I read a review you wrote in the National Catholic Register about Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto. I thoroughly enjoy reading the Register and from time to time I will brouse through your movie reviews to see what you have to say about the content of recent films, opinions I usually not only agree with but trust.
However, your recent review of Apocalypto was way off the mark. First of all the gore of Mel Gibson’s films are only to make them more realistic, and if you think that is too much, then you don’t belong watching a movie that can actually acurately show the suffering that people go through. The violence of the ancient Mayans can make your stomach turn just reading about it, and all Gibson wanted to do was accurately portray it. It would do you good to read up more about the ancient Mayans and you would discover that his film may not have even done justice itself to the kind of suffering ancient tribes went through at the hands of their hostile enemies.
But, maybe this wouldn’t suit you because you went as far as to mention that the bloodshed in The Passion was unnecessary, a review from a critic I have yet to hear (until now) because it is well known that The Passion or any movie for that matter on the death of Christ could never correctly show Our Lord’s suffering as it was, no matter how violent, but Mel Gibson’s depiction has been the closest yet. Call me crazy, but I call that using modern technology to finally show the truth of how horribly our Lord was crushed for our sins, a movie that could move hearts, simply with that accurate portrayal of the true suffering of an innocent man.
I don’t think we can say that the violence in Apocalypto is for the sake of realism. In the first place, there are ten thousand stories that could be told, about the Maya or anyone else, that have nothing to do with human sacrifice, raping and pillaging, and Most Dangerous Game–style deathtraps in the jungle, etc. Those are not, however, the kinds of stories Gibson wants to tell.
Secondly, if realism were all Gibson was interested in, he could have written a story that focused also on some of the nobler or more accomplished side of Mayan civilization — their achievements in mathematics and astronomy, their mythology, and so forth. (There is a mythic story related in the film, but it isn’t told by the civilized city Maya, but their jungle-dwelling village cousins.)
When realism isn’t violent enough, Gibson invents more violence than realism warrants. For example, I understand that, while the Maya did practice human sacrifice, typically they did not have mass sacrifices of large numbers of prisoners. Rather, they tended to sacrifice a person, such as a chief of an enemy tribe, chosen for his importance. But Gibson wanted mass killing, so we got mass killing. (The vast field of bodies is probably likewise for effect rather than for historical accuracy.)
Furthermore, as my review mentioned, not all of the violence has anything to do with a realistic depiction of Maya culture. How many people in history have had their faces chewed off by jaguars? How many raiding parties have been attacked by jaguars and snakes, had members bash out their brains jumping over waterfalls, etc?
As regards the realism of Jesus’ sufferings in The Passion of the Christ: It’s true that no film could show our Lord’s sufferings, which were incalculable, bearing as he was the weight of the world’s sins. However, the actual physical violence our Lord likely suffered under the Romans was greatly exaggerated in the film.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, consider that of renowned Shroud of Turin expert Dr. Fred Zugibe, a professional forensic medical examiner and adjunct associate professor of Pathology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians & Surgeons.
Dr. Zugibe has said more than once, in my hearing, that the sufferings depicted in The Passion far exceed the violence revealed by the Shroud — besides being many times the amount of violence needed to kill a man outright.
The Roman soldiers were cruel, but they knew their business; given orders to beat a man and release him, it’s very unlikely that they would have subjected him to many times the violence needed to kill a mortal man, thereby subjecting themselves to disciplinary action if he died.