Apocalypto is one of the best movies I've seen in the last 3 years. It's difficult to describe, because in some ways it's like many other films out there. The heart of the movie is essentially a primal chase seen on foot--think Last of the Mohicans without Daniel Day-Lewis. For the most part, however, the movie is nothing you've ever seen before. It's genuine storytelling in the purest possible way. Mel Gibson and his coauthor Farhad Safinia took characters who initially appear wildly different from the twenty-first century audience, living in a world as foreign to us as another planet. Through the power of story we come to care deeply for them. I cared more about Jaguar Paw and his little (but growing) family and his hunting buddies than I have for any human film character in the last five years.
Ironically, the spare subtitles and Mayan dialect may have played a huge part in that. I realised that by keeping the language simple, elemental and straight-to-the-point, Gibson and Safinia kept the characters relatable. I couldn't help but contrast this film with The Return Of The King. By the end of ROTK--as much as I loved the film as a whole--I couldn't have cared less if Sam and Frodo just sizzled in the heart of Mount Doom like a couple of slabs of Hobbit bacon. The two stories share that Hero's Journey element, but where Sam monologues Frodo in a Give Me An Oscar® style speech every twenty-five feet, Jaguar Paw just shuts up and runs for his life. Me, that's what I would do. Of course then once I got home I'd probably write a wordy blog about it--but that's a different movie altogether. Stranger Than Fiction perhaps.
There are several scenes that went a long way to explaining Mel Gibson's newsworthy actions over the summer. Any man who has those images living inside his head has obviously spent no small amount of time in a dark place. I don't doubt for a minute that Gibson is at least one-third pure distilled nutsobutt jerk. But like so many other nutsobutt jerks before him--Hemingway, Poe, King--he can tell one heck of a story.