Before, “Apocolypto”, came out I decided not to see it after hearing Mr. Gibson’s drunken, anti-Semitic remarks. I then learned that the first cruise of my next contract was to the Mexican Riviera. Normally, when sailing in Mexico, I like to share my academic past and often present a lecture entitled, “Land of the Maya.” Knowing I planned once again to give this very talk, I wondered how it would be received vis a vis, “Apocolypto.” Would guests who had seen the movie feel diffently about the Maya? Would they walk off the ship in Mexico, Belize or Guatemala with a negative impression of the ancient people that built the great cities of Tikal, Copan, or Chichen Itza?
One of my pet peeves is when people criticize movies they’ve never seen; therefore I decided I needed to go see it. I bit the bullet and contributed my $8. I read the reviews and knew that the movie was excessively bloody and gory. But I also knew the context and belief system behind many of the things potentially depicted so I was forgiving - an attempt at cultural understanding I later found sorely lacking in the movie.
I found the movie silly - without a plot. Prior to going to the theater I visited the movie’s official website that showed a time line of the decline of the “Classic Maya” - 250 AD - 950 AD. I assumed the movie was going to follow that time line which would have made it very poignant as many of the socio-environmental factors that contributed to the decline of the Classic Maya are relevant today. Unfortunately, it was not the same time line. The movie takes place at a time when Spanish ships were off the coast - circa 1519 AD which is the “Post-Classic” period. I am sure that “real scholars” went crazy as Gibson threw whatever “gruesome” practices he could find from any meso-american culture together under the banner of “Maya.” If indeed this was to have taken place at the time of contact it was laughable to see Gibson’s rendition of a post-classic city-state. I waited until the very end to read the credits, and unless I missed something, I did not see any anthropologist or archaeologist as a historical consultant. So, who could take it seriously, right?
Wrong! No doubt many people will. They will believe that what they saw was well-documented and truthful. Instead of showing the decline of a great civilization caused by population pressure that produced environmental failure which caused militarism and social collapse - we just see innocent villagers pursued by wanton, bloody killers for no apparent reason. It will be interesting to see what kinds of questions will now be asked as visitors explore what is left of the beautiful cities built by the Maya, as well as what kinds of repercussions there will be within Mexican and Guatemalan communities who still consider themselves Maya. It’s a shame no mention was made of the incomparable Maya achievements in astronomy, the calendrical system, mathematics, writing, art, and architecture. As an agricultural society citizens watched the heavens, astronomers calculates when to plant and sow and could easily anticipate things like Gibson’s spooky eclipse.
It has always been my dream to make a movie that would reconstruct an ancient civilization… had I the money and resources I would love to do it … but I’d be sure to hire someone to get my facts straight…. for the integrity of the movie as well as the subject. Since that was not the case with this film, my only hope is that people remember, “it’s just a movie.” Before visiting a Maya site, may I suggest, “The Maya,” by Dr. Michael Coe.