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Mel Gibson’s Apocalyptico, Movie Review Example

Pages: 2

Words: 665

Movie Review

Mel Gibson’s 2006 film Apocalypto js a film that can be interpreted as addressing issues of what constitutes civilization and true enlightenment. The narrative of the film takes the form of a series of encounters between cultures, as Gibson portrays a certain hierarchy of civilizations, whereby in a manner that resembles the food chain, stronger social groups pray upon the weaker. Yet it is precisely these weaker cultures that Gibson champions in his film, since they exhibit a form of life that is overall more harmonious in terms of a strong communal relationship and an equally strong bond to the environment, in which the community lives.

The film tells the tale of an indigenous tribe in the jungles of Central America, whose apparently idyllic and basic form of life is interrupted by the more sophisticated Mayan culture in a violent manner. The Mayans raid the small village of the central tribe of the story, kidnapping various members, slaughtering others. The captured tribal members are brought to the capital of the Mayan culture, where they in turn are to be sacrificed to the Mayan Gods, so as to reverse the declining fortunes of the Mayan community.

Clearly, the Mayans are portrayed as, from a first hand look, as civilization ally advanced to the native tribes they capture. Their elaborate urban centers, prominently ordained with magnificent temples, suggest a great culture with genial skills in architecture and art. Yet, despite such outwards appearances, Gibson wishes to portray to the viewer an underlying primitivism and violence that sustains such highly developed civilizations. The cruel sacrifices performed by the Mayans and their relentless violence against the indigenous tribes calls into question precisely what makes a civilization advanced, and what constitutes a so-called higher form of life. Despite the clear advances of the Mayan civilization in comparison to the apparent primitivism of the indigenous tribes, Gibson interrogates our notions of what progress and civilizational advancement really entail. By showing the brutality of the Mayan sacrificial ceremonies and how they destroy the lives of the indigenous people around them, Gibson forces the viewer to re-consider his or her basic preconceptions about what constitutes an enlightened life, as he essentially asks an existential philosophical question about what the righteous path for humanity is.

The point is underscored with the twist ending of the film. The main protagonist of the indigenous tribe breaks free from his captors and a suspenseful chase scene ensues, which culminates with the protagonist and his Mayan pursuers arriving on a beach where they are struck by an other-worldly scene: the absolutely alien culture of European civilization is making its first forays into the Americas, as a boat containing Spanish explorers and a priest slowly make their way to the shore. This is arguably the true apocalypse in Gibson’s film. The European culture would come to dominate the civilized Mayan culture, as a strong power falls to an even stronger power.

This European culture is apocalyptic precisely because it will eliminate the lifestyle of all the indigenous peoples in the area. The bearers of so-called civilization and progress are therefore inevitably destroyers of other forms of existence in Gibson’s vision: civilization, for Gibson, underneath all its pretenses of enlightenment and advancement, is ultimately only a destructive force that radically uproots the traditional and so-called primitive cultures. Gibson thus presents a striking critique of what we consider to be civilized and what we consider to be primitive. The very basic form of life of the indigenous tribe that is at the heart of the story would appear to the modern viewer as primitive: yet they live in harmony with each other in the form of a community that is in harmony with the nature around them, thus possessing a deep knowledge of their environment. It is such a culture that, for Gibson, is civilized instead of primitive: the righteous path and truly enlightened path means to live in harmony with one’s surroundings, as opposed to the expansive and destructive nature of so-called »progress.«

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