Reviews of it were mixed, but the negative reviews were all based on one thing: the violence. Nothing else. That was the only fault they could find with it.
And yes, the movie is extremely violent, but, the story is extremely violent; the violence is part and parcel to the story.
I'm going to lay out the situation for you, so that you know what it is about, and hopefully, without ruining it for you in case you want to see it. But, if you don't like getting any details about a movie before you see it, then stop reading now.
It's about the end-days of the Mayan empire, where their agriculture was failing, disease was spreading, and they thought they needed to appease their Gods with blood sacrifices. So, they fell upon the local hunter/gatherer tribes, raided them, savaged them, dragged the surviving men back to the Mayan capital to be used as human sacrifices, and the women to be sold as slaves. And one of their victims is a young man named Jaguar Paw. He has a pregnant wife and a 3 year old son, whom he managed to sneak away during the attack and hide in an underground cave. But, he had to go back to lend his support to the tribe, and he fought valiantly. But, it was hopeless from the start, and he was among those being marched back to die.
So, there he is, shackled, brutalized, exhausted, and destined to die, but he knows full well that if he dies, then his family dies too.
Talk about being in a predicament.
So, why is this such a great movie? Because it completely draws you in. If you're a man, you become Jaguar Paw. You're trapped in his situation. Forget about the rest of your life; that's on hold. That's how effective this movie is. It completely immerses you in the story.
Did it need to be as violent as it is? I would say so. The brutality and the monstrousness go to the heart of the story.
Some have questioned the historical accuracy of it, and I can't speak to that. But, it certainly seems authentic when you watch it. I know that Mel Gibson hired Dr. Richard D. Hansen, Assistant Professor at Idaho State University and a specialist on Mayan culture, as a consultant to ensure a level of historical accuracy.
And frankly, I think these critics are hypocrites. What the Mayan empire did in the movie, is it more violent than what the American empire does? Didn't we raid villages in Vietnam? What about Mai Lai?
"The Mỹ Lai Massacre was the Vietnam War mass killing of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968. It was committed by U.S. Army soldiers from Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated."
"Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years under house arrest."
Now, anyone who is going to complain about violence in a movie should definitely be at the front line in condemning violence in real life, particularly the institutionalized violence of governments.
I mentioned that Jaguar Paw realizes throughout that his death will be a death sentence for his family. If he dies, they die.
Well, it was the same way for John Kennedy. His slaughter on November 22, 1963 was a death sentence for, not thousands, but millions of people. They had no idea that the killing of this man, half a world away, meant that they were going to die soon too. The total death toll in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos is estimated to be over 3 million people. How many of them died at the hands of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon? The vast, overwhelming majority. Lyin' Lyndon and Tricky Dick were both very evil men, obsessed with power, and totally indifferent to exterminating human beings.
But, it wasn't them alone, and there was nothing unique about them. During World War II, Winston Churchill ordered the firebombing of Dresden, an art center and hospital city in eastern Germany. After the first raid, in which they used incendiary bombs, which spread fire throughout the city, where many victims were incinerated, there was a calm which led survivors to think that it was over. So, they came out. But then, low-flying planes swooped in with machine-gunners who shot anyone on sight. A mother with a child shot dead. An old guy hobbling along on crutches shot dead. It was a merciless and unmitigated attack on civilians. The death toll was higher than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Churchhill is usually blamed for the Dresden massacre, but you can be darn sure that Roosevelt was in on it. It wasn't just British planes; it was also American planes. They worked together in synchrony; and their targets were civilians. Maximizing civilian deaths was the goal.
Do you know what they called it in Germany? They used a term that is still in use today. They called it terror bombing.
What follows is from Rense about Dresden. You should read it. And you should see Apocalypto because I do believe that Mel Gibson was trying to send us a message.
The WWII Dresden Holocaust
'A Single Column Of Flame'