Thursday, February 08, 2007

Apocalypto (Mel Gibson, 2006)


I hope there isn't anyone out there who still clings desperately to the belief that The Passion of the Christ isn't a hate-filled, anti-Jewish snuff movie. Despite the evidence--Gibson basing his script not on the Bible (as he claims) but on the writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich (allegedly Emmerich's--there's a possibility that German poet Clemens Brentano forged them), who at one point confidently wrote that Jews fed on the blood of Christian babies; despite his portraying Jews as sinister, avaricious, bloodthirsty (True, Christ, his mother, and Simon are exceptions, but in Gibson's mind, they aren't Jews--they're really early Christians)--the few cries of protest were drowned out by the hysterical wave of love shown the picture in Manila.

And then the drunk-driving incident. Oh my, how inconvenient--in vino veritas, and all that. Fanatical viewers may refuse to remove the redwood log jammed in their eyes, but the photo of Gibson grinning drunkenly from his arrest photo seems to have taken most of the wind out of their enthusiasm.


Damian said...

One of these days I'm gonna gather everyone who has ever referred to The Passion as a "snuff film" together in one room, somehow get hold of a real snuff film (I don't know how but I'll find a way) and force them to watch it Clockwork Orange-style. Perhaps then they'll actually learn the difference and come up with a better term which which to criticize Gibson's movie.

cineboy said...

Although I find Gibson's actions and words offensive - driving drunk is bad enough, jeez (I wonder if he secretly blames the Jews for his drunkeness as well!) - I also don't see him as fundamentally different than me. I can't. I'm sure my level of self-righteousness, hypocrisy, selfishness, etc. are every bit as bad as is his. The irony is that, according to Christians, the death and ressurection of Jesus is central to human history precisely because because humans tend to be so self-righteous, etc. Gibson has proved how badly he needs to be "saved" and how much he needs to repent - about as much as me I would say.

Whatever criticisms may, and possibly should, be leveled at Gibson's film, it is widely considered a truth that Jesus of Nazareth, the true life person behind the Jesus in the film, was brutally tortured and crucified to death. Given this fact, and given that the actor playing Jesus in the film did not actually die, it may be just as offensive to refer to this film, however flawed (and directed by a very flawed director indeed), as a "snuff film." In fact, to do so, and it has become popular to do so, may betray a level of wrong-headedness as bad as anything this film's director has been quoted as saying in public. Otherwise, I can agree, or partly agree with much that you say, even though I still do find the film rather compelling.

Noel Vera said...

1) There is no such thing as a snuff film (y'all look it up; I'll sit here waiting).

2) The popular definition of a snuff film is one made for profit where the death of the film's subject is meant to get the viewer off. There are other definitions, under which some of the Al Qaeda videos would fall under, but the crucial element for this common definition I'm thinking (and I assume you are thinking) of includes profit, and the sexual element.

3) I submit that's exactly what Gibson wants us to do. And it worked, too.

Noel Vera said...

Oh, and 4) I've seen some Al Qaeda snuff videos. Gibson has nothing new to tell me.

cineboy said...

I have no intention or need to defend Gibson or his film (and certainly not his social politics), and I've probably seen all the definitions of "snuff film" that you have, but...

where the death of the film's subject is meant to get the viewer off

...honestly, to me that seems like rather reactionary and dishonest kind of interpretation, similar to the kinds of interpretations I saw too many in grad school gleefully jump into because it was fun and a cheap way to be "inciteful" without having to provide clear examples or explication.

Certainly Gibson has a lot to answer for, but I just don't see within the film itself the hatred of all Jews as so many have said (though I will say Gibson himself personally hasn't made my interpretation any easier). I do, however, see the film painting a portrait of the Jewish ruling class of that time much the same way that Jesus himself did, a "brood of vipers" etc.

Without question the film is graphic, and for effect I'll grant you, but to say it was made for an audience to "get off" seems rather extreme - maybe I am wrong - and I'm sure that some people did "get off." I will say, however, that I cannot, and will not attempt, to read Gibson's mind, so I can't say why he made the film the way he did. I can only say that for myself, and the many people with whom I have discussed this film, the graphic killing of the main character was experienced as something decidedly other than "getting off." And, again, maybe I am wrong and don't fully understand myself as well as I should - but I personally don't know anyone who fetishizes graphic violence. I can say that the term "snuff film" feels like the kind of statement designed to quell all discussion, for to disagree is to cling "desperately to the belief that The Passion of the Christ isn't a hate-filled, anti-Jewish snuff movie," and that to think otherwise, especially to have liked the film, is to be "hysterical." Maybe I am a desperate clinger and a bit hysterical, but I am willing to be persuaded otherwise. If I am wrong, then I may merely be over-reacting to my understanding (misunderstanding?) of snuff film and its connotations.

As for

may refuse to remove the redwood log jammed in their eyes

"Fanatical viewers" aside, I am inclined to think that is, in fact, the fundamental condition of each and every one of us. Certainly it is my condition.

btw, you really do bring up a lot of interesting points even though disagree with some of them.

Noel Vera said...

Okay, so we're talking about Passion?

But you missed the sensuality of the images--the langorous spin of Christ's body, the blood welling from the torn flesh, the voluptuous pauses between each lash? The sense of righteous vindication as he rises from the dead to do--what? Payback is a motherfucker.

It's not, I suppose, because I'm repelled by the S & M--it's because I'm so damned familiar with the genre that I know what kind of strategies Gibson's using, and what kind of reactions he wants to elicit.

He's not the best of the lot, by the way--Pier Paolo Pasolini, Clive Barker, Michael Haneke, Laurice Guillen and Mario O'Hara among others can teach him a thing or two about sexual cruelty.

I'll admit those aren't the only reactions; there'll be people who are unaware as to what he's trying to do. And judging from his interviews, the movies themselves and his life as lived, I'm guessing he's fucked up enough that he doesn't know he's doing it--he's just doing what feels right for him.

Damian said...

I actually do know the definition of a snuff film, Noel (I saw the movie 8MM and subsequently did a fair amount of research on the subject; I haven't seen any of the Al Queda videos nor do I plan to), and I understand what you mean when you say that they, in a sense, "don't really exist." What's interesting is that this is precisely why I consider it incorrect and unfair to refer to The Passion as simply a "snuff film."

Anyway, it's clear to me that you don't care for the movie or Mr. Gibson, which is fine. You don't have to, but I happen to be one of those "fanatical viwers" with a huge "redwood log jammed in my eye" who (quite apart from what my opinion of Gibson himself might be) actually found the movie to be a rather compelling work of art rather than simply a base work of pornography. Like cineboy, I can acknowledge that it is a flawed film and that there are many legitimate criticisms that can be levelled at it, but I guess what was most offensive to me about your post was how easily dismissive you could be of anyone who might happen to see some redeeming (no pun intended) value to the film, who doesn't purport to know what Mel Gibson's "true" intent was in making it and who might actually think that The Passion is, of all things, a good movie.

I try not to think more of myself than I ought, and I don't mean to sound arrogant or haughty here, but I am a reasonably intelligent human being and I tend to not respond very well to being called "blind," "ignorant" or "stupid," which seemed to me to be, more or less, the tenor (if not the substance) of your post. If I were to universally categorize all indviduals who found Last Tango in Paris to be anything other than a "crude and worthless piece of sexual exploitation" as gullible, moronic fools who simply "got off" on the film's content, then I would probably expect some people to reply to me in the spirit which I did to you. At any rate, if you were not intending to imply those things about me specifically and every other single person else who might've liked The Passion in general, then I apologize for my initial reactionary comments.

cineboy said...

yes, Passion

as for:
blood welling from the torn flesh
yes, got that

as for:
voluptuous pauses between each lash
not so sure about that. I certainly wouldn't use "voluptuous" nor its connotations. It certainly didn't come across to me as S&M either, even though the brutality does have a strong visual sensuality. I don't really know how one would get away from a brutal sensuality of some kind with that story.

as for:
The sense of righteous vindication as he rises from the dead to do--what? Payback is a motherfucker
I don't see that in the film at all. That feels more like a personal interpretation already made up (not incorrectly so) about a certain kind of Christianity, etc. And maybe it's true and I just don't see it, but really I don't see it in the film. I do see it amongst a number of Christians who like to forget the whole reason he died, etc.

and for:
He's not the best of the lot, by the way
he's just doing what feels right for him
I have no disagreement with that.

Noel Vera said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Noel Vera said...

As for the ending giving one a sense of righteous vindication--I'm not the only one who felt that was the--unintentional, for all I know--tone of that scene.

Noel Vera said...

I suppose I'm coming from a specific place--that of what I felt was a lonely voice in the wilderness, so to speak, while everyone from Roger Ebert to the Archbishop of Manila praised it to high heaven. No, I'm not in the mood to give in an inch, not on this movie, not on this filmmaker. And I believe I have my reasons, and that they're good reasons.

I do have a specific stance; I believe the anti-Semitism is irrefutable; I concede the movie's lack of quality is more or less my opinion. I can see people admiring it for its artistic qualities--I'd agree Caleb Deschanel does good work (this isn't his best, tho) but that's it, for me. Anyone wants to make a case for the picture qualitywise, I won't stop 'em. That rant was pointed at those that deny the hatred.