Friday, January 05, 2007

Film Review

Below is a movie review I wrote for a local paper two weeks ago.
Set against the backdrop of a lush and lively jungle landscape, Apocalypto is a film about the death of an empire, the fall of a civilization, the salvation of a family, and one man’s struggle against fear. The film opens with a group of hunters from a small village chasing a tapir. One of the leaders of the hunt is the protagonist of the film, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood). The next morning Jaguar Paw’s village is attacked and invaded by the warriors from the city of stone. Jaguar Paw hides his pregnant wife and young son in a hole in the ground, but is himself taken captive. The captives are brought to the city of stone and along the way a diseased-stricken girl prophesizes the destruction of the Mayan empire because of their sins: slavery, human sacrifice, the raping of the Earth, etc. In the city, the women captives are sold as slaves and the men are dragged to a pyramid to be sacrificed. Through a strange turn of events, Jaguar Paw’s life is spared and he is able to escape. Chased by a group of savage warriors, he rushes through the jungle in an attempt to rescue his family before the rains fall and drown them.

Apocalypto is one of the best films I have seen this year. It is a violent film. There are also some minor historical inaccuracies and the film is subtitled because the characters speak in a Mayan dialect. Nevertheless, these minor flaws take nothing away from the power of the film.

The cinematography is brilliant. The people, animals, and vegetation seem almost three-dimensional. The scenery in the film is more vivid than any nature documentary that I have ever seen.

The acting is quite remarkable, especially considering the film’s location and the challenge of speaking in an almost dead language. The central characters are rich and deep. Watching the movie, a person becomes entangled in the lives of Jaguar Paw and his friends and family. Much of that is because of the acting, but some of it is because of the writing and directing, too.

The storytelling uses everything from the Biblical Book of Revelation and the story of the Tower of Babel to epic Greek poems such as The Illiad to popular movie heroes such as John Rambo in First Blood as allusions and references to firmly cement the film in our own cultural heritage.

The story is not only engaging, but it is a powerful parable, too. We might not, yet, live in a culture and society that is as violent as the Mayans, but we are guilty of many of the same sins. We enslave people by not paying them decent wages for the jobs they perform and by paying powerful executives money they don’t deserve, we sacrifice our children upon an alter called choice, and we rape the Earth in almost the same ways as the urban Mayans do in Apocalypto. Like the city-dwelling Mayans in the film, we often choose to not only ignore what we do but the consequences of those actions as well. This chosen ignorance means little because the results of those actions remain, reminding us of our sin and folly.

Apocalypto is a violent movie. For example, men have their throats slit, people are beheaded, priests rip out peoples’ hearts, heads literally roll down stairs, and a man has his face chewed off by a jaguar. It’s all very bloody and slightly gory, yet it’s not anywhere near as violent or gory as movies such as Hostel or Saw III. Also, unlike those films, violence in Apocalypto isn’t useless; it serves a purpose.

Containing magnificent acting, brilliant direction, and amazing cinematography, as well as a plot that serves as a powerful parable for our time, Apocalypto is one of the best movies of 2006.

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