Hooray! At last, we have some REAL archaeology to get our teeth into. We’re talking Mayan pyramids, and Mayan language, and Mel Gibson. But as ever with archaeology on film, we’re gonna get mired in controversy over how accurate things really are. The first time I saw Apocalypto, I thought “Cool!” Sure, there’s a bit too much joking around at the start with tapir testicles, and Jaguar Paw’s young, pregnant wife and son at the bottom of the well is a touch too Hollywood, but the decision to use an indigenous language (Yucatec) is a stroke of genius, and the pursuit of Jaguar Paw by the Bad Mayans is super exciting and combines elements of Deliverance with Cornel Wilde’s The Naked Prey to great effect.
Well, subtitles and jungle pursuits don’t, apparently, do it for those kill-joy archaeologists and historians who complain that Gibson is confusing Mayan with Aztec culture, conflating ninth century Mayan culture with the early 16th century, so that he can introduce Hernan Cortes at the end, and generally getting his facts all wrong. To which there can only be one answer: WHO CARES? I hate Mel Gibson as much as the next man, stupid, drunken, right-wing, anti-Semitic, English-bashing, wife-battering Sedevacantist that he is, but for once (God knows how) he made a fucking good film (I’m sorry about the expletive – I don’t know how else to express it) and he didn’t have to read Breaking The Maya Code to do it. I doubt if there will ever be a more intense, nightmarish, documentary-like depiction of human sacrifice in pre-Colombian Central America, whether it’s authentically Mayan or not. And, since no-one’s making films about the Aztecs (more’s the pity) we’ll just have to make do with Aztec sacrifice transposed to the Yucatan, and Mayans speaking a made-up but largely convincing gobbledygook.
Anyway, the last time I was at Chichen Itza, in 2004, they were rolling the heads of tourists they’d captured down the steps of the great pyramid, and woe betide anyone who didn’t leave the grounds when they asked you to! If you wandered off in search of a cenote and didn’t stick to the paths, you could step on a trap and be impaled, just like the tapir in Apocalypto. It happened to a couple of US college kids right in front of us (a double impaling – hooray!).
What I want to know is, what’s so great about authenticity? Some of my favourite “historical” films play fast and loose with the truth. Do you think all those slaves really stood up and shouted “I’m Spartacus!” when Kirk Douglas did? Or that the Battle of Algiers was actually a battle? This bothers some people: the Open Democracy website has one Martin Evans (didn’t he use to play for Jethro Tull?) taking issue with Gillo Pontecorvo over his choice of title, and berates him for ignoring the divisions within the National Liberation Front. Presumably Mr Evans would have preferred a film called “The Low-Level Urban Debate Between Competing Factions of the FLN During The Struggle For Independence in Algeria”, In which case, I must humbly apologise. Some of the photos I’ve posted here aren’t even of the Yucatan. They were taken in Guatemala. I humbly submit to a Self-Criticism and Re-Education Programme.
Dai the Llama’s verdict: Personally, I dislike violence against tapirs, even if they ARE ungulates, and not camelids, because in the end, we’re all Saff Americans, innit? So I ‘as to say (wiv ‘eartfelt apologies to Francis Ford Coppola) “Apocalypto? Nah!” But I can’t see what’s wrong with a bit of English-bashing. Ultimately, nothing beats Mad Max II, does it?