Sunday, December 17, 2006

Apocalypto

This is set in a time when Mayan civilization existed several hundred years before. There is scene where 'Jaguar Paw'/'Almost' (This is the name of the movie's hero) waits his execution. Mel Gibson sets our expectation for this gory execution scene in a systematic, formulaic, and what can now be called Mel Gibsonic way. He is so successful in making us feel as if we are part of that environment. Heads roll down the long stairs and there are these soon-to-be-executed people who see it as they wait for their turn. Then a sample guy is shown to be executed. First his chest is torn with a knife, his heart is extracted, shown live and still-beating to the public (some thousands are assembled to watch this spectacle) and then he is decapitated. The priest takes the loose head and rolls it down the 200-step odd stairs. Its collected in net by dancers like its a ball and deposited along with other heads. We know that our hero awaits a similar fate so we are thrilled. But thats not enough. The formula doesnt stop here. We need to be really told - as to how scary the execution is. So as JaguarPaw watches - his friend is taken to the execution stage. This like a second level zoom into the execution sequence. The gore level is insanely high. This person's execution is shown in closer detail. You are being thoroughly prepared for the possible impact when JaguarPaw is executed. So this friend's execution is shown from a first person's point of view. You can almost feel his fear as he is dragged and laid on the execution platter. From his eyes you can see the priest stab his chest and he sees his own heart being plucked out. Then when his head is cut and it falls down, you can see the world from his point of view. He can see for a brief few seconds after his head has been chopped off. Then comes our hero's turn. By this time, not just us, but also JaguarPaw knows clearly and exactly what to expect. That adds to the excitement. Its very personal now. Does JaguarPaw die? Well..

'Almost'

Thats his name isn't it? In a scene that seems like a sequence shaven out of Tintin's "Prisoners of The Sun" (This movie is so similar to that Tintin episode) we see what this movie is all about. Its like a 3 minute sequence when JaguarPaw lies on the execution stone waiting for his head to be chopped off. This 3 minutes, and this 3 minutes alone, tells us the theme, the setting and the context of the whole story. We see a priest and a king, conniving to cheat an entire civilization. This is the only part, the 3 minutes, where the whole spiel about the decline of Mayan civilization etc comes into play. This movie is not about the decline of any civilization nor does it say something profound about any philosophy at all. It does not even matter if its Mayan or Payan actually. Thats just a cosmetic aspect of this movie. Its an out-and-out chase movie. An action movie thats all about revenge, hunt, violence and thrill. It could be set in 2032 and 3 droids could be hunting down a human who has escaped, it wont make a difference. This movie happens to be set 600 years ago and none of the dialogs are in English. But its awesome nonetheless.

Mel Gibson has a standard formula in every movie of his. Especially in Braveheart, The Patriot and this movie. Its a powerful formula and works very well in that it stirs up our emotions effectively. There is always this closely knit family with a loving wife, husband and children. The first few minutes focuses on the warmth of their relationship. Then the central character's near and dear ones are cruelly raped and plundered in front of his eyes and then there is a big chase-revenge-chase sequence that ensues. All this is gorily done, the barbaric psyche of human beings is brought to the fore and we are made to believe that "if it happened really this is how it would actually happen". We are shocked, enthralled and totally gratified. In this world our credit card bills, loans, and worldly problems appear insignificant and silly. This is a world where death happens so casually and life is cheap. Its entertaining to watch people with bigger problems to worry about than ours. Gibson spends a good 30 minutes focusing on the happy times in all 3 movies, so that you feel jolted and shattered when they are raped and killed cruelly. He does this very well in this movie too. You are drawn into this movie right from the first chase sequence and then at every point you are involved in this movie and can never take your eyes of the screen. You feel for all the characters and are horrified at their fates.

A classic chase-action movie in an environment and context you have never seen before. This is what impressed me a lot. It is way back in time and set in a context of barbarians and savages. Nevertheless, there is a charm to it. Ofcourse there are some scenes which can only be described as fantastic and only slightly believable. If you overlook those, this is a high speed entertainer by a master craftsman. You gotta give credit for Gibson. Not just for the setting and the locales but for choosing an ancient Mayan civilization as the backdrop and allowing the characters to speak in a different language. The characters looked alive and real because they were allowed to speak in their own language. The subtitles didn't bother me at all. Although sometimes, the way the words were translated, made me believe that we were watching a suburban American family with corny dialogs instead of a barbaric boar-testicle eating Mayan family. Technically, this is an awesome movie. The Jaguars, the waterfalls rise up your BP levels and the thrill/roller coaster ride never stops until the last scene. I love intense movies and this is as intense as it gets. I thought the game the hunters played to dispose off the remaining tribals was worth the price of admission.

Gibson is an excellent movie maker and a much better entertainer. He proves it again with Apocalypto.

5 comments:

Indra chary said...

the name of the guy is Jaguar Paw..

wonderful review.

Hawkeye said...

embarassing mistake :-) thanks for pointing it out. i have changed it.

thanks for ur compliments also.

I P said...

So you were not bothered like me by the way how he had a group of spanish guys with a "CROSS" coming at the end. As if to say they were the ones who "civilized" the native americans. It is funny how he did not care to show the major scientific advances made by the Mayans during that period but decided to show only the bad part of them. Yes the movie was good but what about the symbolic message he sends.

Hawkeye said...

ip,

many (and I believe most of the world's population is included in this category) adopt double standards when reviewing a work of art. for example i hate sanjay dutt's movies because i feel (and now the court feels) that he is a terrorist. So I may not even watch his movies and would advocate for banning those movies.

thats because i know a lot about his case. meanwhile i dont know much about mayans, christians and mel gibson's view on religions and neither am i directly impacted by what mel gibson has done. yes! jews can hate him and many other have different reasons to hate him.

But given that I have nothing personal going on I would only tend to judge the movie by the entertaintment value and not by any 'background' symbols he may or may not be sending out.

this, my friend, is an accepted level of hypocrisy that I conciously practice. Everybody practices this. many admit openly many dont.

Aravind TRA said...

Mel Gibson is a staunch christian and he has been caught making anti-semitic remarks. With this movie, he portrays the pre-christian Mayan culture as Barbaric, to justify that christianity has saved them from utter doom. That's how he would like the mexicans and latinos to view about their ancestors and not to lose hold of Christianity..now that lots of Priests and getting caught in molestations...c'mon, people who build pyramids cant be that bad...the same stuff the media is doing to us Indians by showing that our ancestors were fools and good for nothing..this will make our country a fertile ground for conversions, just as Pope John Paul 2 envisioned...and Mel would love to make a movie about Indian ancestors too...

these are purely my views..But i truly believe that our "Sanatana" Dharma was prevalent in all corners of the world..

http://www.viewzone.com/snake.html ..a new view...

-Aravind