Apocalypto, part II

by on December 15, 2006 at 4:06 am in Film | Permalink

Bryan Caplan went to see the film again, with my theory in mind.  He came up with the following (spoilers beneath the fold)...

The Stations themselves are usually a series of 14 pictures or sculptures depicting the following scenes:

    1. Jesus is condemned to death

Apoc: Jaguar Paw captured by cultists.

    2. Jesus receives the cross

Apoc: JP tied to slave line.

    3. The first fall

Apoc: First fall (guy forced to rise without help)

    4. Jesus meets His Mother

Apoc: Testicle-eater sees his mother-in-law?

    5. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross

Group saves wounded guy at end of slave line.

    6. Veronica wipes Jesus’ face with her veil

???

    7. The second fall

???

    8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Mayan women laugh at the guys getting painted blue.

    9. The third fall

???

   10. Jesus is stripped of His garments

???

   11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Brought up to top of pyramid.

   12. Jesus dies on the cross

Eclipse saves JP.

   13. Jesus’ body removed from the cross (Pieta)

JP sent back down the pyramid.

   14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

???

Overall, amazing parallelism.

And then in a later email:

…Jaguar Paw definitely returns to save his wife and sons on the third
day.

Right on.  But for the last few Stations, I see a deliberate non-parallel with the Christian story.  I view the film as concerned with Islam as much as the Mayans.  It replays the (supposed) Islamic "myth" that Jesus climbed down off the cross, saved by a miracle, and joined his wife and kid to live in India (to complicate matters, only a minority of Muslims believe this, but many quasi-informed Christians think this is a very common Muslim view).  Gibson’s movie is saying "OK, let’s say that happened.  Jaguar Paw makes a miraculous escape.  But earthly triumph is still no means of salvation and it cannot replace the Christian notion of sacrifice; you can run but you can’t hide.  The plague is coming.  The Spanish ships are coming.  God is coming.  We must throw ourselves on God’s mercy.  Islam is no good, salvation lies only in Christ."

I also wonder if all that throat-slitting was not a reference to Daniel Pearl and various jihad-based webcam assassinations.

Pretty intense vision.  Gibson is repugnant, and his approach is distant from my own worldview, but I am still thinking about his splendid movie.

anne December 15, 2006 at 8:34 am

Argh!

Thank you for seeing the parallels with at least one Gibson film, but why on earth has no one seen that at least four of his films are the same story told four different way: Passion okay, but especially Braveheart, Patriot, and Apocalypto.

Let’s set Braveheart and Apocalypto side by side:

First – set up your characters so that the audience cares about them quickly – show them playing games and being affectionate and loving toward one another –

Braveheart – the games of celebration where the village tosses the rock around and the big guy gets hit in the head

Apocalypto – the hunt for the pig where the big goofy guy eats the testicles of the pig

Then – rip that image of a “noble savage” life apart by bringing in the central authorities

Braveheart – the lords coming to sleep with the new bride before her husband can

Apocalypto – the captors raping the women of the village

Now – you need a sacrifice of someone very close and important to your protagonist

Braveheart – his new wife

Apocalypto – his father

(both had their throats slit)

(By the way – in Patriot – his eldest son)

Okay – the real action scenes begin here – battles, the chase, etc. as protagonists in both movies are hunted down and have to fight the evil forces that ruined their peaceful lives

Finally – end with the good guy winning and the evil central authorities, while still in power, at least on the run or a foreshadowing of their downfall

No doubt his movies are influenced by his worldview – but instead of comparing them simply to the Passion, why not see the pattern in them wholistically.

AS far as the man himself goes, I think he’s an artists often hold opinions that others find weird or somehow distateful. The fact is, he tells good stories and they have a lot to say about an important theme in history – which he summed up very nicely with the quote that opens Apocalypto:

A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.

Maybe Gibsons is (consciously or not) trying to be Campbellian in taking and retelling myths so the viewer can discern whatever timeless truths they want to from them.

j.m. December 15, 2006 at 9:07 am

This analysis of Apocalypto is interesting, but is it possible we’re giving Mel Gibson too much credit? Is he literary-minded enough to put together this complex biblical allegory? The similarities between his other films that Anne mentions are striking, but to my mind they’re more Hollywood than Campbell. The same “timeless truths” (good guy facing evil and personal trauma to be successful in the end) have been told to us by an endless number of filmmakers, notably those responsible for nearly every single Harrison Ford movie in existence. Gibson’s faith is clearly important to him and I’m sure it emerges in the themes of his films, but isn’t it just possible that if we held up the Stations of the Cross to many films, we’d be able to find parallels?

If Gibson did intentionally create such a subtle and complex parable, then maybe I underestimated him.

Mark December 15, 2006 at 1:39 pm

Tyler your thoughts and insights on this movie really made me reconsider the movie. While I agree with other posters that Apoc basically follows Mel’s previous plot-lines, undertones and the overall grand scheme leave much to be considered.

Also, for those drawing Braveheart parrallels, you get maybe 60% of the scenes. Add in Mann’s Last of the Mohicans and you have 95%.

ElamBend December 15, 2006 at 10:09 pm

I’m willing to look for clues in the movie as allegory, but when I saw it on the day it came out, I definitely felt as if I’d seen this movie before, a la Anne’s comment.

When I later read Tyler’s theory I was open to interpretation. My contibution: the beach scene. Jaguar Paw comes out the the beach. One particular shot shows him on the knees, looking out to sea. Then the two pursuers join him, one on either side. Could this represent the arrangement on Golgatha? Christ in the middle and a criminal on either side? Then JP turns away and returns to the Jungle, while the two others go toward the Spanish.

I’m willing to believe that Gibson used the same story/story arc as his other movies (he’s also borrowed a bit, too); while at the same time put in a lot of symbology.

I want to see it again and my girlfriends words on walking out were, “we’re definitely getting that on dvd”

jenniffer September 3, 2007 at 1:30 am

well…even there are many comments,the movie was very great!!!

angelica November 16, 2008 at 3:22 am

i suggest the idea of sacrificing for their gods maybe

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