Apocalypto Now?

December 7th, 2006

By Natalie Shoemaker

“The religious right rules through fear,” said Meredith Ellis, a Protestant chaplain at Ithaca College.

Likewise, Mel Gibson has said that the main character in his film “Apocalypto” is supposed to mirror that of a man struggling in our current society — a struggle fought against an over-zealous religion.

“Apocalypto” will be released on December 8, 2006. The movie is set in ancient Mayan civilization, where sacrifices have become more and more frequent, signaling a decline in the society. Hoping to please the gods so that they will make the empire flourish once more, the priests condemn a man to be sacrificed. There lies the main conflict: a man running from a fate that he may or may not be able to escape. Then again, you could say the same for the Mayan priests.

“Not much is known about how the Mayan elites ruled,” said Michael Malpass, professor of anthropology at Ithaca College. “However, we do know that the elites disappeared from the Mayan society, while farmers stayed.”

Since not much is known about the fall of the upper class, this could give Gibson the opportunity to create his own view of history.

But there is something else to think about when viewers catch “that Gibson flick.” Religious extremism and its effects of the past may be echoed in the present, with such groups as the Dominionist Christians. This group believes that President Bush is the first of a long line of leaders from the religious right, who will bring about a nuclear Armageddon. This will, in turn, lead to the coming of Jesus Christ. Some laugh, some cry, and others say, “It’s true.”

“Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ – to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness,” said Dominionist George Grant on the Web site, countercurrents.org.

Many have asked Gibson if there are any underlying messages in this film, and his response has been that it is his intention to draw from the past, to look at the present and to see America’s future. As any pop culturally savvy American knows, Gibson has his own religious biases. Gibson’s political standings are, nonetheless, against the Bush administration.

There’s an aphorism that states, “The power is always with the priests” in the past and in the present. The Mayan priests order sacrifices, and today the Bush administration has ordered a “crusade,” which has called for risking the safety of the few to provide for the many. Could Gibson’s “Apocalypto” serve as a warning for what may come?

The Mayan priests would conquer enemy lands, not for gold or goods, but out of necessity for people to capture and sacrifice to their gods. Priests would not sacrifice their own people, only foreigners who knew how to write and understood the politics of the Mayan empire.

The population of our country has reached the 300 million mark, and of that, there is a population of 4 million people who all contributed to one voting block in the 2004 election: Dominionist Christians.

Father Mike Mahler, a Catholic chaplain at Ithaca College, said Bush’s certainty that his power comes from prayer has fueled the rise of extreme groups.

“Bush has a Messiah complex, and any person who believes they have a direct line to God through prayer is dangerous,” he said. Bush has given them more hope to fuel their belief. They can be strong in numbers.

Faith is a powerful tool, and the thought that people are willing to destroy life as we know it through a nuclear winter seems unfounded, but is a reality. The same thing happened to the Mayans — the increased sacrifices became quite extreme, but the power of the priests persuaded the masses that it would be all for the best.

The Bush administration has only helped it grow with the “crusade” statements. Bush has openly stated, “This war [in Iraq] is a crusader war.”

Though this is a lot to think about while going into a Mel Gibson film, what happened to the Mayans could always happen to us. Gibson wants us to remember the past, understand and react to how horrible it was, and see the parallels. Perhaps he hopes that if audiences reach that feeling, they just might do something about it.

Natalie Shoemaker is a freshman exploratory major whose favorite movie is Forever Young. Email her at nshoema1@ithaca.edu.

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