When I watch the news I often think of the movie Apocalypto. This is a Mel Gibson directed movie that deals with the Mayans. The movie is an insane spectacle filled with ideas and blood. The characters speak in ancient Mayan dialogue, but the movie is brilliant because it manages to tell the story in ways that are mostly visual. It is an extremely intelligent piece of entertainment, an action movie with ideas. It is barbarous, batshit insane, kinetic entertainment.
Now why do I think of this movie when I see the news? This is not due to the themes of the movie. The Mayan empire is depicted as a civilization on the verge of collapse due to environmental calamity and human exploitation. It came out during the Bush years and the Iraq War. Gibson even commented that the Mayan rulers were very similar to Bush in his boys. Sure, the invading Europeans put the nail in the coffin of the Mayans, but the Europeans are aided by the Mayan leaders’ tyrannical rule. That is not to say that is true in history, but Gibson is trying to draw a parallel through art. He is saying if we don’t quit oppressing people, if we don’t protect the environment, history shows that we and our way of life is in trouble.
However, none of that crosses my mind when I watch the news. The greatest emotional quality of Apocalypto is insanity. When I watch the news and they focus on the trivial and ignore the important, I feel emotionally like I do when I watch Apocalypto. When I see war and oppression trumpeted as normal, when I see global warming treated as not real, when I see celebrity eclipse the common good, I feel the same as when I watch Apocalypto.
There is intellectual truth and emotional truth in art. Even if you argue that the movie doesn’t have the former, it has the latter in spades. It feels like what happens when the world turns upside down. It’s why the movie makes me happy, even though it is largely an action movie and a quite dark one at that. Someone connected to an emotion that is all too common in the modern world. It’s always uplifting to know someone feels like you do. If there are others, you might just stand a chance.