The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, December 11, 2006

Apocalypto (2006)

Visually unlike anything I have ever seen before (partially due to the incredible clarity of the hi-def video system on which it was shot) Apocalypto cements Mel Gibson’s reputation as a filmmaker of singular vision.  And singular VIOLENT vision—make no mistake, this is rough going for the squeamish.  Set during the last days of the Mayan empire, Apocalypto tells the tale of “Jaguar Paw” a hunter living an idyllic if tough life in the rainforests of Central America. His village is raided by soldiers seeking human sacrifices.  While some of his brethren face their horrific fate with a grim acceptance (“Journey Well” is their way of saying good-bye to a dying man) Jaguar has a pregnant wife, and a son, and refuses to die so easily.  And that begins the most familiar part of this—an extended, exciting chase.  Filled with sights and sounds and ideas foreign to most American filmgoers, well acted (all of the dialogue is in Mayan) and terrifically directed, this is pure cinema in its rawest form, and a don’t-miss film for action hounds.
Then, of course, there is the issue of Mel’s rant.  How could I go see his movie after something like that?  Simple.  I watched the news and tabloids carefully for the last month, looking for any hint that someone came forward saying that they had experienced racism or bigotry at Gibson’s hands.  People get big money, exposure, and personal vindication from such accusations, even if untrue.  And I saw nothing. Not a single person among the thousands he has worked with and lived with over the decades came forward. Not even anonymously. 

My philosophy here is simple: I don’t think someone is good because they say nice things.  I don’t think they are bad because they say ugly things.  The “good” and “bad” labels belong primarily to those who DO good or bad things (Rush Limbaugh finally got on my bad side due to statements, but then he has been out of balance in 2/3 of his life—his body and his relationships [divorced three times] so he was skating on thin ice anyway).  I put down his rant to an urge to hurt people hassling him, much the same with Michael Richards’ “N-word” cascade.  Now, if someone comes forward and offers an anecdote about Gibson or Richards, I may change my mind, but right now, I just have to say I know few people who haven’t said embarrassing things.  I know I have, and I’m not throwing stones while living in a glass house.  Gibson, in my mind, deserves to be judged by his actions.  “Apocalypto” is a hell of an action—the Hispanic and Native American communities seem to be largely enthusiastic, feeling that he has given voice and vision to an aspect of their culture that has never been treated in depth.  They are proud.  And so am I. 

A “B+”—a bit of that violence felt superfluous.

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