January 15, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Roman Bagdasarov


What does Mel Gibson's Apocalypto reveal?


With the triumph of The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson immediately found himself in the category of cult movie-makers. His film was both digitally perfect and corresponding to the catholic views on Via Dolorosa. Curiously, his latest production, Apocalypto, originates from the same roots, logically continuing the virtues of The Passions. In the Scripture, the Apocalypse follows the Gospels. Still, we have to consider that in Gibson's case, we are dealing with the interpretation of the New Testament, typical for the Western Christianity. When a group of Russians, including this author, presented its synthetic project The Imminence/Deisis, it often required additional explanation of the principal difference from The Passion of the Christ, and why the parallels between the two are merely superficial. Now, the misunderstanding is finally resolved.

The mind of Mel Gibson, as a Christian movie-maker, seems to be really enjoying its voyage across the waters of medieval gloom, without any attempt of search for the light. This helps to use his superstitions for servicing the US imperialistic doctrine. The pseudo-historical fantasies on the subject of the Mayan civilization combine the worst known patterns of racist propaganda.

A varnished tale can’t be round. Despite the efforts of Gibson's press service to describe him as an independent creative mind, the cinema audience can't help revisiting his passionate performance in the central role in We Were Soldiers (2001), produced by his longtime friend and co-author Randall Wallace. Glorifying the military valor of American commandoes in Vietnam, the movie represented an open-hearted (or rather "brave-hearted") anthem of what was denounced in the USSR as "the American military clique".

Gibson, generally, appraises so-called "wars for the sake of justice". One the eve of Apocalypto's premiere, the knight of Hollywood would declare, "War is not something which could ruin the society. We dropped nuclear bombs on two cities, but in a matter of two-three years they were populated again". This remark is an aesthetically exquisite blessing for a new military endeavour in Iraq. Still, Apocalypto's spike has a different target. The selection of a Spanish version of the Biblical word indicates the direction.

From the standpoint of genre, Apocalypto is a high-speed race, with a strikingly primitive scenario, reminding rather an RPG game. Even a layman could compose such a script in half an hour on his knee. Warriors invade a village of hunters, dragging the inhabitants to slavery. The male villagers are originally supposed to be sacrificed upon a grand pyramid, but are later release because of an eclipse. Actually, their flight makes them an object of human hunt. During most of the movie, the main character is chased across the jungle until, accidentally, his armed pursuers stumble upon an arriving crew of Spanish missioners. What is the 40-million pound budget spent for?



The answer of the authors is full of pride: for reconstruction of historical reality, for hyperrealism, they say. It is true that exotics are more than sufficient, including venomous frogs, painted faces, featuring a sort of savage princesses or something, and skulls, tumbling down the steps of the pyramid. All this is pretty exotic but far from historic, as Gibson has created a wild mixture of indigenous cultures, epochs, and peoples. For instance, he first displays a city from the so-called classical period of the Maya (250-900 A.D.), while the action is taking place in the XVI century. Mass human sacrifice, ascribed to the Maya by Gibson, was actually practiced by the Aztecs, and not in such a horrible proportion which he presents. A good Catholic, whom the movie-maker features himself, probably does not see any difference – and therefore, the Mayan village he displays is rather describing tribal life of the Amazon region than the agricultural tradition of Yucatan's population. What Gibson is actually creating is a collective portrait of the indigenous American race – exactly in the fashion the inhabitants of old Europe could derive from XVI-century cartoons. Actually, as soon as the guests from Europe, including missioners, got in real touch with the native inhabitants of America, they found out that they were dealing with a different but high culture.

Speaking of culture, and especially of cultural science, it is noteworthy that none of the specialists in the Mayan civilization could say a single appraising word about the movie. Specialists could not imagine in a nightmare that such kinds of interpretation of history could be concocted today. The number of "apocalapsi" in the movie is as large as that found in the infamous Da Vinci Code by Gibson's fellow Catholics. From the viewpoint of distortion of history, the two movies are like two boots of the same pair.

Involvement of a single renowned consultant, anthropologist Prof. Richard Hansen, in Gibson's team does not deserve scientific comment. The scientist was busy with his archeological studies when Gibson descended upon him in a helicopter, intending to produce the same impression which the ships of the noble hidalgos produced on the wild aboriginals. The guest from Hollywood promised excessive financial support for Mr. Hansen's long-desired effort of the excavation of the ancient city of El Mirador in Guatemala, and calling him, in a friendly manner, Indiana Jones". To make the scientist feel serious about the intentions of the Hollywood patron, Gibson generously disbursed $250,000 for the security of the El Mirador reserve, directed by Prof. Hansen. After such a formidable contribution in the history of the Maya, the professor agreed to put his signature where required and even to accompany Gibson in his prime-time launch of the "epos" on US TV channels. Still, after a number of negative responses from his colleagues, he preferred to distance himself from the patron – naturally, in very cautious expressions.

On the contrary to a huge amount of historical evidence, Gibson is trying to convince the spectator that the Maya – or rather the Meso-American indigenous civilizations as a whole Ц are a bunch of vicious, silly, and sadistically bloodthirsty creatures, outrageous bastards. Efforts of rebuttal seem meaningless, especially on a Russian website. Meanwhile, Russian specialists have seriously contributed in historical research of Meso-America. Take Academician Nikolay Vavilov, who proved that the Meso-American peoples have first introduced agricultural brands of maize. Or, Dr. Yury Knorozov, who managed to decrypt the Mayan hieroglyphs. Still, the analysis of Gibson's concoction raises, above all, a question of another kind: for what reason the wildest possible fantasies of the "race of the masters" about the once conquered and exterminated peoples are revived today, after decades of political correctness?



Addressing today's situation in Central America, we easily discover the political pretext for a hasty effort of an anti-historical cinema concoction. Since 1994, when Subcommandante Marcos raised an insurrection in the indigenous-dominated Chiapas (most of the population of this Mexican state directly originating from those very Maya, so "respected" by Gibson), the political authority of the United States in Latin America had been gradually declining.

One after another, Washington loyalists in these countries were legally replaced by leaders of a new brand – passionate leftists, enemies of liberal policies; opponents of the IMF with its shock therapy recipe, as well as of the novel economic traps invented by US strategists. It is noteworthy that most of those new leaders are Catholics, sharing the ideals of "theology of liberation". Some of them, in addition, originate from the indigenous population Ц those very "savages" whom Gibson displays as half-beasts in his movie and hardly regards in real life as anything but "criminal underworld".

When – after all the troubles are over Ц the main hero's wife inquires, pointing at the Spaniards: "Shall we go with them?", he abruptly claims, "No, we'll go back to the wood". That is the apotheosis of a US imperialist treatment of the Indians: the savages are to stay in the jungle. Certainly, not for planting coca but rather for excavating ancient pyramids and servicing tourists. What Gibson and Hansen sincerely agree upon is that "the conservation of the El Mirador area as a natural reserve will provide jobs for the indigenous population".

Continuing to regard the native population of Meso-America as savages, US politicians confess of their complete incapability to meet the political challenge, to recognize the fact that the once conquered peoples have absorbed the best of what the Western civilization shared with them, and even bypassed the oppressing teachers in many aspects. The peoples of Latin America have studied democratic methods of political struggle. Today, anti-liberal politicians come to power in an absolutely legitimate way, and not by means of a military coup with ideological brainwashing. How convenient it once was top deal with dictators and putschists! They could be sometimes scolded a bit for too disgusting atrocities, but never replaced until displaying a bit of own initiative; for such case, new caudillos used to be at hand.

As a matter of fact, this pattern cracked already in 1990, when the Sandinists of Nicaragua refused from an expected attempt of a military coup, yielding power to the winning side peacefully in the interests of their people. This behavior demonstrated that liberty is precious for the revolutionaries even when it turns against their political interest. The Nicaraguans appraised this choice, electing Daniel Ortega sixteen years later. In this way, the ex-Marxist movement introduced an electoral standard for Latin America, erecting a truly Christian moral barrier on the way of lawlessness.

Gibson's images of the sorcerer, the commander of the raid and his son – the trio terrifying the main character Ц are supposed to personify (by selection of actors with similar appearance) Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Moralez and Peru's Nationalist Party chairman Ollanta Umala, who nearly won the elections in the past year. Each of them, in his own words, speaks of continuity of their peoples’ traditions, demanding to re-establish their rights and sometimes the historical statehood as well (particularly, Umala urged the succession of the ancient Incas to overcome the artificial, Europeans-introduced division of Peru and Bolivia. In his turn, Daniel Ortega, right after his elections, declared entry of his country in ALBA, a new trade and economic alliance, unifying Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba.

The new generation of Meso-America's political leaders finds its sources in the native population, representing its basic desires better than any of the predecessors. It is hard to deny that those desires are substantiated, when they speak of nationalization of natural resources and restriction of activity of transnational corporations. Sunday prayers for "free economy" have lost their parish.

Not being able to dispatch warriors for a human hunt for those rebellious leaders today, Washington uses the weapons of propaganda, addressed to its own population. The demand of a new image of evil, regardless for the means involved, is exceptionally high – and Mel Gibson's contribution in this effort precisely corresponds with the political guidelines.

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