December 28, 2006

Mel's doomsday scenario

Mel, Mayans-–and madness

Mel Gibson's latest film Apocalypto, reveals a lot about the star, says Michael Shelden

Why Mel went crazy:At the time, Gibson had just returned from months in the Mexican jungle filming this blood-soaked orgy of half-naked men slashing each other to pieces. After weeks of directing a non-stop odyssey of raping, pillaging and bludgeoning, he must have thought that speeding through his hometown high on tequila was a relatively harmless way of letting off steam.

After all, when your job includes orchestrating scenes of mass human sacrifice, it's easy to forget the rules of real life and explode in anger when the cops insist on treating you like an ordinary offender.

Finding himself under arrest, Gibson's inner savage was unleashed and he went on a verbal rampage, insulting a female police officer (he called her "sugar tits") and cursing Jews with all the venom of his Mayan warriors attacking an enemy tribe.
What motivates Mel:While the box-office success of Apocalypto in America is proof that Mel's madness may still work on screen, it's no longer possible to pretend that the rage erupting from his films is driven merely by the story. With Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, he could insist that the violence was rooted in fact. But in the new film, which opens in Britain next week, the relentless slaughter is his invention, a revel in a sadomasochism that says a lot more about Mel than the Mayans.

On the surface, he seems to be interested in their culture, having his actors speak their lines in the ancient Yucatec dialect. But practically everything else in the film is only vaguely related to the real Mayans or entirely fabricated. As several experts have pointed out, there is no evidence the Mayans ever engaged in mass human sacrifice, but it hasn't stopped Gibson from building a whole film around the concept.
Mel's "apocalyptic" vision:Given the nature of Gibson's Malibu rant, this scene now looks much more disturbing than even the director may have hoped. In effect, Apocalypto is a 139-minute tour of Gibson's darkest fantasies, including his apparent suggestion that the End of the World is imminent. "I don't mean to be a doomsday guy," he has said, "but the Mayan calendar does end in 2012, boys and girls. Have fun!"

In the Mayans, Gibson has found a convenient culture to hijack, using the past to provide cover for ideas that would look far more threatening if applied to a modern setting. If the incident in Malibu had never happened, he could easily have pretended that he was just a multicultural guy who wanted to present an honest look at native people. That is not the case now.

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