Friday, December 15, 2006

Apocalypto thoughts (spoilers) 3 Ik 15 Mac
I don't think I'm going to write a "review" exactly of Apocalypto. Just a collection of thoughts; take what you will and leave the rest (as always).
It starts out with the quote about how a civilization can't be destroyed from without until it's destroyed from within. I saw a review (no I don't know where, so I can't link it) which said that quote set it up to be a metaphor for today's society, and then failed.
That reviewer didn't see the same movie I did.
The people screaming that the movie portrays the Maya as blood-thirsty savages with no redeeming qualities didn't see the same movie I did.
The basic conflict, to boil it down, is the peaceful jungle-dwelling villagers versus the more advanced city-dwellers.
I will briefly recap the plot:
A bunch of men from a jungle village are out hunting. Over their kill, they tease one man about being sterile (reviews said that it was ED, but it's not, because the older man asks if everything works all right, with a crude gesture, and the younger man says yes, but no babies). Yes, they are eating some raw parts of the animal they've just killed. That didn't bother me. It sets them up as people, just like us.
They are surprised by a band of other villagers who ask for safe passage through their jungle. These people are thin and look awful and say that something terrible happened to their village--they were ravaged, I think he says. The main character, Jaguar Paw, tries to ask for details, but his father takes him aside and says that the others are infected with fear, and for JP not to "catch" it and spread it into the village, as if it's a contagious disease. (This reminded me a lot of 28 Days Later, that "zombie" movie which was really about rage.)
JP has a dream that night where he sees the leader of the other band telling him to run. He wakes up to hear a barking dog abruptly silenced, and finds that a party of men is in the village preparing to attack. He gets his pregnant wife and son out of the village and lowers them into a cenote (it's dry, not wet, so it may have a different name) for safety. The attackers kill about half of the villagers, including JP's dad, rape some of the women and take others captive. They leave all the children behind and take the living adults captive (including JP). One of the warriors cuts the vine rope to the cenote.
The children band together and follow the captives, who are led to a place where more men wait with more captives--the other villagers from the day before. The children from JP's village meet up with the children from the other village. The last you see of them, they are on a river bank, and the oldest girl is saying "they're mine now and I'll take care of them" to the women being led away. (This is a plot hole--at the end, when JP and his wife go into the jungle, they should have hooked up with those kids. It had only been a few days, they'd still be alive.)
My thought while watching the brutality of the captive-taking? "So this is what a Flowery War looks like." (Yeah, I've read Aztec too many times.)
They reach the city after 2 days of marching. This is a problem. If the city was only a 2 days' walk away, the villagers would have known about it. Instead they are in awe, as if they couldn't possibly know such a thing existed.
Along the way they meet a child with (apparently) small pox, which establishes the timeline as after 1519 (when the Spanish first came) as small pox was unknown in the New World before then. However, the Mayan civilization had fallen years before (8th/9th century!) and most of the cities had been abandoned by the time the conquistadors arrived. It was the AZTECS who were doing lots of sacrifices at that time, not the Maya.
Around the city, the crops are failing and the people are starving. Again, a two-day walk from a lush jungle. If there was a drought, it would have affected those in the jungle as well. It's almost like they time-traveled as well as walked. One brief scene is the captives being led through a limestone quarry which is seemingly being run with slave labor. Slaves are also shown painting and decorating buildings. I don't know for sure, but none of that feels accurate to me.
The city is gorgeous (to me) but wikipedia points out: On a very basic level, the movie contains a number of items unknown in precolumbian Mesoamerica, such as metal javelin blades. The Maya city inaccurately combines details from different Maya and Mesoamerican cultures widely separated by time and place....(T)emples in the shape of those of Tikal...decorated with Puuc style elements....The mural in the arched walkway includes elements from the Maya codices combined with elements from...Bonampak...and...San Bartolo ....Elements of such non Maya civilizations as those of Teotihuacan and the Aztec are also seen.
The "average" people of this unnamed city appear as starving and wretched. In sharp contrast are the nobles, who are well-fed and dressed. One fat little noble child laughs at the human sacrifices, while a noble girl yawns in ennui over it all. The sacrifices are the assembly-line butchery of the Aztecs, with the timing seeming to be about 1 person killed every minute or so. Yet they only had to go 2 days to find captives? Where have they been getting all these healthy young men? And yes, there has been ongoing large scale sacrifice here (more on that later). Jaguar Paw is just about to be killed when a solar eclipse happens, which the priests are in awe of. Considering that the Maya could predict eclipses that weren't even visible from where they were, they would have known this one was coming. Instead, they say that "Kukulcan" has had enough blood (Kukulcan did not ask for human sacrifices) and "free" the captives. This involves saying "run" and herding them down a ball court (I had high hopes they'd play ball in the court. Oh well.) while hurling javelins at them and then killing them at the end. JP escapes, but kills the slave trader's son, so they go after him (what happens to the captives that haven't gotten to run yet is left unexplained).
He runs through a dead cornfield and over a cliff...into a pit of beheaded captives. Thousands of them. (Why didn't they EAT some of these people if they were starving? That would have been historic.) Where did the people all come from? Could that many small villages be closer to the city than JP's village was? Why didn't all these villagers know each other? Wouldn't they have traded, intermarried, etc? Why would the city-folk have been so stupid as to leave thousands of rotting bodies right next to their crops? Right next to their CITY? And then whine to the gods that "pestilence" walked among them? Duh.
JP is then chased for 2 days at a full run back to his village to save his wife and child. This includes all sorts of amazing feats of endurance, such as doing all this with a massive wound from a javelin stuck right through him, jumping off a 100 foot waterfall, getting drowned in quicksand, getting shot with an arrow, no food for 4 days, etc. This is all straight fiction--enjoy it for what it is.
The last two surviving slave-takers pursue JP onto a beach very near his village. Again, this beach was a 2 days walk from the city. An ocean not yet polluted and over-fished, it could have fed the population with no problem. The three of them stop running. Not because they've run out of land, but because the Spanish are landing. (Convenient.) The two captive-takers eagerly run to the Spanish, proving they are dumb, and JP runs into the forest, proving he is smart.
JP saves his wife, who is no longer pregnant, having had the child in the cenote after it filled with water during a storm. They go off into the jungle rather than visit with the conquistadors.
The end.
Of course, between small pox and other diseases and the Spanish war on the infidels, 90% of the population of "New Spain's" natives were dead in 10 years. Bye bye Jaguar Paw. So much for your sons and his sons hunting the land after you die.
As far as it being a metaphor, our society is pretty screwed up right now. I guess we're ripe for the aliens to come down and kill us all, if they don't die first from our disease. (A sly dig at War of the Worlds.)

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