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The Big Movie: Apocalypto (R)

Weekend!Movies: Gibson's Mayan Passion play heavy on gore
by: ©2006 ICON DISTRIBUTION, Two years after his “The Passion of the Christ,” filmed mostly in Aramaic, Mel Gibson offers a story with biblical subtexts and actors (including Rudy Youngblood, above) speaking in Mayan.

With his recent alcohol-fueled anti-Semitic kerfuffle with the Malibu police, it's difficult to separate Mel Gibson's real-life shenanigans from his work as a director.

Given the themes of faith and a civilization's ultimate downfall in his latest picture, perhaps one shouldn't watch the Mayan thriller 'Apocalypto' without remaining mindful of Gibson's radical beliefs.

And yet, this is a surprisingly mainstream action picture - albeit a really freaky one with a whole lot of gore - with moments of real beauty and suspense scattered amid the almost nonstop violence.

Shot in the jungle on digital video, 'Apocalypto' is cast with a collection of indigenous natives, Hispanic actors and American Indians who speak their lines in the Mayan tongue (the film is subtitled).

The story focuses on a village chieftain's son, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who serves as an analog for Gibson's 'Passion' version of Jesus. He's an almost superhumanly strong hero who endures the destruction of his village, the slaughter of his father and a near-miss with a temple priest's knife, to run through the jungle and ultimately turn the tables on his captors.

The film is drenched with Gibson's unique brand of crazy, and 'Apocalypto' comes off as a sort of a fantasy in which Jesus, after suffering the brutal lashings and beatings at the hands of the Centurians, is able to escape into the jungle and turn into Rambo.

Gibson's view of the Mayans is laid out at the beginning of the film with a quote from Will Durant - 'A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.'

A visual journey through a teeming Mayan city could be used as footage for anti-immigration propaganda films, as thousands of brown-skinned people butcher animals in the streets, cough up blood as they're forced to mine rocks and enthusiastically cheer each severed head that's bounced down the temple stairs.

The Mayans may have had an impressively advanced civilization for their time, but Gibson presents it all as an unsanitary trip through a Third World version of Gomorrah.

Gibson indulges his love for pornographic levels of violence throughout. The beatings, scalpings, stabbings and gushing buckets of blood that accompany the attack on Jaguar Paw's village are merely a prelude to a set-piece atop the temple steps, when the captured men are served up for sacrifice and their still-beating hearts are cut from their chests.

It's all quite fascinating in the same way as a particularly gruesome multicar collision - you don't really want to see it, but you can't look away - and the historical accuracy of it all is questionable, but one can't dismiss 'Apocalypto' entirely.

As with 'Passion,' this is a film made by someone who is seriously disturbed but not without talent.

You may not agree with Gibson's politics or with his view of ancient cultures, but one thing's for certain - this is sure to be the best R-rated Mayan adventure film with graphic depictions of vivisection that you'll see this holiday season. Just don't eat a big meal first.

- Dawn Taylor

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