Wednesday, March 28, 2007


APOCALYPTO (2006, USA, Mel Gibson, screenplay with Farhad Safinia)

The plot is simple, even simplistic: a noble savage and faithful family man runs through the jungle pursued by Mayans, who in turn are being chased – more or less – by God. Their culture is under judgment, apparently for being too violent. (So what's that say about ours? that entertains itself with ultra-violent movies like Mel's?).

But this primal, immersive film shouldn’t be so handily dismissed. Pulitzer-winning film critic Joel Morgenstern calls it “a moral fable,” “a visionary work with its own wild integrity,” placing Gibson in a noteworthy auteur lineage with D.W. Griffith, Erich Von Stroheim and Cecil B. De Mille “who combined the power of primitivist themes with all the razzle-dazzle technique at their disposal.” APOCALYPTO (like THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST before it) is certainly an uncompromising film, its violence extreme, its dialogue spoken entirely in Yucatec, its cast entirely comprised of indigenous actors (and, mostly, non-actors): in the face of so much calculated corporate product, I find its utter disregard for commercial considerations exhilarating. Gibson shows us the alien-ness of this ancient civilization in images we’ll see nowhere else: a primitive culture of death, viewed through the half-comprehending eyes of captives rushed to execution; the strangely prophetic ravings of a traumatized child who’s survived the razing of her village; the unexpected arrival of judgment, both terrible and – dare we say it? – deserved. We may not dare, but Mel Gibson did, and some of us are left to wonder what rough beast may be slouching towards Bethelehem to be born, even now?


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