Editor's Note: Click here to watch Father Jonathan's appearance on FOX News Live, where he discussed the letter 28 Muslim leaders recently wrote to the Pope.
Never before had I made an intercontinental flight to see a movie. But that's what I did this month when I accepted Mel Gibson's invitation to preview and critique his new film “Apocalypto,” scheduled to appear in theaters on December 8th.
I didn't make the trek across the ocean for entertainment value. My work as a consultant on and off the set of Gibson's “Passion of the Christ,” gave me a new appreciation of the power of well-made, serious, and widely-distributed movies. They influence culture. They affect the way we think about the story they tell. Sometimes they warp our view of history or of humanity. Other times they inform, inspire, and challenge. But they always leave a mark.
That's why I cared to see Gibson's first post-“Passion” production. Yes, movies matter — some more than others. Viewers of the “Passion” know what I mean. Picture for just a second, if you would, Jesus Christ crucified. Remember his face, his bloody face. Look into his eyes, the forgiving and loving ones. What you see is a different image of Jesus. That there is the power of a well-made film!
Because I know Mel, his noble intentions and his creative genius, I was eager, though somewhat unconvinced, to see how much his new film would matter.
Mel has done it again! His film matters. That's my critique of “Apocalypto.”
Don't get me wrong. This is no sequel to “The Passion of the Christ.” Some of his fervent fans will be disappointed if they were hoping for another religious epic. Mel just didn't have it in him. He doesn't see himself as a prophet, a spiritual director, or a religious role model. But he knows how to make movies, and he has been making good and responsible ones for a very long time.
That's what Mel has done again. He's made a heart-stopping, mythic action-adventure that tells an ancient story in a way that matters. During the process of releasing the “Passion,” Mel realized a tremendous hunger in the audience for a different kind of film. Talking about his reasoning for making “Apocalypto” he said, “People want big stories that say something to them emotionally and touch them spiritually.”
Of all of his past films, this one most resembles “Braveheart.” The only difference is that it takes place in an ancient Mayan jungle, is spoken in the ancient Mayan language, and is represented by a bunch of unknown actors who, for the most part, had never acted before. Oh yeah, and the story is not about Scotland's fight for independence from the Brits, but rather the fight for personal and spiritual independence of a hero who risks his life to free himself from an opulent, but now decaying pre-European Mayan culture.
The protagonist is Juguar Paw (played by newcomer Rudy Youngblood). He is innocent. He is strong. He is in love with his wife, his family, and his traditional culture. In the darkness of an ordinary night, invaders abruptly interrupt his idyllic existence. What ensues is a riveting and relentless chase film that provides a unique context for telling a story about personal and societal survival.
The analogy to our present culture is discreet, but powerful. A society that allows itself to fall apart from within will be unable to withstand threats from without.
Warning: count on a few typical Gibsonian scenes that my sensitivities could have done without (one in particular was unnecessarily vulgar). I suggest you watch it alone before you take your kids.
I took notes as I sat alone in the theatre, as I talked with the producers, and as I've studied the Mayan culture since then. If you like, I'll continue to share some of these notes with you and answer your questions, right here on this blog.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. Many people ask me how they can stay up to date about what's going on in the world, while avoiding information overload. With that in mind, I've decided to start posting at the end of my blogs some reading suggestions. They are links to recent articles (and in some cases books) that I have found interesting. All have some religious, ethical, or social dimension. I look forward to hearing your feedback.