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Film / Apocalypto

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"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within."note 

Apocalypto is a 2006 Epic Historical Action-Adventure film entirely in the Yucatec Mayan language directed by Mel Gibson.

It deals with a village of rainforest tribesmen in Yucatán who are attacked by an ambush of city-dwelling Mayans in 1502; 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:

  • 1-Dimensional Thinking: Played straight, then subverted. When the Mayans make a game of releasing the slaves and having them run to freedom while trying to hit them from a distance, the first two run straight and are easily killed. The next two zig-zag to make themselves harder targets, though they still get hit eventually.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: After being subjected to a gag involving chili peppers and his genitals, poor Blunt can't help but laugh along with the rest of the mocking throng in between his agonizing whimpers.
  • 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, signaling the Spanish Conquest of the Maya is near..
    • When Jaguar Paw is being pursued through the jungle by the Mayan raiders and hides in the trees he discovers he is in a tree with a black jaguar cub and its mother; as he is running away he is spotted by a raider who runs towards him and ends up in the path of the big cat, who proceeds to maul the raider to death, allowing Jaguar Paw to escape.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • The film is officially set in 1502, with its ending showing the Spanish showing up ready to colonize Mexico, despite the fact that it otherwise portrays a civilization from the classical Mayan era, 600 years earlier. By the time the first contacts with the Spaniards happened, the Mayan civilization had already completely collapsed.
    • Not even the Spaniards escape from this, as several of them are wearing the stereotypical conquistador morion, which in reality would not be used until half a century later.
  • 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.
    • A few seconds later, Zero Wolf makes a harder shot on a zigzagging Jaguar Paw (the previous man was running straight ahead), without even taking the time to draw and aim carefully.
  • Artistic License Art: The Bonampak murals were digitally altered to show a warrior holding a dripping human heart, which is not present in the original.
  • Artistic License History:
    • The Maya did perform human sacrifice, only not in the scale shown in this film, which would be more fitting to the Aztecs. Mayans only sacrificed important war captives, while lower tribes like Jaguar Paw's were instead enslaved for labour.
    • Judging by the year, the location and the number of ships, the Spaniards seen at the end of the film are implied to be Christopher Columbus in his fourth and last village, in which he reached Yucatán in 1502. However, the guy who seems to be in charge is played by a rather elderly-looking actor with a white beard, when Columbus would have been just 51 at the time (although he would die of illness the next year). The actor does resemble a bit the classical portrayals of Bartholomew Columbus, Christopher's brother, but those aren't accurate either, as Bartholomew was nine years younger than Christopher and also died in his early fifties.
  • Artistic License Religion: The Mayan sun god Kukulkan is sometimes portrayed as presiding human sacrifices, but in real life, those sacrifices weren't specifically dedicated to him as in the film. Their meaning was a wider offering of blood to the gods, not just one.
  • Artistic License Space: A solar eclipse is significant to the action. That night, a full moon is significant to the action. It's impossible for both of those to occur within 24 hours of each other because solar eclipses and full moons occur during completely opposite phases of the moon, and it takes roughly two weeks to transition between the two.
  • Axe-Crazy: Zero Wolf, the leader of the Holcane slavers and Big Bad of the film.
  • 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. At one point, he stabs one of his minions to death just for suggesting they climb down the cliff next to a waterfall instead of jumping like Jaguar Paw did.
  • Battle in the Rain: A deluge starts pouring down after Jaguar Paw kills Middle Eye, ratcheting the tension way up as he must now both evade Zero Wolf's remaining men and save his family from drowning.
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jaguar Paw returns in time to save his family, but most of the cast died by the end, and then there's the fact that the Spanish Conquest is about to begin.
  • Blow Gun: Jaguar Paw improvises one with leaves. He creates the darts with thorns, poisons them with frog venom, and uses them against his pursuers.
  • Bowdlerize: When one of the slavers is bitten by a snake, Middle Eye comments, "He's fucked." And he is. This is changed to "He's dead" in the TV version.
  • Break the Cutie: The village children being left behind.
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor old Blunt.
  • 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?.
  • The Chase
  • Chekhov's Gun: The tapir trap, which Jaguar Paw lures Zero Wolf into during the climax. Zero Wolf is Impaled with Extreme Prejudice and killed almost instantly.
  • 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.
  • Conveniently Timed Distraction: Jaguar Paw would have probably met a terrible end at the hands of his final remaining pursuers had all three of them not suddenly come across a Spanish fleet arriving in the Americas. When the other two are overcome by their shock and completely forget about Jaguar Paw, he takes the opportunity to slip away.
  • 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.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Blunt, the big and gentle guy who is the village Butt-Monkey at first.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Seven, Jaguar Paw's wife, is 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.
  • Death March: The enslaved villagers are transported through brutal conditions with no medical attention and plenty of taunting from Middle Eye. That said, Zero Wolf doesn't approve of the villagers being deliberately killed, since it means they'll get less money selling the villagers as slaves or sacrifices.
  • Deus ex Machina: In the form of European missionaries and an Eclipse.
    • Admittedly, the Eclipse is less so, since the ritual sacrifices were no doubt planned specifically because the eclipse would happen that day. The Mayans were able to predict eclipses of the sun even centuries into the future, so the priests timed the ritual at a time when the eclipse would happen, for the purpose of demonstrating their power and control over the heavens.
  • Doomed Hometown: The village in the forest.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Jaguar Paw's nightmare in which he sees the refugee's leader with his heart in his hand and telling him to run.
  • Drowning Pit: Jaguar Paw's pregnant wife and child get trapped in one when the rain begins falling. If alone she would have been fine (she would just float up), but her son cannot swim, and she goes into labor.
  • Dwindling Party: The slavers.
  • The Evil Empire: The Mayan city.
  • Evil Is Hammy: The high priest knows how to put on a show for the people of the city. Despite there being several hundred people crammed into the square, nobody has a problem hearing his bellowing pronouncements from the top of the pyramid.
  • End of an Age: It's in the title, the Mayan civilization is on its last legs, and the Spaniards have arrived in the Americas.
  • Epic Movie: While it's only a little over two hours in length, it fits absolutely every other criteria for the trope. The level of time, money, and effort Mel Gibson put into making the film feel authentic would make Cecil B Demille cry.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Zero Wolf aiding, congratulating, and showing appreciation of his young son, then mourning him when Jaguar Paw kills him in self-defense.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • When the slavers reach a foaming river that there's no possible way the children would be able to cross, they just let the children walk free instead of killing them. Similarly, when an old woman is being sold as a slave but no-one is interested in buying her, the slaver just tells her to run along. Though there is also a certain cruelty in both of these examples as well; the children are being left to fend for themselves in a jungle full of untold dangers, while the old woman is being stranded in an unfamiliar city far from home with no means of supporting herself.
    • Zero Wolf is fine with killing a lot of innocent people during the village raid, but he doesn't like it when Middle Eye decides to "let go" a dying slave. Though like the above example, this comes off as another inversion since he seems more irritated that Middle Eye killed one of his spoils of war without his permission.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: During the chase through the jungle, many of the slavers fall to the nature's elements, these don't affect Jaguar Paw since he is a hunter in his element.
  • Feeling the Baby Kick: On their Last Day of Normalcy, Seven and Jaguar Paw relax and embrace in the evening. When he leans close and murmurs to their unborn child, Seven's belly bulges conspicuously as it kicks. Jaguar Paw smiles at the sight.
    Jaguar Paw: My son is dancing.
    Seven: Your son is happy.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • 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.
  • Gorn: Lots of it.
    • 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.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The high priest, as well as the king and queen of the city, all seen briefly during the sacrifice scene.
  • Helpless with Laughter: Early on, the normally-sober Flint Sky plays a prank on Blunt Rock by giving him a herbal cure for his infertility, telling him to apply it directly to his genitals before sex. Unfortunately, the "cure" is made of chili peppers. Seeing Blunt frantically plunging himself balls-first into a trough of water leaves the entire village in hysterics; most of the hunters can't even stand upright, Flint Sky is laughing too hard to explain himself, and even Blunt can't help but giggle in between pained whimpers.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The fatally wounded Blunt gives Jaguar Paw a chance to escape by delaying Cut Rock.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Middle Eye's fatal head wound spurts quite a lot.
  • Human Sacrifice: Lots and lots of them.
  • 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.
  • It's Personal: Zero Wolf becomes Ax-Crazy hellbent on killing Jaguar Paw for killing his son Cut Rock.
  • 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.
  • Karmic Death: Zero Wolf, Snake Ink, Middle Eye.
  • Last Day of Normalcy: The first part of the movie depicts the villagers in their more or less peaceful life, before the Mayans come along and trash it.
  • 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).
  • Mama Bear: The attacking jaguar.
  • Maniac Monkeys: The crazed monkey that attacks the wife and son in the cave.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The creepy little girl's prophecy did come true...
  • Mayincatec: The film depicts a Mayan culture with elements taken from the Aztecs, like religion and society. Also, the sheer scale of the human sacrifices plus the practice of raiding smaller villages and settlements in order to capture slaves and sacrifices' victims, as portrayed in the film, are more reminiscent of the Aztecs than the Maya (there's also no evidence of slave auctions for the latter). This was deliberate, as the director said that what he wanted to do was to depict the decadence of a once proud civilization, brought by political corruption, environmental collapse, and that was now resorting to sacrifice its own people (truly, some of the probable causes for the Maya collapse in the southern lowlands, according to archaeological finds), which would not have worked had The Evil Empire of the film been the Aztecs, since they were on the apex of their splendor when the Spaniards arrived.
  • Meaningful Echo: The speech made by Flint Sky about his forefathers and his descendants hunting in the forest, repeated in defiance by Jaguar Paw later on.
  • Meaningful Name: Jaguar Paw, the man who brings the jaguar.
  • 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."
  • 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."
  • National Geographic Nudity: Used realistically, and not too excessively.
  • New Meat: Cut Rock is the nervous newbie of the slaver band. Zero Wolf is nonetheless impressed with his performance, and goes out of his way to express his pride in his son, gifting him his dagger.
  • Noble Savage: Played straight with Jaguar Paw and his village. Although they are not above pranking one of their own, their way of life is depicted as far more idyllic than the Mayans and their brutal human sacrifices.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Additionally, the look on his face when he realizes that Zero Wolf and those under his command are willing to take the near-suicidal leap off a waterfall to pursue him.
  • Oracular Urchin: The plague-stricken little girl who prophesies the downfall not just of Zero Wolf's warband, but also all Mayan society.
  • Papa Wolf: Jaguar Paw and, of course, Zero Wolf.
  • Pink Mist: A rare non-gunshot related example. This fountains out of Middle Eye's head after Jaguar Paw clubs his skull in.
  • Promotion to Parent: The eldest of the village children left behind calls after the captured adults that they needn't worry, because she will be mother to the others.
  • Quicksand Sucks: Jaguar Paw falls into a quicksand pit, but he manages to escape, signifying his prophesied "Rebirth from Mud".
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The fate of the village.
  • Rated M for Manly: A hyperviolent historical epic about a lone man using only his wits and determination to take vengeance on a group of brutal slavers. It's a Mel Gibson movie, what the hell else would you expect?
  • Reaction Shot: The audience is treated to the looks of shock on Jaguar Paw's and his pursuers' faces upon seeing the Spaniards arriving on ships before the camera reveals the ships themselves.
  • Reveal Shot: The Wham Shot of the Spaniards' ships arriving in the Americas.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Zero Wolf probably wouldn't have pursued Jaguar Paw so ruthlessly if Cut Rock hadn't been killed.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: Kukulkan (Quetzalcoatl for the Aztecs) was probably the only god in the Mesoamerican pantheon that did not demand human sacrifices and actually spoke against them.
  • 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.
  • The Savage South: This movie takes place in South America, and features some particularly brutal kills from the Mayans.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Zero Wolf and Snake Ink.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: Jaguar Paw wraps a beehive in a massive leaf and chucks it at his pursuers. It works pretty well.
  • Scenery Porn mixed with Scenery Gorn
  • Sergeant Rock: Zero Wolf — this deteriorates considerably as the film goes on.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Show, Don't Tell: The film communicates quite a lot of information about Mayan politics, social structure, and religion purely through extremely detailed costume and set design.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • 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 archaeological evidence about the reasons the Classic Maya civilization collapsed, like the environmental degradation which led to famine and eventually social unrest.
    • It also shows the aristocracy unconscious of its problems or unwilling to find solutions. The archaeologists also mentioned this political blindness during the long Mayan collapse.
    • Also a lot of research went into the costumes, piercings, and tattoos of the characters. For example, Seven has the Mayan numeral 7 tattooed on her arm.
  • Stern Chase: The entire second half of the film.
  • Stunned Silence: The three remaining hunters, upon seeing Spanish galleons unloading soldiers and missionaries towards the shore, can only stare in confusion and awe.
  • 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.
  • Technologically Advanced Foe:
    • The Mayincatec civilization to Jaguar Paw's forest-dwelling people.
    • The Spaniards at the end, though we don't see enough of them for them to be portrayed in a positive or negative light.
  • Translation Convention: Averted, the film is entirely spoken in a contemporary Mayan language with subtitles.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Downplayed; 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.
  • Verbal Business Card: His name is really Jaguar Paw and he is definitely a hunter.
  • Vertigo Effect: Used near the beginning of the film during a terrifying dream sequence.
  • Villainous Demotivator: Before Zero Wolf got into You Have Failed Me at the waterfall, he did warn his warriors not to cross him.
    Zero Wolf: Shall we now do what you want? Let us try that... [draws knife]
  • Villainous Rescue:
    • The mother jaguar who angrily chases Jaguar Paw for (unintentionally) threatening her cub 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 Spanish unknowingly stopped Jaguar Paw's execution and will bring about the further collapse of the Mayans... before taking over themselves.
  • Waif Prophet: The enslaved tribe villagers and slavers come across a mysterious little girl who tells them of the fall of the Mayans.
  • Wham Shot: One for the characters as well as the audience; both Jaguar Paw and his pursuers stop everything and can do nothing but stare in astonishment at the sight of the Spanish ships arriving in the shore.
  • 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.
    • 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.


Video Example(s):



The city-dwelling Mayans make use of the captured jungle-dwelling tribesmen as living sacrifices for the god Kukulkan.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / HumanSacrifice

Media sources: