APOCALYPTO directed by Mel Gibson, written by Gibson and Farhad Safinia, with Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer and Morris Birdyellowhead. A Touchstone Films release. 135 minutes. Opens Friday (December 8). For venues and times, see Movies, page 105. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Anyone want to ponder the fact that Mel Gibson might just be bat-shit crazy? If Braveheart, The Passion Of The Christ and Apocalypto reveal anything, it's an erotic fascination with the infliction of pain. That is, the difference between Gibson and the guys who made the Saw movies and Hostel is that Mel has bigger budgets and an Oscar and is better at dressing up his intent with historic and religious significance.
But basically, it's about the torture.
In Apocalypto, a group of Meso-American Indians are hunting and gathering in the Yucatan jungle when a bunch of other Meso-American Indians with more elaborate tattoos and decorative piercings suddenly show up and begin killing and raping. They gather up the survivors, tie them together and drag them through the jungle for a painful day or two, beating them when they fall down.
Then they get to where they're going. (Big reveal, it's a city with Mayan pyramids.) They sell the women into slavery, and the men are to be sacrificed to the sun god, entailing some scenes of involuntary organ donation. (After the screening, fellow NOW scribe Barrett Hooper observed that Apocalypto and Turistas are basically the same movie. People's organs are just removed for different reasons.)
In the final 45-minute chase scene through the jungle, our hero, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), is pursued by the bad guys as he tries to get back to the village where he hid his wife in a pit.
This isn't a movie about Mayan culture; it's just a torture-and-chase movie in an exotic setting. Every now and then, Gibson does something that suggests there's a really interesting director hiding inside his films (we saw this in Braveheart and Passion as well), but he can't resist the suffering.
At the end of the picture, there's another big reveal (you'll see it coming) that suggests a big change is about to sweep over these characters' world. But we have no emotional commitment to the violent culture we've seen. So why should we care?