After taking down a tapir, a small group of hunters meet a band of bloodied and beaten people who wish to pass through the forest to find a new beginning after their village has been ravaged. They are allowed to pass, and the hunters take their kill back to their wives, but one, Jaguar Paw, is concerned, and cannot help sense that danger may be coming their way.
Early the next morning, Jaguar Paw’s small village is attacked. He sneaks his pregnant wife and young son down into a pit and returns to help his fellow villagers fend off their attackers, but all is lost. The survivors, men and women, are trussed to poles and are forced to march. They are led to a large city where the women are sold into slavery and the men are to be sacrificed. After watching a friend die, Jaguar Paw is led to the altar, but he is saved by an eclipse that is a sign the gods are appeased. He and the other captives are led away to be “disposed of”, but Jaguar Paw escapes, injured, into the jungle, but the enemy will not give up so easily. Jaguar Paw must outwit and outrun his captors if he is to rescue his wife and child and lead them to the safety he promised before his capture.
I want to say that I enjoyed this movie. I want to say I was entertained, but those are not the appropriate adjectives. I’m not sure if I would say this is a good movie, but I it is a well-made one. Like his The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson used languages of the time. In this film, Yucatec Maya. Apocalypto felt like a foreign film and I tend to watch foreign films differently. After awhile, I forget I’m even reading subtitles, and I am just watching, listening to different sounds I may not otherwise hear in English films, and unable to turn away lest I miss key information. However, I believe that had I not been able to follow along with subtitles, I would have still been engrossed in this film.
The first half of the film was brutally violent and difficult to watch. Lacking the usual sound effects for punches, kicks, and weapon slices, the sounds were dull, solid, and realistic. I was appalled at how barbaric humans can be, and often were. I was hardly able to relax throughout the film, wishing I could turn away from the violence yet mesmerized by it at the same time, even the human sacrifices. And even though Jaguar Paw is saved from a brutal death on a sacrificial altar, the relentless chase lasts for the second half of the film, and again I was caught up in the action, tense and unmoving. Finally, a bit of respite comes at the end, but just barely, and I sat in silence throughout the credits, reflecting on the journey I’d just been a part of.
I put this movie in to try to get a sense of what Maya women wore as I was trying to put together a costume for an end of the world party on the 21st (Which was all in good fun; I know the Maya did not believe it was the apocalypse on 12-21-12). I wasn’t planning on watching the whole movie, but as I mentioned above, I was taken away and absorbed right in the story, and I couldn’t stop watching it. Throughout the whole film, I kept thinking about how violent humans were and still are, how evil we can be to each other. After watching the movie, I looked up some of the historical facts and critiques of the film, and while I understand it is not completely accurate to the exact time, it does show us in a very realistic way how people once lived, and in some places still do.
For an entire day afterward, I couldn’t stop thinking about throughout the history of human existence how many families have been murdered and raped, villages ransacked and burned and all in the name of what? Slavery, god, hatred, love? Despite what critics have said, despite historical inaccuracies, and despite the brutal intensity, Apocalypto is a powerful film. I’m not sure if I’ll ever watch it again–probably, maybe–but I will recommend it to anyone looking for a film filled with raw human emotion, cruelty, and honesty.
4 AutumnRaindrops (out of 5)