Apocalypto

Grar.

So very nearly good. I can forgive it things like architectural features apparently drawn
from about 1500 years of Mayan history. I can, if I try very hard, dig up a Mayan city still
occupied around, y’know, that time. (Though they could have made my life far simpler
in that respect by filming in Nahuatl instead of Yucatec. Then I wouldn’t have spent five
minutes after the credits snarling and flailing about Aztecs.) I could maybe even let go of
the weirdness of a large Mayan city apparently being surrounded by hunter-gatherers at no more
than two days’ distance. (What, did they all survive off that one cornfield?) And hey, some
of the things I thought were inaccuracies turned out not to be!

But grar.

I debated long and hard whether or not I wanted to see this movie, given Mel Gibson’s
personal disagreeability to me, given the potential (and, I’m afraid, actual) colonialist
overtones of the story. In the end I went because I’m a Mesoamerican geek, and because I
wanted to tell Hollywood there’s at least one more person in the world who will happily watch
movies in obscure Central American languages with actors nobody’s ever heard of. And I don’t
regret going, and I really almost like the movie. But it isn’t what you’d call the best
representation of Mayan culture; the aforementioned hunter-gatherers make it look more
primitive than it needed to, and it doesn’t give the context that human sacrifice
needs.
(Okay, so my article is Nonfiction Lite, but it sums up much of what I would
otherwise have to repeat here.) Few people watching that movie will know or care about the
cosmological framework in which sacrifice generally fit, nor the ways in which the epidemics
that appear to have preceded the physical arrival of Europeans on the mainland sent
people into a frenzy that was to normal behavior as the apocalyptic cults and flagellant
societies of plague-era Europe were to normal Christianity before everybody started dying.
Few people will think to make that comparison to our own history, and therefore to understand
how Europeans wouldn’t come off so well were we to make this kind of movie about them during
the Black Death. Instead, we get Noble Savages (the hunter-gatherers, whom I actually quite
liked aside from their anachronistic subsistence strategy) fleeing the pointless sadism of the
Evil City Folk. Things lack context, and sometimes sport inaccuracies while doing so. It isn’t a great combination.

And yet. And yet. The cenote outside the village, the jade in the nobles’ teeth, the
atlatl. The murals with elements taken from a site my sophomore
tutorial leader excavated
. The actor whose profile is about the closest you can get to
Mayan without practicing cranial modification on an infant and then waiting twenty years for
him to grow up. There were so many details that were good, and Gibson filmed the movie in
freakin’ Yucatec
. It came so close to being a film that would make me melt in geeky glee.
I just wish I didn’t have to feel so ambivalent about it.

0 Responses to “Apocalypto”

  1. mindstalk

    Thanks for the review. And I liked your sacrifice article.

  2. d_c_m

    Thanks for the review!!! I plan to see it. I wondered how authentic it might be but hey, I fully support movies being made that aren’t about a bunch of young white people so off I go. Cool about your teacher too!! My best friend has done lots of her work in Central America. Hmmm…. I bet you two would really like each other. She’ll be here for Xmas break…..

    • Marie Brennan

      The problems is that, in this case, inauthenticity = brown people looking like bloodthirsty savages. But it would be hard to accurately show pre-contact Mesoamerica without it looking that way, because your average person is going to have a knee-jerk reaction to human sacrifice regardless.

      • d_c_m

        Yes, I can totally understand what you are writing. I have similar reactions when people talk about the Celts and human sacrifice. It bugs me as sometimes it is said in context of “gee aren’t Christians better.”

  3. ombriel

    Too bad it’s not utterly awesome, but I am relieved that it didn’t out-and-out suck donkey balls.

    • Marie Brennan

      It did not out-and-out suck donkey balls. But there was a point (Kyle can attest) when I said, “oh god, if they do Thing X, I’m going to cry,” and then they did Thing X, and I did indeed want to cry. You know that thing I said I had heard wasn’t in the movie? It was. At the very end.

      Sigh.

  4. rubynye

    That’s an excellent and useful review. Thank you for it!

    • kniedzw

      It’s accurate, too. She flailed about for the last five minutes, muttering about the Aztecs.

      The archaeological stuff? That I can’t really attest to. πŸ™‚

    • Marie Brennan

      You’re welcome. Enough of my friends were eager to see what I thought of it that for once I got up the motivation to make a review post, rather than just thinking about it like I do after most movies.

  5. lemuriapress

    Been meaning to see this movie, and will probably go ahead and do it despite the warnings. I am a sucker for Maya/Aztec/Olmec anything, even if it is relatively crappy.

    I came across your LJ thanks to the White List. I read about half of Doppelganger before I got distracted by work emergencies and had to put it down. I _will_ get back to it, as I enjoyed what I read. I have to say I like the cover to the sequel a lot better.

    Nice to see you on LiveJournal. Consider yourself friended.

    Our moms would be so proud! πŸ™‚

    –Erik Mona

    • Marie Brennan

      Hey! We were just talking about you today, re: getting out of Denver alive. I’m currently sitting up, waiting to go pick up my best friend after a two and a half hour delay on her flight through there.

      I would grant Apocalypto a better rating than “relatively crappy,” so if you like the setting, definitely go see it.

      Glad to hear the White List is doing its job, and that you were enjoying Doppelganger. It’s amusing to think of you reading it, since you were one of about three people to give me any substantive feedback on my writing before I got to college. Mostly I was self-taught, practicing the ability to look at my own work and figure out where and why it sucked. πŸ™‚

      I agree with you about the cover art, but you know how much input writers get on that; I was pleasantly surprised to be asked about styles of art/artists I’d like to see. (I didn’t request anybody in particular, but I said something in the vein of Michael Whelan, and I specifically anti- requested Darrell K. Sweet, he of the crappy Robert Jordan covers and a million more.) The first one is not bad, in that it didn’t feature skimpy clothing and improbable cleavage, but the second one is much more arresting. (And it gets the eye color right, which pleases my detail-oriented self.)

      Anyway, good to hear from you!

  6. lemuriapress

    We were the first plane to leave Seattle for Denver in three days, and everyone clapped when we finally lifted off. We had about eight minutes to make our connection (one of the first planes to _leave_ Denver), so I didn’t get a chance to see much. The woman next to me on the plane said it took her three hours to get through security in Denver, and I heard on the radio today that they won’t even let you into the airport unless you have a confirmed flight. On our run to the second plane we passed dozens of people sleeping, mid-afternoon, on airport-provided cots.

    Yuck.

    Have a great Christmas! Please give my regards to your family.

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