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Volume 9, Issue 2                                    University of Houston

Bloody ‘Apocalypto’ proves a poor revelation

Heavy carnage, absurd plot turns hinder Mel Gibson’s latest epic


    Director Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is a sprawling chase story set in a beautiful locale. Stunning panoramic views of the Mexican jungle and waterways are juxtaposed with quaint villages and supplanted with elaborately reconstructed ancient cities. Indeed, few laymen would even notice the film is shot digitally.

    With such a convincing background, including the use of an obscure Mayan dialect, viewers don’t notice the historical anachronisms or the lack of a single ethnic Mayan as a leading character. But Apocalypto, Greek for “I reveal,” fails to live up to the cinematic artistry draping the film.

    The title, the elaborate sets and the film’s cryptic prefacing quote from historian Will Durant seem to indicate that the viewer is in store for something profound -- after all, Gibson’s previous directorial forays lean towards message delivery, but whatever message Gibson attempts to convey is garbled by the end of the film.

movie still
Rudy Youngblood plays Jaguar Paw in Mel Gibson’s new film, Apocalypto. The film’s barrage of carnage makes Gibson’s last film, The Passion of the Christ, look tame.

Photo courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

    The movie starts off innocently enough, depicting a band of hunter-gatherer Mayans chasing their quarry, harvesting meat and then cavorting in their village. They are shown as peaceable, apparently devoting most of their free time to orchestrating crude jokes and listening to the village elder at the nightly bonfire.

    Their world is destroyed, however, when a marauding group of rival Mayans pillage their village in the early morning hours. Women are brutally raped, men are beaten and lashed and children are simply abandoned.

    One survivor, Jaguar Paw, played by Cree dancer Rudy Youngblood, is intent on escaping his captors. Although ultimately imprisoned with the rest of them, he manages to stash his pregnant wife and child in a nearby sinkhole, promising to return shortly.

    The prisoners are then marched, in roughly the span of a day, to a massive Mayan city nearby they were somehow unaware of. After eluding ritual sacrifice on a pyramid summit, Jaguar Paw frees himself after winning a deadly contest -- only now to be hunted by savage commander Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his warrior band that seek revenge for Jaguar Paw’s slaying of Zero Wolf’s son.

    This is where the film falters.

    The rest of the story is devoted to Jaguar Paw’s long run through the jungle with Zero Wolf’s party in pursuit. Meanwhile, the action only grows exponentially more violent.

    Jaguar Paw endures numerous grievous wounds only to continue with temerity seldom unmatched in action films. The antagonists are routinely slain in the most graphic manners possible. Blood spurts in seemingly every plausible direction, and bodies are ripped apart. Gibson’s new endeavor makes his The Passion of the Christ look tame.    

   Throughout the film, organs are plucked out, heads are lobbed off and sharpened objects slice through bodies in almost every angle imaginable. The level of violence is surreal at times.

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