Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Gibson views Jaguar Paw as a Christ-like figure, staging his kidnapped people's journey from their village to the Mayan stronghold not unlike Jesus's journey to the cross. Gibson has no interest in extolling the riches of the Mayan culture, only its vile decadence (to the director, this was a culture that deserved to be conquered), [...] On their journey, they will encounter a little girl who is shrouded in mystery (she hovers over a dead woman, ostensibly her mother, marks on both their bodies that may or may not have come from the white man) and who throws a fierce prophecy to the wind. It is as if she were warning of Christ's resurrection. Indeed, when Jaguar Paw escapes his captors, who hold court like Herod and celebrate the day like the people of Babel, or the Temple of Doom (take a whiff the emperor's fat-little-piggy son, then dig that shot from the point-of-view of a decapitated head!), Gibson imagines Jaguar Paw like Jesus at the very end of Passion of the Christ: the original last-action hero. But there is a difference between Christ and Jaguar Paw: Though he busts a move like a sick motha, Jaguar Paw doesn't so much itch for vengeance as he thrills for survival. Apocalypto finds something spiritual in dramatic juxtapositions of emotion. As Jaguar Paw, a lethal weapon of a man, returns to his village, his vigilance is contrasted with that of his wife, who struggles, on the brink of giving birth, in her stone pit against the forces of mother nature—killing an ape-like creature, ingeniously stitching up a wound on her son's leg with decapitated ant jaws, and trying to stay above water when it begins pouring. [...] When Gibson allows for scenes such as Blunted's mother-in-law, after she isn't sold into slavery by the Mayans, connecting emotionally for the first time with her son-in-law in the face of their hopeless spiritual depletion, the director recalls the great Mary-Jesus flashbacks from Passion of the Chris, offering us a glimpse of that heart he otherwise delights in ripping from people's chests.
I don't know if Mel Gibson really intended the character Jaguar Paw to be a Christ-like figure and if anybody else noticed it. The sacrament of Baptism was also notable, at least for me. In fact, I thought I was just seeing one or two coincidences in the movie but as it went on, the numerous sprinkling of Christological and sacramental allusions would be so difficult to discount. I feel that I shouldn't be surprised to see sprinkling of such Christian imagery in the movie of a guy who made the Passion of the Christ.
So let me enumerate below some of the points of Christological allusions I've observed in Apocalypto:
- During the village-raid scene, the men were bound to bear bamboo poles together. The entire scene was reminiscent of Christ carrying the cross.
- A wikipedia contributor noted that the march of the captives to the temple took place during a full moon. Christ's Passion took place during the Passover festival which always takes place during a full moon.
- The weird kid prophesying that Jaguar Paw will be bringing their world to an end. It indeed ended. Christ inaugurates a new creation.
- There was a crowd witnessing the ritual hoping to get some of the blood of the victims. There's also a scene there where mothers are smearing their babies with blood from the victims' severed heads. The scene feels like the mob at the Via Dolorosa and Calvary asking for Jesus' "blood to be upon us".
- Christ's crucifixion and the sacrifices took place at a height. The pyramid is reminiscent of Mount Calvary.
- When Christ died on the Cross, there was darkness during the midday. When Jaguar Paw was about to be sacrificed, though he does not die, a lunar eclipse occured.
- A very prominent point of convergence, I think, is the common conviction of Jews, Christians and Mesoamericans and others that a bloody sacrifice is required by a Divine Being from its worshippers. I heard from a religious documentary years ago that during Spanish colonial times, many natives were attracted to Catholicism because it also had a ritual involving blood sacrifice, though it was sacramental in Catholicism's case. So at the onset, I already had that in mind while watching the movie. In fact, it was with this perspective that led me to see the other Christological elements in the movie.
- When the captives were to be disposed by being made into moving targets at a ball field, Jaguar Paw manages to escape though wounded by an arrow at his side. His side wound be an allusion of Christ's side wound.
- An interesting image is that of Jaguar Paw emerging from a pit of quick sand. I may be over-imagining things but I think the scene has several layers to it. First, this looks to me a nice visual of the creation of Adam from the mud of the earth. Second, it could also be seen as Christ rising from the underneath the earth as he Resurrects. The scense also served as a turning point in the movie. Jaguar Paw isn't just running away from his pursuers, he's fighting back.
For the movie's allusions to Baptism:
- The scene at the waterfall, where his blue paint was washed off. This would be a pretty standard imagery for baptism where sin is washed off, if I were to direct. The addition of one of his pursuers dying in the waterfall clued me to something I wouldn't have otherwise noticed: of the 9 raiders originally pursuing him, 7 died for various reasons, including 1 in the waterfall. (I counted them during my second view of the movie.) I dunno, should I be seeing Christ, as personified by Jaguar Paw, killing off the Seven Deadly Sins through the Pascal mystery and Baptism or something like that? Perhaps.
- The scene of Jaguar Paw's wife giving birth to their second child in a pit-like cave while being immersed in water is especially wonderful for me. If you didn't see the Baptismal imagery here, you should get your Catholic eyes checked. What I see is an imagery of a Christian being born as a Child of the Spouse of Christ (the Church) through the waters of Baptism and then raised into salvation from the pit by Christ himself.
- Finally, the waters of the sea brought salvation by bringing men who distracted Jaguar Paw's 2 remaining pursuers.
Of course, not all items in the movie above had striking point-by-point similarities with the Gospel account of Christ's passion or of the theology of Baptism. I would posit that the Apocalypto story is an exciting, action-packed re-imagery of the Pascal mystery and the Sacrament of Baptism according to the Christian-myth-making tradition of JRR Tolkien. It's certainly proves that salvation history is anything but boring. One might consider it a good movie for your Lenten mediations.
If Mel Gibson was consciously trying to do a Tolkien, he really did a good job with it.