Violent Mayan History Lesson


Apocalypto (2006) Review 5
Director:Mel Gibson,
Starring:Gerardo Taracena, Raoul Trujillo, and Dalia Hernandez
Length:0 minutes


The fall of the Mayan Empire has long been a mystery. Back in the first half of the late century, an archeologist named J. Eric S. Thompson was the leading researcher in the field, and he was friendly with many natives who told him that their ancestors were peaceful astronomers who wouldn’t hurt a fly, it was those nasty Aztecs who did all those horrible things.

This set back the decipherment of Maya script and culture for many decades, because the Maya were a pretty violent bunch. Their civilization actually fell apart a number of times, and I was hoping that Mel Gibson would redeem himself by actually explaining why the great Classic civilization of the 5th through 10th centuries expired so suddenly, leaving the civilization invisible for a couple of hundred years. He doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that the film is a failure, far from it. The pieces are based on archeology, but what we have here is a jumble of different eras of Mesoamerican history mixed together, more than enough to hang a story around. Think of it as kind of like “Hercules and Xena” done with modern Greek dialogue with English subtitles. Not that there’s anything WRONG with that.

The film begins with a tapir (a beastie that looks like a cross between a pig and an elephant that is really the first cousin of the horse) fleeing for it’s life through the Mesoamerican jungle from a gang of noble savages, led by the elderly but wise Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead) and his son Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood). The hunt is successful, and as they butcher up the poor dead tapir. But the whole band decide to pick on poor Curl Nose (Amilcar Ramirez) for his childlessness. We’re not sure who the main character is at this point in the film, but while we are taking in the low comedy, intimations of danger appear. Refugees from a neighboring tribe show up, and Jag has an intimation of doom. Flint tells him not to worry about it.

So back at the village, it’s all sweetness and light, and a couple of chaste dick jokes at the expense of Curl and his wife (Mayra Sérbulo). Jag plays with his son Turtles Run (Carlos Emilio Raez) while his lovely wife Seven (Dalia Hernandez) watches approvingly from the veranda of the hut.

Of course the vanguard of the WORST CIVILIZATION in the WORLD shows up, and since it’s not the Spanish or the Jews, we’re going to have complaints from various Native American groups for sure.

Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), his son Smoke Frog (Israel Contreras), and his band vile raiders attack the city. Everyone is captured, except of course Seven and the kid, who are trapped in the giant sinkhole they were hiding in.

The scene changes as Zero Wolf and his evil lieutenant Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios), frog march our heroes across the jungle and into the dreaded city, where the men are painted blue and they have to climb up the pyramid, where High Priest (Fernando Hernandez) shows us exactly why this is the WORST CIVILIZATION in the WORLD prior to the 20th century.

Of course Mel can’t have it end there, and it’s followed by an exciting escape sequence which has Zero Wolf and his minions chasing Jag through the jungle all the way back to the village.

This is one of those turn-off-your-brain-and-enjoy-the-ride type of things. It’s in a weird civilization with dialogue spoken in a foreign language, so Gibson and company could basically do whatever they want as long as it has the patina of authenticity. In this it’s somewhat similar to Kevin Reynolds 1994 “Rapa Nui,” except that “Apocolypto” is waaaaaaaay more violent. It’s a lot more exciting too, and if you’ve got a strong stomach, is worth a look.