REEL Time: Mel Gibson’s APOCALYPTO


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Mel Gibson’s new movie, Apocalypto, though released in December, is not exactly your holiday fare. Mark Marsden and I took some time this past Friday to review this gory, action filled historical fiction. Emphasis on the fiction.

While not seasonally appropriate, Apocalypto does provide some fodder in our search for a spiritual anthropology. We can avoid the criticisms of whether or not Mel is trying to demonstrate the horrific ugliness of non-christian cultures in comparison to the Roman Catholicism he espouses. Of course he is. But he also shows within the film both the potential ugliness and pristine humanity of non-christian cultures as compared to each other. Gibson’s film can lead to a fruitful discussion as to whether or not there is within human cultures –even Christian ones — a “heart of darkness”. [Allusion to Joseph Conrad’s work intended].

The peoples who practiced human sacrifice, or cannabalism in the Americas or in Europe, were after all people like us. What changed us? Or, have we really changed? After all, power, fear, superstition and greed still drive the human machine.

In relative terms, we might also discuss the merits of the expansion of western culture. Would people really have been better off in net terms without the gains in science and technology, law and culture that the western expansion provided? This is a movie sure to inspire conversation along the ideological chasm between left and right in western culture. And that’s a good thing because clarity is sometimes more important than agreement. What do you think?

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Apocalypto Trailer

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12 thoughts on “REEL Time: Mel Gibson’s APOCALYPTO

  1. I heard somebody say once, something about, “Humanity tends to move toward a darkness of pre-flood proportions all of the time.”

    Having not seen Apocalypto as of yet, it’s hard to understand your arguments as well as one might after seeing the movie.

    “Would people really have been better off in net terms without the gains in science and technology, law and culture that the western expansion provided?”

    Hard to say. One could make arguments both ways . . .

  2. I just read something in Don Miller’s book ‘Blue Like Jazz’ that I think is relevant to this conversation. Miller suggests that the problem with the world lies in each of us…’I am the problem’ he suggests.
    I think this speaks to our own fractured nature. Wherever there are humans on earth, we find corruption and ‘darkness’ to varying degrees.

  3. my question was referring to how better off is being defined… if it’s defined by less people using less natural resources, than we are not better off. but if it’s defined by the belief (my belief) that every single life is a gift & has worth, than we are better off.

  4. Jimmy,

    regardless of how you define “better off”, the question is: are people “better off” –as defined by you — in “net terms”, in other words, over all?

    i think people are better off OVER ALL regardless of how “better off” is defined. that’s the point. here’s a clarifying question for you. Give me a definition of “better off” that shows that people are in fact “worse off” in “net terms” by the advance of western culture, law, technology and science.

    let me take the example of your example of “natural resources “and “life as a gift”. i would argue that a culture that uses more natural resources and values human life as a gift over a culture that uses fewer natural resources and doesn’t value human life is better off over all. How about you?

  5. Alex, my friend – whether we’re eating pancakes at IHOP on Woodward Ave in Detroit at 1 AM or commenting back & forth re: a post on your blog, you consistently force me to think… for that, i thank you!

    to answer your question, i, too, think that people are better off over all. i also agree that the culture that uses fewer natural resources & doesn’t value human life is better off over all.

    one could argue that the culture that claims to value human life as a gift but uses more natural resources does not, in fact, value human life. if their claim were true, wouldn’t they use less natural resources than those who do not claim to value human life? i think so.

  6. Alex, I would agree with your definition of “better off” if the resources are renewable and their use is sustainable. 🙂

    I think what this comes down to is that there is a battle going on in our universe. And while in every age and for every generation, the battle looks different– allowing for the philosophies and technologies of that age and generation– the underlying battle is the same. Call it what you will: God v. Devil, Good v. Evil, Hope v. Fear, Life v. Death, Joy v. Despair. The cosmic battle will still be there, defying our choice of vocabulary, defying our arrogant decision to ignore it, defying our feeble attempts to stay neutral.

    Really, though, that knowlege would be irrelevant if we didn’t know how to use it. I mean, how does it affect each of us? After all, neither you nor I are in positions of enough power to change the course of events for the entire universe. But you do change the lives around you; and so do I. The decisions we make are of eternal importance, not only because you and I are eternal beings; but because those around us are eternal beings. And every action we make influences and impacts those around us, like throwing a pebble into a lake.

    Sooner or later, if we wait long enough, the energy in the drops of water around that pebble will find their way to the water on the other side of the lake, and into the atmosphere, which rains on a river, which flows into the sea, which freezes at the south pole, and eventually shifts further north, and melts (more quickly perhaps, due to global warming), and evaporates again, and travels to the equator on the heels of a tropical storm, and falls to the earth as rain, into a cistern in the Dominican Republic, where it waits to be drunk by a thirsty school child.

    And sooner or later, if we wait long enough, that smile and extra tip that you gave to your Starbucks barista will put him in a good mood, and he’ll stop to hold the door for someone with a stroller, and the store employee will be pleasantly surprised to see it during the busy holiday rush and will be reminded that some customers in fact are not just there to treat other people like dirt in order to get the best deal and spread “holiday cheer” to their family, and as a result she will help the next customer save money by telling them about a sale rack they didn’t notice, and the shopper will drop the money she saved in the can at the door, for a charity which supports a school in the Dominican Republic, where the children drink their water from a cistern.

    You get the picture. Now go do something kind for others people. Prayer, love, and serving others are how we do our part in the battle to fight off that darkness of epic proportions to which our universe (or at least mankind) is tending.

  7. I’ve just watched the movie – takes ages to arrive in belfast. Loved it. I always loved imagining how I would live in cultures separated from my own by time and/or space. I guess for me, the answer to whether a pre-western civilisation could be better off than us now is definitely, if you define better off as a greater quality of life. There are plenty of places around the world even today, in developing countries, where although income is vastly smaller, life is pretty content. (I am not promoting the glossy, poor=simple but happy viewpoint). I ask myself would I like to have a longer western lifespan if that life was an empty, driven, miserable shell. Or a shorter non-western one that was enriched with meaning, contentment in my place in life, etc. The sad thing is, that if all I knew was miserable existance then I’d probably want more of it. Contentment is not exclusive to the western world :O)

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