Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Apocalypto: the horror, the horror

I won't be watching the new Mel Gibson film. Not just because he is a horrid antisemite, who should be shunned by the rightthinking. Not because it is bound to be inauthentic, not historically accurate and disrespectful to those it portrays. Not even because it is purportedly sickeningly violent and I don't like films like that. But because I hate that men with enormous riches and power use them on pushing narrow agendas (or piss them away stupidly, like the Roman Abramoviches of this world). Of course, Gibson does not think he is doing any such thing. He thinks he is enlightening a dark world.

How does he do it?

Gibson creates a picture of the Mayan world that makes it savage and horrid. The Mayans hack and slay each other with gay abandon. He conflates all of Mayan history, and a fair bit of Aztec too, into a week's slaughter. The Mayans were cultured, sophisticated people. He portrays them as vicious savages. He also counterposes the towndwelling lunatic murderers with sweet jungledwelling people who didn't really understand the cities. That makes as much sense as claiming a farmer does not understand New York. There was no such counterposition in Maya culture. It was a civilisation that had existed for a very long time. And no one in it was unaware of what it consisted of.

But the message that is worst is in the title. Apokalypto is a part of the Greek verb that means "reveal". (I'm guessing it still does mean that.) It's (roughly) the word that is translated in the Bible as "Revelation" (the word in the Bible is a noun, of course). But Gibson uses the sense "new beginning".
Which doesn't really fit.

Why and what it means are the message. Why? Because he is a sedevacantist who believes in an "apocalypse". In English that has come to mean the end of the established order, swept away by the end of times, replaced with the reign of Jesus on earth. So an apocalypse means the end of our world and the beginning of a better one to someone like Gibson. And in the film, the last scenes are of the Christian Spanish arriving in Mexico.

Can you fucking credit it?

Gibson spends two hours saying look at these bloodthirsty savages. Luckily, the Spanish turned up to bring a new beginning. The Spanish were responsible for the destruction of the Maya world, and the deaths of most of them, their enslavement, marginalisation and impoverishment. The destruction of their culture.

But hey, they were Christians, so that's all okay. Gibson is saying, yeah, our world is going to be completely destroyed, most of us killed. But we get to live with Jesus, so quit bitching.

(As a footnote, I should point out, for those who don't know, that by the time the Spanish had arrived, the Mayan civilisation portrayed in Apocalypto had collapsed, and the city life that had characterised it had long ended. There is no sense in which the Spanish saved the jungle Mayans from a brutal urban elite because there was no brutal urban elite.)

(I'd urge anyone planning to watch the movie to read this review. I do note though that Braveheart's historical distortions also misrepresented a people, although it portrayed them in a far better light than they deserve, so no one was as upset by it.)


At 7:56 am, Anonymous Thomas said...

It does still mean the same thing. The -o form is the first person singular. (Dictionaries don't give an infinitive, for some reason.)

I don't know what you mean, though, by "part of" the verb. It is the verb for uncover or reveal.

(Liddell & Scott give some more particular definitions, based on particular uses or examples, since the Greeks had no dictionary. Some writers had idiosynchratic uses.)

At 7:58 am, Anonymous Thomas said...

Dictionaries don't give an infinitive

What I meant was, the words are listed under their first person singular form in dictionaries, not in their infinitive form.


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