By John de Nugent
In the January-February 2007 issue of TBR [The Barnes Review], John de Nugent’s article on “Psychopaths and History” triggered much discussion of which specific individuals and groups in history have literally proven to be psychopathic, i.e., those who go beyond the usual human greed, ego and prevarication and, to use traditional religious language, are “deliberately evil.”
Psychopaths, as described in the bestselling The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, a 25-year veteran of Harvard Medical School, can deeply scar or destroy the lives of others: they lie constantly, act sadistically and maliciously and sacrifice others for their advancement and pleasure.
Why? Because they have an unlimited will to power over others, and possess neither inhibitions nor conscience nor any ability to truly love or feel compassion. Strikingly, Stout claims our ruling class is full of these maneuvering monsters, with many at the very top, and that they enjoy clear advantages over the decent and trusting majority–that is, until again and again the wrath of God and man strikes them down. In this article, de Nugent returns with an appreciation of Mel Gibson’s December 2006 worldwide hit film, Apocalypto–now out of the theaters and flying off the video shelves around the globe. He claims that Gibson has consciously set out to do a film about psychopaths in power, paralyzing fear, and the inner turning point between victim and patriot–and that he has succeeded in this, de Nugent says, his greatest masterpiece. Barnes Review readers seem to agree with this assessment: Some of our most thoughtful correspondents have seen this movie–about Mayans in Mayan, with subtitles–between four and six times. And it turns out, Nugent says, that there lurk in the subtitles some heretical comparisons:
For months I had three objections to seeing this film–all defanged by the film itself:
One, although a former Marine, I detest anything that sounds like a “horror film,” and a film about human sacrifice sounds appalling.
In fact, the violence in this film, which does show human sacrifice and those escaping it and fighting back, is not gratuitous but at the core essence of the story, and Gibson shows only half the gruesome Mayan-Aztec reality which the Spanish terminated after 1502. It may make professional anti-racists uncomfortable, but Apocalypto cleaves tightly to reality in details both large and small, right down to the colors of the plant dyes used in native clothing, the jade used by different classes of women and the feather headdress of the great king.
(Using artistic license, Gibson does blend different periods of Mayan architecture and decor, and by the time the Spanish came, as shown in the film, the jungle Mayan cities already had been mysteriously abandoned. It was actually further north, in the very similar and neighboring Aztec culture with its own human sacrifices, that the Spanish would find the same psychopathic atrocities, which caused them to eradicate the Aztec regime root and branch with the aid of oppressed local tribes.)
Two, I detest our national tendency to mindless action movies. Methinks Americans should break with their hyperactive national character by doing less and thinking more, perhaps precluding further Ritalin kid-faux cowboys in the White House.
What Apocalypto represents, however, is a mindful action movie. It is done by a storyteller worthy of Homer, a director worthy of Cecil B. DeMille (Gibson’s movie has 700 extras, all in differing accurate costumes), and a deeply spiritual man (when not off the wagon; Mel in Australia used to drink two scotches in beer, which he called “liquid violence”).
Apocalypto transmits via entertainment a tremendous message, one that reflects the values of his father, Hutton Gibson, a courageous Holocaust revisionist, a Traditional Catholic–and an honored speaker at the 2003 conference held by this very magazine.
Not many Hollywood “action flicks” start with a quote from historian Will Durant (1885-1981), author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning, eleven-volume The Story of Civilization: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”
Third, I wondered how much relevance Mayan Indios in 1502 had to me, a white man in 2007, except for the possible fact that my Washington, DC area is now being flooded by illegal alien descendants of the Mayans and Aztecs. (The greater DC area is now only 54% white.)
Actually, plenty of relevance: The entire movie delineates how a tiny psychopathic ruling class misrules, lies to, entertains with mass festivals, impoverishes and oppresses an entire nation–and how God and man ultimately thwart them.
The title “Apocalypto” comes from one of the very many utterly unique scenes in this revolutionary piece of film making. Mayan manhunters pass through an orphan girl’s smoldering shell of a village, not unlike the pulverized Ramadi or Fallujah in Iraq, or Dresden in 1945 Germany or Gaza in Palestine. They take along their captives destined for human sacrifice, neck-tied to a wooden rail, heading for their torture and death. The psychopaths prod her aside;-they have no time for starving orphans; the clock is ticking for show time in the Yucatan.
She dries her little-girl tears and thanks to Gibson, from somewhere real, inside the character, come two riveting eyeballs trained on them and a voice of doom that “spooks” even the hardened enslavers. She then “reveals the end” of all that they represent; in Greek, she “apocalyptizes” the final things.
The official Apocalypto poster from Icon Productions (Gibson’s own film company that also did Braveheart), depicts a Mayan high priest, with an obsidian knife in hand, striding forth from his ziggurat where for years he has been sacrificing trembling humans.
In 1486, in fact, during an Aztec temple dedication before huge and roaring crowds (just 16 years before Columbus’s fourth expedition, which landed in Central America), in a four-day festival twenty thousand live captives, knowing in advance what was going to happen to them, consciously saw and felt their hearts, hands and feet being surgically sliced away by the glass-like but razor-sharp obsidian knives, this before their heads were cut off and flung, followed by the torsos, bouncing and flipping down the pyramid steps–naturally “as the crowd roared.”
Other Mayans were used as target practice for various elite weapons. Raids to small villages, as depicted in Apocalypto in an unforgettable 15-minute sequence, brought a never-ending supply of fright-sickened new victims.
But the Mayans also fought wars and humiliated captured foreign leaders; as Gibson relates in the fascinating “Director’s Commentary” on the DVD, they spent nine interminable years degrading, humiliating–and amputating various parts off–a captured head of state. As Gibson related, in the end the captives were just “balls of nerve endings.” It would appear that the sociopathic priests enjoyed making fools even of their own kings; the Mayan heads of state were persuaded to try accessing the gods by driving a stingray spine through their penis. (See sidebar: “Mel didn’t show half of it.”)
It reminds one of George Orwell’s description in the novel 1984 of the ultimate psychopathic regime. Big Brother’s spokesman explains with chutzpah to the captured Winston Smith: “Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship [or Mayan priestly rule] in order to safeguard a revolution [or new order]; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.
“The object of persecution is persecution.
The object of torture is torture.
The object of power is power.”
–Part III, chapter three
Here speaks pure sociopathy from the summit of the State.
Vast swaths of forest were also cut down for fuel by the Mayan ruling class, heedless of devastation to the environment (especially of the top soil), all this to bake the clay bricks used for these ever-higher ziggurats.[However, the Mayan and Aztec cultures (and those of the Incas, Apaches, and other Amerindians) never even invented the wheel–except as a child’s toy!–despite all those round logs they cut down and rolled and despite the vast distances encountered in the Americas. Nor did they possess horses in pre-Columbian America. So everybody trudged along, carried or pushed something with human power until Spain came in 1502.
Nor did the Mayans and Aztecs, canoers, invent the sail in a hundred generations of feeling the wind blow their canoe sideways. Perhaps they were waiting for the “white gods” to return.
Ethnographer-adventurer Thor Heyerdahl of “Kon Tiki” fame wrote in 2000 a book called Ingen Grenser–Norwegian for “No Boundaries”–where he renews his thesis, shared by many Indians 500 years ago, that ancient whites, the “white gods,” had very long before founded their pre-Columbian civilizations before vanishing, along with their influence.)
All film dialogue is spoken entirely in the authentic Mayan of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico where the film was made, and all actors, including the star, Rudy Youngblood of Texas, are Amerindians from North and Central America. (As a young man awakened by horror to his destiny and abilities, Youngblood’s performance at the hands of producer-writer-director Gibson is superlative.)
It is said that in his 2004 The Passion of the Christ, the “antisemitic” (in reality “New Testament”!) remarks are left only in the Aramaic language and are not even printed in the subtitles. Interestingly, in the French subtitles to his most recent movie, Apocalypto, even more so than in the English or Spanish subtitles, the murderous high priest makes many Talmudic-sounding statements during the human sacrifice scene.
“These are the days of our great lament,” the high priest intones to the crowds from atop his pyramid. Then he asserts to the overawed mob (again, this is in the French subtitles translating the Mayan): “Notre peuple a été choisi.” That means: “Our people has been chosen.” (French, because of the Norman conquest of England, is often similar in vocabulary to modern English.)
In the English and Spanish subtitles, this is prudently rephrased as “We are a people of destiny” (perhaps in dishonor of Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural address: “This generation has a rendezvous with destiny.”)[footnote2: Hutton Gibson was strongly opposed to Roosevelt and his war, albeit he was wounded in 1944 in the Pacific as an Army officer.]
One recalls that when Apocalypto was released in December 2006, it was just four months since Gibson’s famous July 28, 2006 “antisemitic tirade.” On Gibson’s website one sympathizer, a born-again Christian, probably expressed best why the movie-going public shrugged off Gibson’s “anti-semitic rant” and went to see Apocalypto:
“I’d like to see what the Jews say about us when they get drunk!”
We further learn from Gibson in the Director’s Commentary on the DVD — which he dispenses together with the film’s Iranian co-producer and co-writer, Farhad Safinia– that for authenticity they had all the actors playing Mayan rulers “wear curved nose prostheses.”
The curvy-nosed priest then continues with his harangue: “We were chosen to be the masters of time; we were chosen to walk with the gods.”
In the telling closeup, the Mayan king and high priest nervously exchange glances during the high point of the killings. We know from archeology and temple architecture–when beams of light would fall on certain points–that the Mayan priests knew exactly when eclipses would take place, but the point was to be seen as miracle workers. But will the solar eclipse yet again “do the trick” and, as darkness overshadows the great city, overawe the trusting crowd, striking a quasi-9/11-like fear in them? Will the public believe forever that through killings their leaders protect the nation from ecliptic terror and doom?
The whole scam behind their grand pleasure in killing victims was that in this way the peuple choisi would “save the harvests and the nation.” (Writer Margaret Huffstickler has commented: “The eclipse is like 9/11, and invading Iraq and establishing Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib is the ‘necessary’ human sacrifice.”)[footnote: On Columbus’s last expedition, in 1503-04, he was stranded for over a year on Jamaica with wrecked ships. In a scam designed to intimidate the Arawak Indians of Jamaica into feeding him and his men, he used his trusty Ephemeris from the German astronomer Regiomontanus to correctly predict the lunar eclipse of February 29, 1504. It worked; they kept feeding him.]
In the subtitle of the official Apocalypto poster, above, we read the slogan: “No one can outrun their destiny.” This certainly applied to the psychopathic native ruling class of pre-Columbian Central America. At the very end of the movie, ominously, the Spanish arrive in power from their great, dark ships, with soldiers, priests and brandished crucifixes, to eventually overthrow and annihilate the murderous Mayan ruling class. How interesting for Mel Gibson to introduce for the movie’s final scene the Spain that exactly ten years before, in 1492, had not only sailed the ocean blue but expelled the Jews and fully unleashed the Inquisition on the the marranos, the secret Jews still in power in the background. (To this day, 515 years later, only one resident of Spain in two thousand is Jewish.)
Through DVD technology, we can first enjoy the artist’s cinematic work and then, merely pressing the remote control, consult him personally through his commentary as to what he was thinking, aiming at and enduring technically trying to achieve each shot and scene. We can also appreciate his use of costumes, history, authentic weapons, makeup for men and women of different classes, and see the scenes, such as the one with the burnt and limping deer, that he cut for brevity or distraction of the storytelling flow.
Truly, in the hand of the masters, the cinema is the premier art form of our time. In Apocalypto, after viewing the two-hour masterpiece, the viewer therefore should spend another profitable two hours on another day reliving each scene with this truly great artist, Mel Columcille Gibson, and his brilliant Iranian colleague Farhad Safinia, and a third hour with the “Special Features” on the DVD of Apocalypto to understand the secret ocean of detail that Gibson has channeled into this mighty current. It is what Wagner would have called a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total art form. Then–as my Barnes Review-reading friends actually did–see Apocalypto another four to six times. That is doable with a great work of art.
What stands out, finally, is what the father says in the jungle to Jaguar Paw: “Fear makes you weak, and fear makes you sick.” This is, as the Will Durant quote at its beginning shows, a movie about now, about the psychopathic regime now, and about transcending the real fears we face now. And, as the hero says after he takes the plunge over the waterfall, “This is MY forest.” See the movie.
Gibson Mayan Film on the Cutting Edge
Viewers will recall the unforgettable scene at Eyipantia Falls (in Veracruz, Mexico) where Jaguar Paw, to escape the manhunters, hurls himself bravely over the massive cataract. Pulling himself from the water, he has “found himself” inwardly by this near-death act, and announces to the pursuing Zero Wolf and his fellow pursuers, perched high on the cataract’s edge: “This is my forest where my father hunted with me. And this is where I will hunt with my son!”
This is also where Gibson his incredible dedication to spectacular new photography. Not only is “Apocalypto” one of the first major movies shot with digital movie cameras, the Panavision Genesis model, and not with celluloid film, but for the waterfall scene they used the innovative “spider cam.” A cable was extended like a lip out over the fall, with the movie camera on it, and it follows the stunt man out over the edge and as he leaps hundreds of real feet downward; then, still in the same smooth and gliding shot, the cable pulls the spider-camera up and away from the falls and over toward the far shore, as depicted in the still photograph above.