Directed by Mel Gibson
This is a movie I've long wanted to see but never got around to for whatever reason. Thanks to TiVo and a BBC-America showing a couple weeks ago, I finally sat down and watched it yesterday. I do not believe it was edited in any way except cutting away to commercials.
It has a fairly simple plot (SPOILERS AHEAD): A Mayan forest village is raided and destroyed by city-dwellers, the majority of its adults being led away to be sold into slavery or sacrificed to Kukulkan. Desperate to save his wife and son, whom he had secreted in a deep pit at the beginning of the raid, one captive escapes the bloody altar and leads his captors on a running chase, picking them off one by one, until he and the last two pursuers emerge from the jungle-line to the stunning sight of Spanish ships landing conquistadores on the beach. He does save his family from drowning as rain fills the pit, and the little family, all that's left of their tribe, retreat further into the forest, “seeking a new beginning.”
It's gorgeously filmed, for all that this is the most unrelentingly violent and goriest movie I have ever seen – with the added horror that it's not fantasy. Something very like this could well have happened, albeit perhaps not precisely at that time or place. I don't have a whole lot to say about it beyond that, other than it is easy to see why this movie was met by a firestorm of controversy … even beyond the fact that it was made by Mel Gibson. Precolumbian Central American history is not my area of expertise, so I can't judge the authenticity of the vision presented here, although the consensus seems to be that what is depicted here seems more associated with the Aztec than with the Mayan civilization. There is a brilliant series of articles at Archaeological Haecceities [LINK] examining 1) the plenitude of anachronisms running through this movie [LINK] – although I would disagree that the “geographical and historical mixture of different architectural styles and events [...] probably would not have been made if the movie was about more popular (and publicly well known) Hollywood historical fictions on, let’s say, the Roman Empire,” simply point to Gladiator (or any movie about the Middle Ages!), and rest my case; 2) the Mayanist scholars' criticisms as at least as much reflective of their own biases and prejudices as they are of Mel Gibson's movie [LINK] – which is very often the case (one thing my old drunken mentor taught me early on was that reviews, whether popular or scholarly, are always as much about the reviewer as they are about what is under review); and 3) the culpability of those same Mayanist scholars, especially those “consulting” on National Geographic Channel and The History Channel, in forming the popular conception of blood-drenched altars feeding violent warrior gods that this movie plays to [LINK].
Gibson's conceit in making this movie, his follow-up to The Passion of the Christ, of having all dialogue presented in “authentic” Mayan does not in the least detract from the story. The actors, many of them of Mayan ancestry, perform their roles with admirable expressionism that, I feel, renders the subtitles unnecessary to follow the broad strokes of the narrative. Predating Avatar and the flood of 3D-filmed or -rendered movies of the past five years, there were scenes in this film that nonetheless evoked the impression, the feel of 3D – and I mean that in a good way. I can't say enough about the raw beauty with which this horrific tale is presented. I'm sure it would have been even more stunning on the big screen.
It is, however, not for the faint-of-heart.
Cheers, and Thanks for reading!