December 06, 2006

Gorefest gone wild

Mel Gibson Is Responsible for All the Wars in the WorldFollowing the gory trail marked by Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto is a blatantly sadistic spectacle—albeit not without a certain chivalry. Women are raped and children butchered but Mel shows no taste for such savagery. (You might even call him protective: In one feeble bid for a PG-13, the surviving children of Sugar Tit village are left to fend for themselves in the charge of a teenage babysitter.) Mel is a glutton for male punishment. There's not a man in this movie who isn't scourged, bashed, or punctured—unless he's disemboweled.

Unlike its predecessors, however, Apocalypto is unburdened by nationalist or religious piety—it's pure, amoral sensationalism. By those standards, the most engaging sequence is played in the evil heart of the Mayan sacred city. Give the devil his due: Hieronymus Bosch or Matthias Grünewald would have appreciated Mel's vision of paganism run wild. The place is a monstrous construction site cum marketplace where life is cheap (and so are the extras), and the blood pours over the stone monuments like molasses on Grandma's griddle cakes. It's political too: Gesturing muck-a-mucks in feathered masks rise from their human footstools atop garish temples to address the juju-dancing mob below.
Mel Gibson's 'Apocalypto' Just More GoreThis is Gibson’s first film after his booming success with "The Passion of the Christ." I wasn't too hot on "Christ," feeling it was more of a blood-drenched valentine to suffering than any sort of religious blue light special.

"Apocalypto" is essentially the same set of circumstances; the picture is constructed as a passionate observation of the twilight of pure Mayan life, realized through rather stunning costume and production design. Basically, the film is another episode of the Mel Gibson Gore Hour, with the director taking the prospect of portraying history to dish up some more close-ups of beheadings and spurting wounds.

The river of blood doesn't upset me as much as Gibson's delight in pushing the grisly stuff right into the camera lens, subscribing to the adage that violence is ugly, but not helping his argument by staging the brutality like an Alice Cooper concert. Heads roll, chests burst, testicles are eaten, hearts are ripped out, and just in case someone in the back row isn't paying attention, Gibson pencils in some time for a Jaguar to rip off a warrior's face.
ApocalyptoThere is nothing shy about the director’s taste for gristle and spectacle. When the convoy finally reaches one of the mighty Mayan cities, the full nightmare horror of Gibson’s apocalyptic vision is revealed. One of the world’s greatest civilisations has clearly imploded. Famine has gutted them of sense. Disease is rampant. The most sophisticated culture in the world has turned into Sodom and Gommorah.

The finest production designers in Hollywood lend an eager hand. Heads are tossed down the bloody steps of the highest temple. They sound like coconuts being smashed. Still-pumping hearts are ripped out of terrified captives to sate the thirst of the Sun God.

The creepy, dead-eyed king looks into the eyes of every gibbering victim. The fat wives and fatter children laugh. The cackling high priests are stoned on the delirious gore. The baying crowd scream for more. We are harried and emotionally rammed into another of Gibson’s sadistic and sacred passions.

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