Apocalypto is the name of the last movie Mel Gibson directed before he was Oscar nominated for Hacksaw Ridge last year and tells a dramatic tale of the fall of the Mayan empire and the arrival of the conquistadores.
Gibsons history of directing is a troublesome one. Passion of the Christ was heavily criticized for being overly violent, and Apocalypto makes a lot of the same mistakes when we take a trip into the mexican rainforest to follow a tribe out hunting for food.
Apocalypto has some very grotesque scenes and the first one worth mentioning arrives after merely ten minutes where they eat some tapir testicles. It is morbid and fascinating in the way that I don’t really mind it. It is not as in the splatter movies like Saw where I have to look away. The film also has a solid dose of humour cause I laughed a lot throughout the most grotesque parts
Now let’s get to the spoilerish parts. The hero of the story is named Jaguar Paw, one day his village gets ransacked by Mayans looking for a human sacrifice to their god. This is happening just before the fall of the Mayan Empire and after our Jaguar gets away from the Mayans he has to try to save his pregnant wife and son. It is the typical Hollywood “Father has to save his family” story, filled with violence and other cinematic features that help tell a pretty good story.
As a linguistic nerd I love how the entire movie is shot in Mayan language and subbed to english. It manages to capture a realism and belief of the cinematic universe we are currently in.
The cast in this film is phenomenal. Not that many famous actors. But everyone in this movie is great. And it is a diverse cast which is kudos in Hollywood blockbusters these days.
The violent parts are worth mentioning. Because a lot of people have a tendency to blame violence in movies very fast and quite unfairly. Yes, the movie is violent, very violent. But the cinematic universe of this film is also so unrealistic that it should not be a factor to anyone. Movies does not make you violent, and in a movie like this the fighting works as a part of the narrative, and it looks very cool. Some people are way too critical on violence in films. They have to remember that it is fiction. We see a violence towards bodies in this film. And that is a very sore subject. It has beheadings, lynching, torture and blood. And that is something we feel on our bodies when watching it. It is kind of uncomfortable
Now let’s talk film techniques for a second cause the cinematography here is spectacular. The film is shot by Dean Semler. During most of the running and chasing scenes the camera stays close up to the characters to capture the excitement and the drama of someone being chased. There is a scene where Jaguar Paw is being chased by an actual Jaguar, and it is nerve wrecking to see the tense when the jaguar is close to capturing him. The music is made by James Horner, known for making the spectacular soundtrack to Titanic.
Now the most important part of the film art. The Mise-en-scene. For those who do not know film technique I can explain that Mise-en-Scene is what we see in front of the camera. Set. Makeup. Costumes etc. And here there are quite a lot of things to talk about. The make up is beautiful and the costumes are very well done when we arrive at the Mayan city. It is clear that they have had advisors with knowledge of mayan culture when we see the makeup. The movie also features a cameo by the armourer who made the weapons for Braveheart(1995) who also made the mayan weapons for Apocalypto.
There are a lot of things worth criticizing Apocalypto for as well. It was heavily criticized for the way it portrays the Maya as violent sadistic savages and how it is filled with pretty major historical flaws.
There is no secret that Mel Gibson is a great director, and Apocalypto is a pretty strong film. Yes, some scenes are a bit rough around the edges, but I think it works out. Violence in a movie where it serves a narrative purpose is very good. And Mel Gibson plays on everything he should as a director