"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within."
Apocalypto is a film by Mel Gibson.Filmed entirely in the Yucatec Mayan language, it deals with a village of rainforest tribesmen who are attacked by an ambush of city-dwelling Mayans; many are captured for use as slaves, human sacrifices, and target practice. One young captive, a hunter named Jaguar Paw, desperately tries to make his escape back to his pregnant wife and child, who are trapped in a well at the mercy of the elements. His pursuers will have no mercy.This has been called "The Chase movie to end all chase movies", done entirely on foot with all manner of obstacles on the way.
This film provides examples of:
Always a Bigger Fish: The powerful Mayan civilization is abusing the smaller groups of forest-dwelling natives to feed their own greed. At the end of the film, the Europeans arrive.
Aluminium Christmas Trees: Many aspects of the depiction of Mayan civilization were criticized as unrealistic, but most have basis in fact. The Maya did practice human sacrifice, did wear blue body paint, and their civilization still existed when the Spaniards arrived.
And Show It to You: Aside from the obvious, Zero Wolf also talks about peeling off Jaguar Paw's skin and wearing it for him to see.
Annoying Arrows: Jaguar Paw gets pierced by an arrow through the abdomen, and we see what a horrific weapon a bow is. Yet he keeps on running like nothing happened, and the wound heals over time.
Archer Archetype: Snake Ink, the most cold and intelligent of the slavers, is an awesome archer. At one point, he shoots an arrow into the sky and pierces a running man through the head.
Artistic License - History: The film depicts a Classic Period Maya city, seemingly during the Maya Collapse of the southern lowlands, who speak Yucatec Maya (spoken on the northern lowlands), at the same time of the Spaniards' arrival and the smallpox epidemic they brought (that happened in the Postclassic, 600 years later), in which human sacrifices are celebrated en masse (only the Aztec Empire did human sacrifice on that scale). There is also a hunter-gatherer tribe that does not know of the existence of cities, in a region where agriculture had been the dominant form of subsistence for thousands of years and where you couldn't throw a rock without hitting a pyramid.
Axe Crazy: Zero Wolf, the leader of the Holcane slavers and Big Bad of the film.
Badass: Jaguar Paw. While he is not physically impressive, he still manages to outrun his pursuers and uses his hunter skills and affinity with nature to kill them all.
Bad Boss: Zero Wolf starts out as a competent chieftain and a A Father to His Men, but after his son's tragic death, he degenerates into completely Axe Crazy behavior against everyone around him. During the obsessive hunt through the jungle for Jaguar Paw, the slavers are motivated by fear of their boss more than anything else.
Beat Still, My Heart: The human sacrifices. Also Jaguar Paw's prophetic dream, which has the sacrificed ghost of the refugee he met the previous day holding up his beating heart before begging Jaguar Paw to run.
Bee Afraid: Jaguar Paw wraps a beehive in a massive leaf and chucks it at his pursuers. It works pretty well.
California Doubling: Although they did film in Mexico, they picked Veracruz (in the middle of the gulf coast) to double for Yucatan and the Caribbean; this is especially noticeable in the scenes on the beach.
Character Focus: From the point where Jaguar Paw escapes, most of the other characters (except Seven) drop out of the story and it focuses all on Jaguar Paw running away from Zero Wolf, leading to a lot of instances of What Happened to the Mouse?
Convenient Eclipse: The Mayan leaders secretly know that an eclipse will occur during their sacrifices, since this is the whole point of the show. It conveniently occurs just before our hero was to be sacrificed.
Costume Porn: The jade-covered Mayan elite, particularly the high priests and the royal family.
Covers Always Lie: Middle Eye is not the main character of the film, or even the main villain, he's simply the one with most distinctive sillhouette.
Crapsack World: The film shows the Mayan civilization in a horrific state of decadence, scourged with drought, famine, and diseases. We see fields of rotting crops, slaves burning down entire forests to make lime dust, young children dying of plague, and poor people who have been starved to the point of insanity. In response to all this, the priests are demanding more Human Sacrifices. This is essentially the meaning behind the opening quote of the movie; the Mayan civilization was killing itself long before the conquistadors came.
Creepy Child: The plague-stricken little girl who cryptically foretells the events of the rest of the film in an eerie voice.
Damsel out of Distress: Seven, Jaguar Paw's wife. Pregnant AND trapped with her other young child in an underground cave. Whilst in said cave, she helps stitch her son's injury, bashes in the skull of a rabid primate, and still manages to climb halfway up the cave to freedom. Sadly, she falls, quickening her impending labor. When her contractions begin and the cave is filling with water, her first instinct is to hoist her son onto her shoulders. Oh, and she also delivers her baby like this while being almost drowned herself.
The human sacrifices are especially horrific, when the victims are pulled over an altar and a priest cuts their chests open. And pulls out their dripping, beating hearts while they are still alive and kicking. He then proceeds to decapitate them, then bounce their heads down a long flight of stairs, followed by their corpse, to the cheering of the crowds below. This is Truth in Television, for the most part (the body wasn't decapitated on top of the pyramid).
The bit when a slaver is being mauled by a jaguar is also shown in lovely detail. At one point, you see her start to rip his face off.
At one point in one of the trailers, it turns into a rapid-firing seizure-inducing bombardment of striking images. But a single image depicts Mel Gibson standing around with his buddies on the set with a big smile on his face.
And in the original cut, there's a still frame of Waldo lying amongst the corpses in a mass grave.
Heroic Sacrifice: The fatally wounded Blunt gives Jaguar Paw a chance to escape by delaying Cut Rock.
Hunter Trapper: Jaguar Paw, his father, most of the village men. Jaguar Paw's ostensibly a master of it though.
Improbable Hairstyle: Like you wouldn't believe. That said, real-life Mayan hairstyles did get pretty elaborate, if their art is any indication. The Mayan noblewomen look especially cool, with their bodies painted green and massive headdresses made of jade snakes.
Ironic Echo: While defending the village, Jaguar Paw almost kills Middle Eye before being overwhelmed by Zero Wolf; Middle Eye, in mockery, nicknames him "Almost" because of this. On their battle to the death, Middle Eye barely misses hitting Jaguar Paw's head, which gives him the opening to deliver the decisive blow.
I Want Grandkids: Blunt's mother-in-law really, really does. Poor Butt Monkey Blunt, this is the day when the entire hunting party decides to play practical jokes on him regarding his impotence.
Just Before the End: If the title is any indication, not to mention the arrival of the Europeans.
Law of Inverse Fertility: Blunt and his wife dearly want to have kids, but simply can't seem to have any. Though there is a subtle suggestion that the problem may be that Blunt isn't doing the right sort of sex to get his wife pregnant (the scene where the chili pepper gag's climax is revealed; Blunt needs to soak his abused genitals, but his wife is trying to desperately put out the flames in her mouth).
Mind Link Mates: Jaguar Paw and Seven seem to be this. When Jaguar Paw has a minor Heroic BSOD after realizing he'll be sacrificed, Seven (who is trapped in the cave) physically shows the distress he is experiencing and reminds him to "come back" to her. When Blunt wishes Jaguar Paw to "journey well", Jaguar Paw responds with "I can't go now."
Monster Clown: The high priest at the temple ceremony could be considered a late Stone Age example, since his eye makeup is reminiscent of a circus clown's and he is assisted in the sacrificial rite by grotesquely masked Mooks who could be said to stand in for sideshow freaks. He also has a particularly chilling Evil Laugh.
My Name Is Inigo Montoya: "I am Jaguar Paw, son of Flint Sky. My father hunted this forest before me. My name is Jaguar Paw. I am a hunter! This is my forest! And my sons will hunt it with their sons after I am gone."
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Flint Sky, despite his old age, kicks Middle Eye's ass when he's about to rape Blunt's wife. Flint Sky ends up being executed in front of his helpless son, and Middle Eye goes on to rape and murder the poor woman anyway.
Noble Savage: Played straight with Jaguar Paw and his village.
Oh, Crap: The exact look on Jaguar Paw's face, when after climbing a tree to hide from his pursuers, he finds himself between a jaguar cub and its pissed off mother.
Savage Piercings: Most of the tribesmen and women had piercings of some description. There were wooden and jade studs, as well as more complicated, ornate pieces. The Mayan king is completely covered in elaborate piercings.
Jaguars have the strongest jaws of any of the big cats, and unlike the rest, which will usually go for the jugular, the jaguar will instead crush its prey's skull between its jaws as in the film.
Although the region and time period is wrong, the film did accurately portray the theories based on archeological evidence about the reasons the Classic Maya civilization collapsed, like the environmental degradation which led to famine and eventually social unrest.
Stupid Evil: The slavers from the city would have been much better served if, instead of burning down Jaguar Paw's village, sacrificing the men who dare to fight back, raping and killing the women, and driving everyone else deeper into the forest to live in exile, they had left the village standing and kept returning at regular intervals to "harvest" slaves from a still-sedentary subject population, or even demanded yearly tribute. Which incidentally, was exactly what the Real Life Aztecs did.
Translation Convention: Averted, like the aforementioned, the film is entirely spoken in a contemporary Maya language with subtitles.
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Blunt is big-boned, but not unattractive; however, his wife is clearly meant to be the most beautiful girl in the village and everyone thinks she's too good for him.
Vertigo Effect: Used near the beginning of the film during a terrifying dream sequence.
Villainous Rescue: The mother jaguar who angrily chases Jaguar Paw for (unintentionally) threatening her cub certainly counts as one of these. She ends up attacking and ripping the face off one of his pursuers — who was also trying to kill him.
The ending should also count since the Europeans unknowingly stopped Jaguar Paw's execution and will bring about the further collapse of the Mayans... before taking over themselves.
What Happened to the Mouse?: When the women of the village are being sold as slaves, the oldest one is set free because there were no buyers. We last see her looking on as the men are marched off to be sacrificed.
Not to mention the surviving children from the villages, who follow behind the enslaved adults on their forced march until the adults cross a foaming river that the children cannot pass.
You Have Failed Me: In a rage, Zero Wolf kills one of his underlings after Jaguar Paw escaped at the waterfall. Said underling refused to follow when Zero Wolf announced they'd be going over the waterfall after him.