BY COLIN CONVERT
Degenerate societies on the verge of extinction hold a powerful grip on Mel Gibson's imagination.
From his performances in the dystopian "Mad Max" films through his directorial efforts in "Braveheart" and "The Passion of the Christ," he often returns to graphically violent variations on the theme.
Are the films warnings to modern viewers, object lessons on the process of civilization's collapse? After viewing his ambitious, audacious Yucatan chase movie, "Apocalypto," the answer is clearly yes. It's a stern message picture in the trappings of an action-packed adventure.
Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who divvies up the meat, is a natural leader. The successful hunt ends with Jaguar resting his head tenderly against the swollen belly of his wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez), as their unborn child kicks along with the fireside drums. Life is harsh and uncertain here, but there is community and an Eden-like beauty as well.
A raiding party from a neighboring Mayan metropolis shatters that tranquillity, turning the hunters into prey and prisoners…After much bloodshed, Jaguar and a dozen others are tethered together and led away to the city. Their captors are vicious and sadistic, but even they are shaken when they encounter a young girl, half mad with smallpox fever, who delivers a prophecy of their doom. There's a supernatural authority in her huge, dark-as-death eyes.
The captives' entrance to the capital is chilling. The huge bloodstained pyramids that dominate the skyline are a fantastic metaphor of evil, hallucinatory altars of destruction and death, prehistoric weapons of mass destruction. As the crowds cheer, heads literally roll down the pyramid steps as each victim is sacrificed.
The terrified Jaguar and the others are ushered up the main pyramid's steps to have their beating hearts cut out in an offering to the sky god, who they hold responsible for a ruinous drought around their dusty metropolis. Gibson masterfully conjures a sense of insane fantasies fueling satanic levels of violence.
Jaguar miraculously escapes, setting off a frantic chase. He must outrun, outwit and outfight a dozen of the city's toughest warriors to rescue Seven.