Behind this movie is a storyline traditional to both Mayan and Aztec legends of captives taken who exhibit keen prowess as warriors and who come to succeed to status as military nobility. Although the depiction of that process is not done justice in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, what screenplay is afforded, is still engrossing, even epic.
It would not have hurt matters for this film to have been truer to both details of the Mayan and Aztec cultures at the time of the Conquest and to have worked out its chronology better. The Indian sub-tribes that would have been in the area of Cortez’s initial landing in the state of Tabasco would have long been integrated into the Mayan empire, slanted foreheads and all. The situation is slightly confused with what might have been more expected in the Conquest’s later exploits in Yucatan.
But artistic license is granted to Mr. Gibson (who seems so many times happy to take it) in order for him to work out the movie’s theme, one that reflects better on the title. Still it might have been even more interesting had certain details been included, for instance like, the practice of rampant cannibalism, with arms and legs of the sacrificed treated like leg of lamb in the markets, blood troughs and skull racks, and blood cups with their knotted and barbed penis cords instead of the warrior commander’s simply slicing open his hand (wouldn’t have happened.)
The little girl’s epochal prescience is straight out of the warnings of Quetzechoatle and an artistic treatment of Gibson’s interpretation of what became truly an apocalypse for all MesoAmerican civilizations.
Yes, Mr. Gibson would have been better served had he simply read Bernal Diaz’s account of the Conquest instead of resorting to whatever other sources he used, obviously dubious. But the movie is still grand, although visionary; engrossing, though historically perplexing. The costuming is highly interesting and many details included, like the entourage at the temple’s summit, of an almost Romanesque bearing.
Small pox had already been introduced among those of this area from contact with Spanish shipwreck survivors and that could well account for the sickness to which the story alludes. On his way into the interior from the landing depicted in the movie, the Cortez expedition will pick up one such survivor and, his having learned the Aztec tongue, will use him as a translator.
Without going more into the historical details surrounding this period, the movie’s theme takes on the aspects of a morality play. Were it not for the sensitive and clearly adhered to, Mayan language used throughout, one might not be able to overlook such bias. The goodness and noble instincts of those taken captive acquits this. One scene where the touching “good-byes” between Mother in Law (Isabel Diaz) and her captive son-in-law take place, is ultimately telling. Of course, Jaguar Paw, Rudy Youngblood, steals the show. His is a performance sustained at the highest level of delivery throughout, while Dahlia Hernandez as his wife, Seven, serves her role brilliantly. Supporting roles among those of the warrior party are played with diversity and interpretive originality and professionally delivered. Costume design and make-up artistry is beyond expectation. Setting design and details of the temples and Mayan murals are authentic and spare no expense.
To make such a movie is the ultimate challenge, like it or not, Mel Gibson meets adequately.
A movie for parental discretion…or indiscretion, whatever the case may be.