Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'Apocalypto' Now

A commenter rightly observed below that I had skewered Apocalypto without properly articulating my position. I hope this review counts.

Edited to add: My review has been up for less than 24 hours at Rotten Tomatoes, where it is currently receiving a much worse response than the movie is. (Currently Apocalypto is hanging in there with a 63% Fresh rating, with very few precincts reporting, and a significantly lower 40% approval from major print critics.) Note that I'm getting docked all around for writing a long review (guilty) and for invoking Gibson too often (though surely it's fair to scrutinize a filmmaker's history of images and past body of work in light of a new release?). Note also that it took less than a day for somebody to ask, "Are you a Jew?" Creepy.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whew.

(pause)

Wow.

(pause)

Whoa.

2:11 PM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

this world makes me so sick sometimes.

7:13 PM, December 05, 2006  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

I liked the one who asked "Did someone Pee in your popcorn". And they capitalised "Pee". How lovely.

8:08 AM, December 06, 2006  
Blogger J.J. said...

Thank you for the review.

So, to widdle down the breathtaking verbiage, you thought Apocalypto was a gorefest without any direction, purpose or intelligence. So, basically a type of horror film, yes?

My good friend (an academic like yourself) screened The Passion of the Christ in his semester-long class on the horror genre.

Yes, Mel traffics in gore. But there is a purpose behind it (and it's not chauvinism or sadism, which is, let's remember, defined as delight in cruelty, not necessarily in violence). Though Apocalypto showcases extravagant violence and cruelty, it does not take pleasure in it. Perhaps this is masochism, but it sure ain't sadism.

In The Passion, the purpose was to bear witness to the extent of Christ's martyrdom and sacrifice. In Apocalypto, the violence creates an onscreen civilization that exists *in* the unforgiving wilderness and *under* the thumb of its own unforgiving barbarism. The world is a lethal place, both within a species and without. People may divine an additional lethalness -- a religious or supernatural malice. But I think Apocalypto is a secular movie. There is no god character in Apocalypto (like there was in The Passion). The divine is all filtered through the perception of the human characters (ex. the eclipse, and the girl's sickness, which is merely evidence that the Mayans have already been infiltrated by the Spanish in the smallest way).

For me, the film works because of its end. Before then, Gibson has entrenched us in an elaborately constructed world with its own laws. We are subjected to them and suffer under them, just like his characters. It is consuming.

Then he punctures this bubble at the end -- pulls our eyes back from the screen so we grasp the whole hungry, ruthless procession of history, which is a series of conquerings. Jaguar Paw and friends have been manhandled in many explicit ways (much like us as we watch), but that's nothing compared to what they will suffer at the hands of their next conquerors.

I don't mean to say that Apocalypto is a profound thesis deserving of the Durant quote that prefaces it, or even of this discussion that follows it. Apocalypto does not say anything new, and what it does say is often communicated awkwardly or in bloody hyperbole. But the movie did transport me to that depraved, reptilian fringe of man's consciousness -- a place I've only been via Aguirre and Apocalypse Now.

Granted, these three films are of varying qualities and tones. Their craftsmanship cannot be compared. But they all exist to throttle our basest instincts. It appears Apocalypto throttled me and you, to different results.

Christ, I should get back to work.

11:36 AM, December 06, 2006  

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