was prepared and it didn't seem that bad.

But you're certainly right. People who don't want to see graphic violence should not see that movie. I'm okay with an R rating though. There are plenty of movies with much more disturbing violence. At least Apocalypto had some historical accuracy going for it.

* I never read reviews or anything about a movie if I know I'm going to see it, but I did catch a glimpse or two of the teasers and also thought it was going to be about the decline of Mayan civilization. I don't know where that came from? They were clearly Aztecs and even if it wasn't obvious in other ways, the arrival of the Spaniards leaves no queston.

Nice review. Nice blog, too.

james higham said...

Your reviews are spot on. This is precisely the feeling I'm getting around the blogosphere about Mr. Gibson, who is surely in the Cruise class as a very weird man.

Anonymous said...

Good information. Thanks for the review.

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I won't bother to see it then. I didn't see The Passion because I heard it was gory. I linked to this review.

Anonymous said...

Nice review. Plus, it pretty much confirmed my suspicions.

rightwingprof said...

No, they weren't Aztecs. The whole of Mesoamerica shared human sacrifice, and the Aztecs were no more "violent" than the Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, or any other Mesoamerican group.

Reel Fanatic said...

I have to admit I was rather ignorant going into it as to exactly which group of peoples the movie would be about, so I assumed they were all Mayan ... I wasn't sure that all those groups shared the rite of human sacrifice ... thank God for evolution, I guess

renee said...

Thanks for the review. I have been debating whether to see this. I'm generally not opposed to violence in film, but I don't like gore for the purpose of gore, and it seems like this is one of those type of films. I saw Chichen Itza this year and would love to see a good film about the Mayans, but this doesn't sound like it's it.

Chuckling said...

Um, even if all mesoamerican civilizations were actually the same, you know, like Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis, which they were not, the arrival of the Spaniards fixes the movie in the time of the Aztecs.

I guess one could argue that the whole thing is fictional so maybe they really were Mayans or Olmecs mysteriously performing Aztec rituals, but that would be kind of like a movie where the Pilgrims sailed to America and had Thanksgiving with the vikings.

Or more realistically, one could argue that they were not the actual Aztecs but one of their vassal states. but to speculate that they could have been Mayans is just idiotic. The mayan civilization died out around 900 C.E. The Spaniards arrived in 1519.

Anonymous said...

Don't think I'll be seeing this one... good review by the way. Wonder how this movie is going to do...

Lori said...

Thanks for the review. Sorry it was such a frustrating and nauseating experience for you.

Anonymous said...

To tell you the truth, violence in movies never really bothered me, although I can understand why it might bother others. That having been said, my real concern with Apocalypto is how historically accurate it may be. Let's face it, Mel played pretty fast and loose with history in Braveheart. Of course, I don't know much about the Mayans and when I do see Apocalypto I won't know if it is accurate or not, but part of me is going to be wonder if Mel is making things up again...

Reel Fanatic said...

Violence has never really bothered me much either Mercurie, but gore does, unless it's in a horror movie ... It seemed so out of place and over the top here that it was just jarring to me

Northerner said...

Are you kidding? I saw the movie, and there are plenty of action films that are just as violent, if not more so. Heck, this isn't really any more violent than several other Mel Gibson films -- Braveheart, the Patriot (remember the guy's leg getting chopped off by a cannonball?). And the Passion was far, far, far more violent than Apocalypto.

Northerner said...

Saving Private Ryan was also far more violent. What happened between that film and now that turned so many movie critics into complete wusses about violence?

demosophist said...

"I didn't see The Passion because I heard it was gory. I linked to this review."

I saw The Passion. The violence in it reminded me of the melodramatic stuff we used to do as kids when we'd ham it up getting shot by air rifles, or in fake fights. It was stylized, in other words, and not realistic. Sort of a Christian Kabuki.

I didn't think it reflected very well on the Christian religion, because it's really sort of difficult to argue that Christ's suffering was any greater than anyone else crucified by the Romans... so the whole thing there ends up being symbolism. I think Mel attempted to sell the idea that Christ really really really really suffered times about a thousand. That's the level of his thinking.

To me the crucifixion had another meaning entirely, as the very first step in a long long journey... to a civilization based on individual sovereignty.

All of this bracketed, of course, by the immaculate conception and the resurrection.

Nah, I don't know what it means. Who the heck does? It's a mystery.

But basically I thought The Passion was just about the most boring movie I've ever seen.

demosophist said...

I guess I should add that I have friends in Opus Dei, and I went to The Passion sort of expecting it to be a moving experience. It wasn't.

Reel Fanatic said...

It's entirely possible that I have become a "wuss" about violence, northener, but I'd still like to think not ... Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" was very violent, and as you pointed out, so was "Saving Private Ryan" .. In both those cases, however, the violence was essential to the story, whereas with Mel's movie I, at least, thought he was just piling it on as some kind of fetish

Northerner said...

Piling it on? There was a battle scene at the beginning -- this seemed relatively mild compared to a lot of war movies. There was the scene where a guy's throat is slit. (Same thing in Braveheart; same thing on a recent episode of Vanished). There were various scenes of the captives getting poked and prodded as they marched. (Not very violent at all.) There were the scenes of human sacrifice (yes, violent, but quite crucial to the movie, and therefore acceptable under your standards). There was a scene at the end when the chief bad guy gets punctured by the animal trap (a satisfying moment). There were scenes of the hero getting shot with an arrow (a bit violent, but arrow shootings have been in many other movies).

There were only two places in the entire film where, for just a split second, you see a violent image that could have been left out: an arrow going through a guy's head, and the jaguar attacking one of the bad guys.

So because of those two scenes, where the violent images add up to maybe half a second, you're condemning the whole movie as a fetish for violence? Moreover, yes, the jaguar scene could have been left out, but Saving Private Ryan could have left out the guy holding his intestines in his hands too. That particular scene wasn't really necessary to show that WWII was violent.

Reel Fanatic said...

We'll just have to agree to disagree on this one, Northener ... you do make some strong points in Mel's defense, but I simply didn't enjoy watching his movie, for the reasons I have stated

Northerner said...

If Apocalypto's level of violence was objectionable, what explains your enthusiasm for Kill Bill? http://reelfanatic.blogspot.com/2006/10/trailer-thursday-with-grindhouse.html

Reel Fanatic said...

Perhaps I'm just a hypocrite, Northener ... or maybe I just accept stylized violence more easily than I do the more straightforward, ultrareal stuff that Gibson delivers ... I think, though, it's mostly that I'm like Nixon when it comes to movies .. even if I can't always tell you why, I know what I like

Daphnewood said...

Hi Reel, you know how I felt about this movie already: LOVED IT!!!! I was thinking about how you said that you saw this film as too bloody. I guess because we are a medical family, blood doesn't sway me at all. I have seen real life instances that looked pretty bad. I assumed (wrongly) that the 'bad guys' were the Aztecs because I remember from history class that the Aztecs wiped out the Mayans and the Spanish wiped out the Aztecs. However, I recently went to the official site and saw that they were ALL Mayans. My bad. I liked this movie a lot. I seriously didn't notice it being excessively violent maybe because I was expecting human sacrifices. I am just glad I chose to watch that movie over all others this past weekend. I left very pleased.

Reel Fanatic said...

As you've seen, Daphne, I've taken some flack for objecting to the violence in this one, but accepting it in many others .. I promise it isn't because I have any animosity towards Mel Gibson as a filmmaker, but was just my very personal reaction to this specific film

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify for people, they are Maya and the Maya did survive right down to the Spanish conquest when they were conquered by Spain.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a wuss about on-screen violence but I've gotten used to it. There are still movies I prefer not to see because of glorification of violence. I won't see a sequel to Saw, for instance, and I'm not too inclined to see any more Quentin Tarantino movies, either. I know Quentin is talented but his treatment of violence is a bit too jaded for me. Gibson's Passion was cartoonish in its portrayal of violence, especially the scourging by the Romans. But he is too interesting a filmmaker to ignore and he doesn't portray violence to glorify it. Apocalypto is a good movie about humanity's tendency toward sin and its will to power. That Gibson is able to present a sophisticated theme in a movie that is structurally little more than an adventure chase through the jungle is a tribute to his ability. See The Naked Prey for a similar movie with a less sophisticated theme. And see my review of Apocalypto at misteramericano.com posted on December 17, 2006.