Apocalypto is Bloody, Violent yet Exceptional
by Alex Billington
December 10, 2006
With Apocalypto, Mel Gibson has taken on a tough challenge in focusing on a civilization that no longer exists and that is not terribly important to most Americans. With the same passion that he put into The Passion of the Christ and Braveheart, Gibson has turned out another fascinating film that spares no extremes of violence and is absorbing, shocking, and beautiful.
Apocalypto is the tale of one Mayan man, known as Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), and his family and friends. Living a peaceful and happy life in his small village, Jaguar Paw wakes up one morning to find a group of men ravaging the entire village. These warriors have come to capture the villagers to offer them as sacrifices for their gods in the main Mayan city. They leave only the children alive, and take the rest as prisoners on a two day journey through the thick jungle. On arriving at the city, Jaguar Paw is baffled as to the slavery, debauchery, and incredibly grotesque occurrences that are happening. Fate saves Jaguar Paw moments before he is to be sacrificed and he is chased through the jungle as he escapes back to his village. Apocalypto is constructed in three primary parts, the first being the introduction to his village and way of life, then eventual capture; second is their travel to the Mayan city and his escape; and third is his chase back to his home.
Given the nature and story of the movie, its appeal isn't very widespread. I was unsure of what to expect going in, and came out astounded. It is truly an experience, like The Fountain, in a vastly different and incredible way that only Mel Gibson can deliver. I was mesmerized and constantly amazed at how Gibson and his crew were able to create and capture this entire experience - it's genuinely baffling. The film is an intense visual masterpiece. Despite a few truly clichÃ© and unauthentic (to the best of my own knowledge of the Mayan civilization) lines of dialogue, the remainder was exquisite. It is much less of a story about the civilization as a whole than it is the story of one man's struggles for life.
There is more gore and violence in Apocalypto than in a typical horror film, but both are shown in such a manner that you would never mistake this for a horror film. It is just shocking what the culture did to itself, and the brutality and merciless nature of the people in that civilization was outrageous. These men, both from Jaguar Paw's and the hunter's group, are portrayed as the gladiators of their civilization. They can run for two days straight chasing Jaguar Paw through the thick jungle and never take a moment's rest or stop to eat.
The young and first-time actor Rudy Youngblood who takes on the pivotal role of Jaguar Paw delivers one of the most convincing and powerful up-and-coming performances of the year. Youngblood deserves to be commended for taking on this role as his first and delivering such a commanding performance. Of all the great things about Apocalypto, the acting is probably the most recognizable for being uncannily realistic. Gibson brought together a handful of locals and individuals who have never acted, and then they all had to play people from a dead civilization that each have their own characterizations and speak a language no one else in the world does. This is the kind of achievement I want to see more often in films these days.
Words fail me at describing the full experience of Apocalypto. I was very impressed and enthralled at a film that I came into with no expectations. It's truly epic, complete with lush, beautiful cinematography amidst the jungle. Set all your pre-conceived Gibson notions aside, as he has fashioned an immensely engrossing and thoroughly incredible filmmaking experience.