So… what did Mel Gibson do with all of that money he made off of The Passion of the Christ? He made Apocalypto. And here’s what Christian film critics are saying…
Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films):
Gibson is a consummate filmmaker, and the action is never less than riveting. Yet as the film repeatedly ratchets up the wince factor beyond what seems necessary or appropriate, it’s hard not to feel that suffering has been reduced to spectacle. The Passion offered a redemptive context for its brutality that seems lacking here. Gibson is still seeking life amid death, but the balance is off.
The final showdown between Jaguar Paw and his detestable archrival is brilliantly orchestrated. But then comes a moment when the bad guy is not quite dead, but not long for this life… and, as he looks up at the hero, a thin jet of blood spurts from the side of his laid-open head, pulsing with his heartbeat. Does anyone want or need to see that?
Jenn Wright (Past the Popcorn):
Apocalypto avoids a common trap that modern treatments of ancient cultures often fall into: portraying them overly reverently, as sober, deep, and rather bland and humorless. Unfortunately, Gibson has wandered too far on the other side, thrusting upon ancient Mayans the locker-room man-boy humor most often associated with low budget sitcoms and ’80s frat-boy flicks. It is fairly obvious that Gibson’s goal with his latest work was not to paint a picture of Mayan life and culture, but to make a modern chase movie set in ancient Central America, subtitles and all. It’s one thing to hear raunchy humor in English; it’s quite another to hear it in Yucatec and then see it printed in English across the bottom of the screen.
Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk):
… the filmmaker gives his detractors plenty of additional evidence to bolster their claim that he has an unseemly obsession with violence.What’s missing this time is a larger context for the graphic images to which “Apocalypto” viewers are subject. No central theological debate, as in “The Passion of the Christ.” No ties to European ancestry and national pride, as in “Braveheart.” No, “Apocalypto” is a savage, repellent film that raises serious questions about Gibson’s interest in the worst kinds of human suffering.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today):
Gibson, as usual, finds himself in the middle; he is a sadist who rubs our faces in cinematic violence, and he is also a masochist who figures the best way to deal with the violence he sees in the world is to accept it and absorb it somehow. But where The Passion gave his admirers an easy out—between Jesus taking the pain and his enemies inflicting it, we side with the pain-taking, no question—Apocalypto is harder to pin down. One man, who is clearly meant to be a role model of sorts, faces his own death with incredible resolve, betraying no emotion and barely any suffering. But Jaguar Paw must fight back, at least to save his family, so the film takes a few steps back to the revenge-seeking ways of Braveheart and other Gibson flicks.
It will be interesting to see what Christian movie buffs in particular make of this film. When The Passion came out, there was much speculation that Gibson had become “one of us,” and there were many requests for Gibson to follow it up with a movie about the Maccabean revolt, Saint Francis, or any of a number of other biblical and religious subjects. Instead, with a budget rumoured to be over $70 million—much of it amassed from The Passion’s profits—Gibson has made a bloody flick about death and social decay in a pagan culture, and he hints ever so obliquely that the world has not fared any better under we Christians. After watching Apocalypto, some people may find they cannot watch The Passion the way they used to.
What Gibson does do impressively is re-create the physical world of the Mayans with its exotic sights and sounds, spectacle and savagery. The intoxicating imagery and human drama, however, are undermined by so much gore that, even if historically accurate, the cumulative result registers as gratuitous.
Gibson unblushingly intends “Apocalypto” as a clarion call warning modern man to watch his step or risk following the Mayas into decline and near-extinction. To this end he opens the story with a famous quote from historian Will Durant about the fall of Rome: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”
This is all well and good, but the reality of “Apocalypto” is that this film is in fact Exhibit A of the rot from within that Gibson is worried about. If our society is in moral peril, the amount of stomach-turning violence that we think is just fine to put on screen is by any sane measure a major aspect of that decline. Mel, no one in your entourage is going to tell you this, but you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. A big part.
And now, at First Things, Anthony Sacramone :
Much attention has been paid to Gibson’s allusions to contemporary events as the controlling referent for Apocalypto. Here he is in a Time article back in March: “The fearmongering we depict in this film reminds me a little of President Bush and his guys.” Oh-kay. In any event, the film works on its own terms, regardless. So whatever you think of Mel Gibson, his beliefs, or his drunken rant, give Apocalypto a chance. It’s not a question of whether Gibson deserves it; if you love cinema, then you deserve it.