A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this relentlessly brutal, subtitled action film isn't for kids. It features extreme and repetitive violence, including suggestions of rape (screaming women who are dragged off screen). But the greatest viciousness is directed against male bodies: Men are tortured, beaten, cut, kicked, thrown to the ground, speared, shot with arrows, beheaded, and cut open while they're still alive (their cut-out hearts appear in close-up). A man's throat is cut in front of his son, heads are set on sticks as totems, and a jaguar attacks a man and rips him to pieces on screen. A pregnant woman and her young child are left stranded in a dangerous situation, leading to some very tense moments; other children are left to fend for themselves when their parents are taken captive, and a young girl with smallpox (her face marked with open sores) is shown crying next to her mother's corpse. A man's alleged impotence is the source of some humor. One subtitled use of "f--k."
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What's the story?
Young, optimistic 15th-century Mayan tribesman Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) confronts real fear for the first time after he and his hunting party come across a band of terrified, homeless villagers seeking "a new beginning." Jaguar Paw soon has his own reason to be afraid, when a band of fierce Holcane warriors attack his village: They pillage, burn, rape, and murder, taking the able-bodied young adults away to their festering city, where they sell the women as servants and plan to sacrifice the men atop a pyramid overlooking the town square. Unexpectedly escaping this terrible fate, Jaguar Paw spends the rest of the movie trying to save his pregnant wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez), and young son, whom he hid from the marauders in an empty well. Pursued by vengeful Holcane leader Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) and his second, Snake Ink (Rodolfo Palacios), along with a crew of fleet runners and ferocious killers, Jaguar Paw has his work -- survival -- cut out for him.
Is it any good?
Another adventure in spectacular physical abuse directed by Mel Gibson, Apocalypto combines gorgeous imagery and stunning brutality. Even as bodies are falling and crashing, bleeding and drowning, Dean Semler's cinematography is breathtaking and the compositions ravishing, whether they're lush forest backgrounds or fascinating faces in close-up.
Jaguar Paw's story is an occasion for imagining what happened to the Mayan civilization. Assuming the Spanish "explorers" didn't destroy the Mayans in one fell swoop, Apocalypto offers up an assortment of explanations, both material and spiritual, for their downfall. The start of the collective fall, the film suggests, comes with assaults on individuals. While it's clear that the hero not only endures, but also exacts vengeance when he must, the film doesn't ever get around to considering consequences for all the mayhem.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the role of violence in the movie. Is it appropriate for the story that's being told? Which parts, if any, are gratuitous? How accurate do you think it is? Director Mel Gibson has become known for making very violent movies -- why do you think a filmmaker might be drawn to that kind of material? How about the subtitles? Why do you think Gibson chose to film the movie in Yucatec? Families can also talk about the relationships between the different groups of Mayans in the movie. Why does one group think the other is suitable for labor and sacrifice? How does the film represent Mayan religious rituals? How does Jaguar Paw's devotion to his family make him a familiar and also mythic hero?