Apocalypto/The New World
Both Gibson’s Apocalypto and Malick’s The New World represent historically a major collision of two worlds, the former represented as the Maya people of South America, whilst the latter represented as the Native Americans of North America. Because of this, these films are already majorly predisposed to juxtapose issues of race, religion, custom and history, as well as violence and combat. What is interesting about this pairing of films is that though they portray a very similar story, (that of settlers coming by sea and taking over the land and the natives) the end products could not be more different in the way they are both visually and thematically described.
In Gibson’s Apocalypto violence is paramount as the spectacle of the film. There is an overwhelming emphasis on the brutality between men, and the power struggle that ensues the violence that dictates the film. This violence is catapulted onto the screen not just through the narrative specifically, but also through the cinematography and individual shots. A prime example would be when Gibson chooses to portray the camera’s point of view from a recently decapitated head, and thus the audience is physically transported from their bystander view of the spectacle, and forcibly placed in the position of the recently sacrificed man, seeing what he theoretically ‘sees’ as his head is sliced from his torso and rolls down to the ground. In class we discussed the interesting parallel that is made between the slaughter of the Maya, and the war on terror; both violent collisions that depict a spectacle of bloodlust and power, the strong and mighty Western world with all its advanced technology against the guerrilla backwards-thinking Middle East. The parallel is no coincidence- with young men dying everywhere, and the so called ‘appeasement’ of the Gods in order to fix the world, Apocalypto sends out a very strong message. Times may have changed, but that does not mean that men or their inherent violent struggle and desire to be the resounding Superpower has.
In contrast, The New World chooses not to capitalize as it were, on the bloodlust of the colonization of the Americas, but rather focuses on the beauty of landscape, and the complicated but humane relationship between the colonist and the native. Though a critical success with its delicate cinematography and music score, Malick’s film was a commercial failure, which one can argue shows that capitalization of violence is much more lucrative in the public arena. In short, people love and want bloodlust. Malick’s film is laden with beautiful landscapes that are mirrored in the score; it is no accident that the natives are referred to as ‘naturals;’ they represent the land that they inhabit, and in this way they are inherently pure, created and in correlation with the earth. Pocahontas is the bodily essence of purity; young, naive and kind she symbolizes the bridge between the two worlds. This emphasis on purity is also recognized by Captain Smith, when after they are reunited, he says to his past lover, and sadly his one and only real love, that what they had dually experienced in the New World was not a dream, but rather ‘the only truth.’ In the same way that the land and its people are authentic as raw humans, un-poisoned by greed and malice (they have no laws or understandings of property before the settlers arrive,) Malick was adamant on everything from the actors to the sets to be authentic, just in the same way the people of the history were authentic in their ‘truthful’ way of life (even the actress who plays Pocahontas was a vessel of purity, as the kiss between her and Colin Farrell was indeed her very first kiss.)
In conclusion, Apocalypto and The New World are mirrors of history, that ended with disaster and destruction for the race that they colonized, yet they depict these incredibly important events from our past in totally different ways.