apocalypto and mel’s mother-figures


i finally got around to seeing ‘apocalypto‘ last night – it’s a mixed bag – an undeniably exhilirating film, but extremely violent; and either a tragic reflection on how those who live by the sword die by it, or a 16th century lethal weapon, or both. the controversy that surrounded its director mel gibson just before it was released clouded serious discussion about what this film means, so let me just add one thought.

in each of the epic -canvas films that gibson has directed – ‘braveheart’, ‘the passion of the christ’, and ‘apocalypto’ – there is a scene where the central male character undergoes some kind of torment while a strong female character in his life looks on from a crowd. in ‘braveheart’, william wallace sees the ghost of his wife while he is being tortured to death; in ‘the passion’, mary gazes helplessly at jesus carrying the cross, and even sees him transformed in her mind’s eye into a the little boy she raised; now, in ‘apocalypto’, jaguar paw, being led to the top of a pyramid to be sacrificed to the sun god, has a moment of almost unbearable tenderness with his mother in law.

whatever else may be said about mel gibson’s ideological beliefs (which are difficult, at best, to determine; given the circumstances under which he has expressed them), ability as a director, or personal problems, it’s pretty clear to me that one aspect of his career that has been undervalued is something other than the misogyny that action stars are often accused of. is it just possible that mel gibson loves women? that he loves mothers? that he wants to give them the respect they deserve?

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2 responses to “apocalypto and mel’s mother-figures

  1. Thanks – great post. I’m not convinced about your conclusion though. I wonder if these women scenes might be interpreted differently. The strong women looking on are, in the end, powerless. They can bring empathy and emotion, but no rescue. The strong male lead looks upon them, but then has to use violence of some kind to break through. I wonder if the repetition shows us that Gibson struggles with the theme of redemptive violence – that some female spirit does keep nudging him, haunting him… But in the end he knows violence and strong men being heroes is what sells?

  2. Sneha Abraham

    you’re right, it is a mixed bag. there is a palpable tenderness towards women — at least artistically. in gibson’s films they are more than muses, they are the redemptive spirits. is it the madonna/mother mary effect?