“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within”

Apocalypto starts with this quote, underlining this revisionist view of Mayan history which will in some cases subtly unfold infront of us. Apocalypto sets itself up as a rather original film concept and one which works as a spectacle and an action film. Indeed the film is an odd mix of Porky’s, Run Lola Run and Mel’s own Passion Of The Extended Torture Scene. But the running bit is great.
But you know this is Mel “Passion” Gibson, and you cannot help watching it without considering its potetial political subtext. And starting with that Will Durrant quote, I was wary.You see this film is about a decadent, violent society: and in condemening that society, it absolves those who actually destroy it. Who would happen to be Gibson’s Catholics. So when the Spanish turn up with the priest in tow at the very end of the film, our hero Jaguar Paw has to escape in to the jungle. Not that he will not get destroyed too, but since the film does not want him destroy it has to remove him from this cleansing awe. He is the only noble savage in the book, the rest are violent, venal and deserve what they are going to get: be it war of death by the pox.

But hold on, the Mayan’s moan about their crops failing. There’s that creepy plague-ridden girl who prophecises in riddles, she clearly has the pox already BEFORE THE SPANISH GET THERE. What Mel is saying, as subtly as he can, is that the Spanish did not bring the disease which killed off the Mayans, they died themselves. Sure, the righteous Christians may well have killed off the murderous, human sacrifing bunch – but they did not harbour the disease of ideology or biology which did all the hard work.

All of which does not undermine the film being exciting, or pretty (though see The New World for a better, less exciting view of this kind of material). But great to see Mel falling back on the only way that you can escape being sacrificed on top of a Mayan pyramid: despite the Mayans of course being consumated astrologers and therefore unlikely to be confused by motions of the heavens.