December 11, 2006

Apocalypto's many mistakes

'Apocalypto' is an insult to Maya culture, one expert says

The peaceful forest Indians:Yes, they're shown as wonderful, but ignorant. They're wonderful and they get along great and they've got this rip-roaring humor, but they don't know what's going on a day and a half's walk away, where this massive city, this metropolis, is being constructed. They haven't gotten wind of that because they are in their forest, the forest of their fathers, the forest of their sons.The phony murals:They're from the site of San Bartolo in the Maya region (of Guatemala). Some pieces of it are copied exactly from the mural, but part of it is this gory scene of an individual holding a severed human head with blood flowing out of it. That's not in the mural! That's just Gibson on his violence kick. Plus, the murals are Late Pre-Classic, dating to about 100 B.C., making it very problematic that these people were walking through murals dating from 100 B.C. and then we have the arrival of the Spanish, which was in the 16th century. That's like 1,700 years apart.The wild women:Another thing that was so funny was all that crazy, wild dancing with women's breasts flapping. I was just reading hours before I saw the movie with you a 400-page textbook dedicated to Maya dance, and it talked about how women played no major public role in these ceremonies but much more subtle roles.The lack of cultural achievements:There's this noble savage, 19th-century idea of barbaric savages, and it was like Gibson was rooted in that. All of these advances we've made in understanding their culture were completely forgotten. I think Mel Gibson is the worst thing that's happened to indigenous populations since the arrival of the Spanish. I say that in jest, but what is scary is that people will leave the movie thinking that because the characters were speaking Mayan there is an air of authenticity.The elaborate ornamentation:Some of that is based on images we have that are probably more or less accurate. But again, they played it up in a way to make them seem somehow subhuman. So the costuming just played into the idea of them as real savages, rather than what it was for the Maya, which was an aesthetic display of beauty, just as we take care of our clothing and appearance. The whole thing was wrong. I was looking at the film's trailer, which says, "No one can outrun their destiny." And I thought, "You better run. You better outrun this movie."


Rob said...

Wow. I see you've swallowed Mel Gibson's fantasy hook, line, and sinker. No wonder you liked the movie so much.

What's depicted in Apocalypto is a mishmash of lies and stereotypes, not some kind of truth. As every expert I've quoted so far has said, it's faux history that has little or nothing to do with what really happened.

This statement

"But an overemphasis on gods and religious ideals fractured their progress until only religion held sway over their cultural energies."

is Gibson's myth-making, not a valid assertion. As far as I know, the Maya continued producing achievements in literature, mathematics, astronomy, etc. until their civilization collapsed. I haven't seen any evidence that they abandoned their cultural imperatives toward the end and instead concentrated on religious fervor.

This statement

"Collapse of their civilization, such as it was, became inevitable because human values were superceded and displaced and then ignored."

ignores the fact that we don't know exactly how or why the Maya civilization collapsed. It was probably a combination of reasons. The following posting summarizes the current thinking:

"Scholars have advanced a variety of theories over the years, pinning the fault on everything from internal warfare to foreign intrusion, from widespread outbreaks of disease to a dangerous dependence on monocropping, from environmental degradation to climate change. Some combination of these and other factors may well be where the truth lies. However, in recent years, evidence has mounted that unusual shifts in atmospheric patterns took place near the end of the Classic Maya period, lending credence to the notion that climate, and specifically drought, indeed played a hand in the decline of this ancient civilization."

Note that most of these proposed causes are external in nature and have nothing to do with the Mayas' alleged degeneracy. The most prominent internal cause, internecine warfare, may have been secular--e.g., infighting among political factions a la America's Civil War. As far as I know, there's no evidence that religious excesses contributed to the decline of the Maya civilization.

Rob said...

Re "APOCALYPTO only expresses what already was known to writerfella from his own studies and research and understanding of Native histories":

What Apocalypto expresses and what you know about the Maya seem to contradict what every expert has said about them. Again, I'll go with the archaeologists and anthropologists over you and the Jew-baiter.

Re "Therefore, APOCALYPTO only matched writerfella's pre-existing ideas and imagination and not the other way around":

So your mind was filled with Maya stereotypes before you saw Apocalypto? Did your Kiowa parents, churches, and community teach you these stereotypical notions? I hope you've done more research than Gibson did, because he and his movie express an ignorant view of the Maya.

Rob said...

I answered your question about Mesoamerican writing in a later posting. Check it out.

Anonymous said...

I love Hollywood way of filming history movies and how they are excepted by vast ignorant viewers across the world. So it seams that Alexander the great, War for Troy, The Gladiator etc. was happening on the soil of USA, full of modern man concepts, way of thinking, prejudices towards other people and civilizations.
I just want to say that this movie has nothing to do with any real history facts, and timeline of Mayan civilization (if they are Mayan - seems like mix of all Mexican and Southern America's civilizations).
I am from Europe and here in my country we take history classes wery siriously.
My aim is not to insult anyone, and if i did please forgive me.

But i think Mel Gibbson is person with lots of prejudice towards other people, nations and religions. He should film action movies like Deadly Weapon and not historical and blasfemious movies (remember the scene of floging Jesus Christ - that is imposible and history incorect).
He should do some reading :)

S.M. Elliott said...

Drunk Catholic zealot + Mayan history = Apocacrappo.

Thanks for an informative post!