Posted by: Tina M | 1 March , 2012

Apocolypto: truth in fiction

Tonight I was encouraged to watch Apocolypto, the story of a peaceful tribe is “ravaged” by a troupe of slave traders who are collecting both slaves and human sacrifices. The captures were taken to the mayan civilazation and tortured until only one escapes, our hero.

What struck me about the movie was the way that the storyline strung together the most horrific historical trends of domination in the sake of “civilization”=

While the different tribes involved in the movie were all racially similar, the dynamics that emerged between the master and slaves brought back immediately all the historical references and recordings of the atrocities that were born out of greed. The pattern of domination and manipulation of women in warfare triggered so much in me- shaking me to the core with the spirits of the millions of women in past, present, and future that experience the same terror of being dominated for the sake of power.

The movie was well done in terms of establishing deep characters that portrayed complex emotional realities of some of the most traumatic events imaginable. The shame and horror of the men to not be able to protect their women, children, and village. The emasculation of their restraint and the sexual defiling of their women. An act of violence that has implications for the survival of a family- being born from the understanding that women are the givers of life, and to eliminate or rape and traffik the women of a community you are cutting the life force.

The hero of the story, Jaguar Paw, is the saving grace from an otherwise depressing movie. Once he is able to embody his father’s sense of peace in the face of terror, he provides inspiration for the integrity and agility with which he secures his freedom and eliminates his captors.  It’s his ultimate reliance on his own identity that was rooted in the forest and the history that his family had living and surviving in that forest that keeps him from falling.

On top of the interpersonal violence there is also a run-in with a live jaguar, who runs into Jaguar Paw while he is hiding in a tree trying to allude his pursuers. There’s a beautiful scene where they are both running, hunter and prey in the most natural sense, a balance of nature and necessity – two beautiful creatures doing what is deepest ingrained in our mammalian brains. Of course, the tracking tribe didn’t notice the jaguar due to their focus on their target, and one ran into the path and is bitten/eaten by the jaguar. I’ll be honest, at this point of the movie I’m excited at some sort of justice, but it is short lived as the victim’s allies kill the jaguar in response.

The surprise twist **spoiler alert** is when they chase scene ends on the beach where they are met with the unusual image of boats, bringing white men towards their shores. The only hope is that he has the good sense to go to the forest, instead of moving towards the mysterious new people.

Of course, it felt awkwardly timed, as if they tried to make the leap from Mayan Civilization to Native American peoples during the colonization of the U.S. I understand that colonization has been happening throughout history and has followed a few patterns (white folks being the bad guys, for instance), so I needed to look into it further. In a short article on The Rise and Fall of the Maya Empire it was mentioned that by the time Spanish invaders arrived, most of the mayan culture had fallen and the people had moved to small agricultural villages.

So, what is eerier, the fear of potential invaders, or the fear of the self-destruction that seems so inevitable to mankind.

Overall, it was a good movie that I think can bring a lot of dialogue- but given my daily interaction with people dealing with modern day versions of domination, abuse, and injustice- I found it emotionally exhausting. If you leave the movie feeling like “it’s so terrible that that happened. . .”  I want you to switch that to realizing, “Right now, somewhere, this is happening”- it may not look the same but the symptoms and characteristics are the same.

How do we see families torn apart, dehumanized, and exploited (see prison industrial complex, health and educational disparities, human trafficking. . . need I say more?)

Deep thoughts for an already deep day. But some beautiful stories-


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