Apocalypto. I got a kick out of this one. At its heart, it’s a chase movie, stripped down to loincloths. It did not at all feel like 140 minutes. Many thanks to the Battleship Pretension episode on Mel Gibson’s directing for spurring me to watch it.
If you’ve seen Braveheart or The Passion of the Christ, you’ll be prepared for the frequent, unsubtle graphic violence. I cringed a lot, but that’s okay. Actually, funny thing when I was watching, the violence actually got me curious about psychological health in ancient times. Given that levels of violence, trauma, and death were much higher than today, you have to wonder.
I’m not suggesting that this movie is historically accurate in any way. That’s very much beside the point, I think. Every movie set in the past gets something wrong. It’s just context, people. Not a documentary. I think that some folks have gotten up in arms about the depiction of the Mayans is actually kind of a bonus – it hasn’t really been explored on film, so they’d like to get it right. Understandable. The benefit for the viewer, accuracy aside, is that the novelty forces your attention. It’s all in Yucatec Maya language, so you have to keep your eyes on the screen for subtitles. Clothing and environment are novel. You probably don’t recognize any of the actors, so you can come to watch their performance without any expectations. When I watched Brief Encounter I had a similar reaction to an unknown-to-me cast:
One of the most enjoyable things about old/foreign movies is that I often don’t know the cast. It can feel more immediately immersive to see the characters as characters, rather than recognizing actors and trying to set aside that I know they’re portraying people. There’s no baggage, no expectations, no known quirks or ticks. It all feels very fresh.
Along the same lines, familiar scenes feel less loaded. There’s a slave-trading scene that’s somehow more touching because it’s Mayans selling Mayans, rather than whites selling blacks. Put a familiar, undeniable evil in a different cultural frame, and you feel it more powerfully, I think. You can’t bring your baggage as easily. I feel no hesitation in recommending this one.