Friday, December 29, 2006

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto


I'll admit it, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. I would even go as far a saying it's one of the most entertaining action movies I've seen all year. Sure the film does not actually shed much light on why the Mayan civilizations became extinct. Was it because one group thought to impose its values/beliefs on another? Were they all just a bunch of savages? Or was it the emergence of the white man? Lets face it, plot has never been Mel Gibson's strong point as a director. You need look no further than "Man Without A Face" and "The Passion of the Christ" for examples of this (Bravehart being the rare exception). As a director, Mel has always thrived on his keen visuals sense. Which is why I think Apocalypto works so well. The action sequences and the fantastic art direction more than make up for the paper-thin story.

Although the film is even more violent than The Passion of the Christ, I thought the violence was better used in this film. I loved the little details that Gibson puts into the film. The mist of blood that hangs in the air after a brutal strike, etc... I also liked that he showed the various medical techniques that Mayans used to heal wounds. The makeup and costumes effectively gave every single person a distinct personality and social standing. Sure there are times when Mel wants us to make comparisons to America's current and past actions. Yet he does not quiet succeed on that level. At the end of the day Apocalypto is nothing more than a visually stunning Rambo-style action flick minus the guns/explosions. Yet, it was far more inventive and entertaining than most of the blockbuster that came out this year.

1 comment:

  1. Danilo Breschi7:58 pm

    What does “Apocalypto” say to us, Westerners?
    "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within". With this sentence drawn from writer and historian Will Durant, Mel Gibson opens his new film, Apocalypto. The aim of comparing Maya civilization to ours, especially for what concerns the final moments of decline-and-fall, is openly declared by the filmmaker.

    The plot is the combination between great history and the little story of a small group of men. Among them, there’s the main character who’ll face a perilous journey to save his family and his idyllic world: the forest where his father hunted and his children shall hunt.

    The director Gibson wrote the script with Farhad Safinia. He set his story in the Yucatan peninsula in the early 1500s, before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. It's the period of the Maya's "post-classic" decline. For more news about the plot, the best thing is to invite people to see the film. It’s worth the ticket’s price, absolutely. It’s not without any defects. Some passages are not totally convincing. It’s plenty of scenes of violence, even if I don’t think there’s a simple cynic self-satisfaction in showing it. There’s rather a kind of aesthetics which is a mix of baroque and romantic-gothic, with a strong fascination for figures and images from Catholic mystic and martyrdom. Have you ever seen El Greco and minor painters in some Spanish churches or convents? Saint-martyrs who look at the sky with big knifes hammered into their heads… A little bit of Yukio Mishima’s cult of morbid and excessive beauty and strong doses of Christian inspiration.

    Anyway, Gibson perfectly knows and gets the main, probably exclusive, filmmaker’s task: to tell a story by images. Because great images always tell, and deeply.

    These few lines just to underline some aspects of the film. In Italy (at least during the first days) it’s shown without no censure; probably, the unique country in the world or one of the very few. That’s provoked so many polemics before it was shown. The risk is forgetting the essential.

    About the open quotation, Ty Burr, by “The Boston Globe”, wrote that “how this relates to the movie we're about to see remains rather fuzzy”. We don’t agree with him.

    The protagonist receives a fundamental teaching from his father at the beginning of the movie. The father bequeaths to his son the importance of not being afraid, because fear paralyses. It’s an infectious disease which goes into man after man, woman after woman, and then it will infect the whole village, the whole community, the entire civilization.

    If you saw the movie, or you do it, you’ll discover the protagonist (and his family) survives because he learns not to be afraid, or better: to face fear time after time. It’s an apprenticeship, and the affective relation with the land of his own ancestors can help, in addition to love.

    The topic of fear as a fundamental ingredient of a civilization’s decay made recently a comeback in Italian intellectual and political debate thanks to Oriana Fallaci and her provocative last writings. This writer is well-known in US, too. She mainly lived in New York since Sixties. She died last September in Florence. Her last literary period was dominated by the post 9/11. She was greatly worried for Western civilization’s destiny in the face of Islamic radicalism menace. She thought the main enemy was among us, inside us. The enemy was the very idea we can have no more enemies if we do nothing, only to accept any offense, to ignore any abuse and to deny our identity and habits, if tranquillity needs it.

    Fallaci gave rise to many polemics as Gibson. The Australian filmmaker told the bad of the film isn’t really a human being. It’s an idea; precisely the idea of fear. As the hero of any ancient myth or legend, the protagonist must win his fear, and fear is an experience any nation, any civilization knew. We are not excluded, unfortunately.

    According his last movie, Gibson shows to be persuaded all civilizations have a life-cycle and they die as every living organism. The main resource is based on courage and transcendence. Quoting Durant wasn’t accidental.
    Gibson has wished to warn without moralizing, and perhaps the bi-partisan plentiful use of violence avoided any manicheism. He remembered only menaces never die for a civilization. Menaces grow up when you think a never-ending peaceful era can be (see the rise of Islamic terrorist network during the Nineties). Menace is loosing the meaning of life, the unique value of human life, the link from generation to generation.

    My mind went to the twentieth century totalitarian regimes seeing in the movie Maya committing meaningless and useless human sacrifices at the top of a towering ziggurat. According to Gibson’s images, the only function seemed to be mobilizing and subjugating masses and enforcing the priestly ruling class. There’s the same loss of natural reason (i.e. related to reality, the contrary of ideology), the same loss of measure. The same hubris.

    Probably warning is useful but I’ve only one doubt. Evoking our decay so long and so much could persuade our weak souls to hurry the end. On the other hand, Gibson’s movie finishes with a little family, four people who go into the forest to look for “a new beginning”.

    “Hope” could be a word not only suitable for Utopia.


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