Published on December 18, 2006 By averjoe In Entertainment
I saw the movie “Apocalypto” Saturday. The film takes place in and around the loose nit Mayan Empire at the time of the beginning of the end of this civilization.

The story revolves around the orgy of human sacrifice that engulfed the empire during a time of failing crops and famine and the need to find victims for human sacrifice, which the Mayan rulers found amongst the many rural tribes that occupied the forest that surrounded and/or made up the Empire.

The story focuses on the plight of one of the male villagers of a forest tribe whose village is attacked by Mayan warriors who pillage the village and take women to be sold into slavery and the men to be sacrificed to the gods (or to meet some other unsavory fate).

During the raid by the Mayan warriors on the village the protagonist of the story successfully hides his pregnant wife and child in a narrow well or pit before he is captured and hauled off with the rest of his tribe. His pregnant wife and young child become trapped in the well.

The rest of the story in broad terms concerns human sacrifice, the Mayan warriors, the male villager and his family (I had a little more detailed summary here, but I decided to delete it since some would have argued it revealed too much plot).

The story suggests that the Mayan Empire was rotting from within even with the destructive arrival of Europeans who brought diseases in which the native people had no resistance. The Europeans also brought more extreme violence and enslavement of a much more dehumanizing sort as they searched for treasure and other valuables in the New World.

This is a film for proficient readers (Like “The Passion of the Christ” was) since the dialogue is in the dead ancient tongue of the Mayans and the viewer has to read the subtitles.

The dialogue is not as well written and polished as in Gibson’s last film. In fact the dialogue suggest that more cultural anthropologist should have been consulted so as to better understand Mayan culture and present day Native American cultures to inform the script.

However, I think Mel Gibson did another successful job in storytelling here (although not as successfully as in “The Passion of the Christ” and it probably is not going to be a moneymaker like that movie either).

I wouldn’t call it an epic story about some period in Mayan history because it isn’t. Mayan civilization serves more as a backdrop for events or as something for the main storyline to play off (I guess this could be said about most movies though).

Many professional critics seem to think it should be a more historical story or they seem to be searching for a more complex plot.

A sign of a good filmmaker in my view is the ability to tell a story (at least partially) through images and director Gibson does this very successfully in “Apocalypto”.

You can see, without dialogue or explanation the destructiveness of diseases (like syphilis) and the orgy of human sacrifice that engulfed the Empire as incurable strange diseases and massive crop failure swept the society.

You can tell by the shots of the Mayan rulers and head priest that they know that what they are doing is more to appease the masses than the gods. They are engaged in what can be viewed as one very large and bloody parlor trick (This is Gibson’s take on Mayan human sacrifice.).

The director stays true to time period in dress (costume) and set. The overall portrayal of this period in Mayan history is pretty accurate.

The way things happen and the reasons things are done are not necessarily historically accurate, agreed upon or widely accepted by most Mayan scholars (some thing are).

The action in the movie is satisfying and nicely executed. I think "Apocalypto” is worth a trip to the theater plus popcorn and a soda. “Apocalypto" gets a grade of B.

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