Liberal preaching and man as animal
By Mark Butterworth
Another tedious and preachy Hollywood movie where limousine liberals feel good about exploiting violence for the sake of a buck and a dumb political sermon while singing We Are the World.
Set in Sierra Leone in 1999, Leo DiCaprio plays a Rhodesian/South African diamond smuggler, one time soldier, Danny Archer, who comes across Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) who has escaped from rebel forces that had him digging for diamonds after the revolutionaries had attacked his village (just like in Apocalypto but with modern weapons).
Solomon managed to find a 100 carot pink diamond which he was able to bury before escaping.
People are in much jeopardy in many threads in this overlong tale. Solomon's son has been pressed into the rebel forces as a child soldier. Danny has a ruthless Colonel he works for who wants the diamond as well as a rebel commander, while Solomon wants to find his family and son, and Danny wants to get rich quick, while Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly) is a journalist who wants a story about conflict diamonds so that she can put a stop to all the wars and troubles that plague Africa.
And just so you know, all of it is America's fault because we buy three fourths of the world's diamonds and want them cheap.
The story briefly mentions that Van de Kamp (substituting for De Beers in this film) has a monopoly on diamonds and buys diamonds expressly for the purpose of keeping them off the market to keep prices higher.
Diamonds, in fact, are rather inexpensive to produce given the fact that they aren't rare or hard to find, and are easy and cheap to create, not to mention that so many countries have come into the market, such as Russia and Australia. But marketing has been great at creating the impression that diamonds are exceptional. And Hollywood glitterati who drench themselves in diamonds every Oscar show are hardly the people who should be scolding middle class Americans who want diamonds for wedding rings. Sheesh. The nerve of some people!
Then we have so much killing. Gosh, I am so weary of it because contrary to Hollywood directors and writers, I actually value human life and do not think that minutely illustrating the cruelty, brutality, gore, bestiality, and sadism of human beings in movies really accomplishes all that much. I think it inures us. It certainly does so by the end of this movie when you have long ceased to care about the capricious murdering and death dealing. How exactly does that help sensitize us to the plight of the innocent?
It's funny how a movie that wants to make you experience the horror of violence simply bores you with it by the end.
None of the characters in Blood Diamond make you care much. We should identify with Solomon Vandy but everyone is sketched quickly in such broad, clichéd strokes that we don't care who lives or dies by the end.
DiCaprio's character is supposed to be a bit of Rick in Casablanca, but it doesn't work at all, and Jennifer Connelly as Ilsa in a different context is useless. There is no chemistry between them, no decent dialogue, no desire to see them together. All the exposition between them to develop their characters and attraction is weak and strained.
The funny thing is that the diamond everyone is after isn't that valuable. A mere 4 million dollars or so from Van de Kamp (I keep wanting to say beans). That's chicken feed to the mercenary Colonel and the rebel commander if they are really corrupt and know their business.
Four million bucks is a lot to you and me, but this McGuffin which drives the movie hardly seems worth it and life is treated so cheaply that lives being at stake don't matter after awhile either, and so the film never creates any energy of concern, nor rises to Aristotles' fear and pity essential to strong drama.
DiCaprio's performance is quite good overall but he‘s still a Nancy Boy at heart and fails to really sell us on his being a tough cynic with a soft heart. Hounsou is merely histrionic, and Connelly's acting is nondescript and never registers. Also, once you've seen her take her shirt off in other movies, you figure she should take it off in every movie, that being her chief asset, and what she sold to be in pictures.
Just so you know, I just bought my wife an emerald and a set of blue topazes for my daughter at a gem show recently. The emerald was artificially created, but is chemically the same; whereas all emeralds are flawed by inclusions, manufactured ones are perfect, and prettier. Diamonds do nothing for me.
If you want a good, cheap diamond, buy cubic zirconiums. They're just as bright, and nearly as hard. Most people can't tell the difference.
This movie is especially disappointing because it is by Mel Gibson from whom some have come to expect more than action adventure thrillers mixed with buckets of blood. I'm sure many will try to find some deep meaning in Mel's film, but the upshot of it all is rather empty.
Gibson, in fact, tries to suggest the meaning itself when at the start of the movie he quotes Will Durant, "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within." Take that as a warning to the audience.
The premise of the movie is Meso-America at the time of the Conquistadores who make their appearance at the end of the story. Mayan raiders are attacking Indian villages and carrying off the women to be slaves, and the men to be sacrifices to the gods.
Jaguar Paw is a man with a wife and child who hides his family in a deep pit before he is captured by Mayans. He must find a way to return to them or they will die.
In the meantime, we get a horrific travelogue through Maya-land culminating in the Temple with its graphic scenes of human sacrifice. The settings, costumes, and blood thirsty people are impressive and scary. The cheering for the sacrifice reminded me of the Roman Coliseum and the crowds that took so much pleasure in mutilation, dismemberment and death of other people.
We don't have to look far today to be reminded of head cutting jihadis, slaughtering Nazis and death camps, Saddam feeding people into shredding machines, Pol Pot and the killing fields of Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, not to mention the holocaust against unborn children in the tens of millions in the past four decades.
Is Mel simply out to show us the depth of human depravity and evil or is it his rage at God whereby he is trying to rub the Almighty's nose in His vile Creation which is the cause of such pain. For Mel's all about The Pain if nothing else.
Jaguar Paw, by fortuitous circumstances, is able to elude sacrifice but is then forced to run a gauntlet to possible freedom, and even then he is hunted day and night in a rerun of 1960's The Naked Prey which starred Cornel Wilde as a man on safari in Africa given a ten minute lead by tribesmen and then chased for the rest of the film as he tries to escape being murdered.
The movie takes a turn toward the end, though, as the chasing Mayans begin to get picked off and we start counting down from ten little Indians.
Apocalypto is a disturbing movie, and many are going to celebrate it for that reason just as they have Scorsese's The Departed, yet the distress is not due so much to the story, but to the desire on the part of Gibson, et al, to sear something into your heart or soul, but what that is, they can't say. This is where an artist has decided he wants to be God and make you suffer, and you fear, and you shrink.
It's a kind of revenge filmmaking, taking something that alarms the artist's soul and inflicting it on others. But in this case, its inchoate, a projection of the blind rage that inhabits the man; that inhabits many men whose default position is that of sub-conscious despair.
It's like the composer who creates nonsense, disharmonic noise. Who's he trying to hurt? Well, you, of course. He has it in for you. You disappoint him. You refuse to approve. You refuse to change. You refuse to serve.
I wish all these men and women who hate their fathers would just quit making movies or any art. I've had enough of their de Sade-like depredations.
Apocalypto is about a number of things, I suppose, but mostly it is about sadism, the sadism of modern artists who derive their joy from trying to wound and savage other people.
Is the sadism of men in the world accurate? Certainly, but The Last King of Scotland put human evil in a more powerful context. Here, in Apocalypto, the entire universe is malevolent, and any good in it is no more than an animal trying to do the other part of its job apart from reproducing -- surviving.
Life is a grim thing. The sense that people make of it more often than not is based on untested suppositions which fail in the first tornado or last until someone is given Job's trials. Even a man with every advantage and insulation from disaster knows he must confront death at some point. That alone is enough to induce suffering and despair - the existential dread, the fear and trembling Kierkegaard well expressed.
The transition from animal to man is a crisis of consciousness. Apocalypto ismore about animals than men. Yet, life is filled with competition, violence, cruelty, and ignorance. What to do? If you're Mel Gibson, I guess you make a lot of movies about man the vicious animal.
(c) Mark Butterworth
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