Comments on Apocalypto and Aronofsky's The Fountain, by John Major Jenkins, extracted from my writings on the 2012NewsGroup:
Regarding Gibsons film. Of course I havent seen it yet, but I suspect it will propagate certain clichés about the Maya and, although it will draw attention to the Maya, it will probably have very few redeeming qualities in terms of representing Maya culture, philosophy, or cosmology very well. Now, if you want to see a film that conveys an essentially Maya view of time and the meaning of sacrifice --- see Aronofskys new movie release The Fountain. Although it too indulges in scenes of Maya savages, and places the Dark Rift in the wrong part of the sky, it actually conveys the Maya teaching about sacrifice in a compellingly on-target way. And its use of three levels of time (past-present-future) is an ambitious attempt to transcend time and show non-causal connections between multiple events.
John Major Jenkins
(This relates to 2012 to the extent that popular opinion about the Maya and their achievements, including the 2012 calendar, is being molded by films like this)
Excellent review by Traci Ardren is here:
I have not myself seen the film yet, but I responded as follows to a journalists query regarding Gibsons racist tirade against Jews:
Your real story might be a disparaging remark made by Gibson several months ago, which seemed a slam on the Maya people. Not sure if he was being sarcastic or what --- you'll have to dig it up for yourself and determine that for yourself. It was in July or August. He was commenting on the Bush administration, and said something to the effect that they [the Bush admin] are almost as bad as the primitive Mayan barbarians. It was before the California Jewish debacle, and was played numerous times on, I think, the Al Franken show and so on.
Having said that, regardless of whether or not Mr Gibson is a racist, I am anxious to see in what light he portrays the ancient Maya. I fear that it will be a not too favorable light, as the denigration of Native American peoples has been a consistent agenda, in media and politics, for hundreds of years. (Ive been in History Channel, Travel Channel, and Discovery Channel documentaries and know how distorted it can get.) I hope that as the cycle ending of the Maya calendar (December 21, 2012) draws near, the pop media can do something more honorable with the Maya, considering that they were advanced scientifically in ways we are just beginning to understand. Furthermore, as my research shows, their understanding of the cosmos transcends mere science; they formulated spiritual systems and metaphysical cosmologies that the average audience member who is lashed with endless images of Mayan barbarians slicing out hearts would be unlikely to grasp without extensive study.
I hear that Apocalypto is extremely violent. Not my particular draw to the movie theater. I suppose I will have to see it, so I can comment first hand on its content. However, I would recommend that people go see Aronofsky's The Fountain, which is out now. See it twice, or three times even. I can't imagine that Gibson's film will handle certain Maya teachings about death, sacrifice, and transcendence --- in the context of three levels of time no less! --- as deftly as Aronofsky has, in a genius film that critics should take notice of. There's a lot more going on in it than popcorn chasers are likely to notice, but all the clues are there to see.
For me, and anyone interested in the real depth of Maya civilization, Apocalypto may prove to be Narcolepto, a sleeper of little value, but sure to make the vampires drool. Conversely, The Fountain should be held high as an example of what can really be done --- probably on a tenth of the budget, too.
If you publish something, please let me know where and when. Thanks,
John Major Jenkins
The bent perspectives that justified killing the Maya when the Sapnish came are simply being reinforced. Imagine a movie that exaggerated all the negative stereotypes about Jews in Germany in the 1930s, providing a justification for 30 minutes of slaughter scenes at the end.
Apocalypto serves a function of protecting the limited state of consciousness that exemplifies modernity. It must be protected from opening to greater awareness. Its like the way white blood cells charge toward a breach in the skin, to seal it up as quickly as possible. There are energy dynamics at work here in the collective psyche. Any breach in the collective delusion must be met by the protective forces that will reinforce the limited ego identity. Apocalypto is like an early inoculation against the transformative and liberating potential that 2012 has. It reinforces fear and certain clichés about the Maya, so that people will be bolstered to dismiss anything profound might be connected to a calendar made by savages. My friend Jonathan Zap writes a lot about these processes in the collective --- his website is http://www.zaporacle.com
John Major Jenkins
Attila and Gibson,
There may be redeeming scenes in both movies, who knows. 2 hours of a multi-gazillion dollar film should have something going for it. Neither the Fountain or Apocalypto seems to be overtly about 2012. There are some themes in Fountain that could be considered analogous to 2012 teachings. One wonders how Hollywood will deal with 2012 head on. I think well have to look toward the indie film crowd for something more interesting and on target,
Im pasting below an interview-review of Apocalypto with Maya scholar Julia Guernsey, who is rare among scholars for having examined the iconography of Izapa. Its a little lengthy but I have no link for it. Be advised there are spoilers in the text. Also, her reaction is interesting in that scholars usually dismiss Hollywood productions as mere entertainment. I agree with her that something much more harmful and insidious is layered into Gibsons message. For instance, the Spanish Franciscans arriving at the end of the movie, as if Christianity was going to deliver them all from evil. Give me a freakin break, Mel.
John Major Jenkins
'Apocalypto' is an insult to Maya culture,
one expert says
An art history professor explains where Mel Gibson got it very, very wrong
By Chris Garcia AMERICAN-STATESMAN FILM WRITER Wednesday, December 06, 2006
As we stagger out of a sneak peek of Mel Gibson's Maya historical thriller "Apocalypto," Julia Guernsey is visibly shaken. She's upset and not a little angry. She barely can contain her disgust, but she also can barely speak. I'm a little worried. Guernsey is an assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas. Given her emphasis on pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art and culture, we invited Guernsey along to the preview last week so she could illuminate where Gibson got his history right and where he got it wrong.
The upshot: Boy, did he ever get it wrong.
Caution: The following interview with Guernsey contains spoilers.
Austin American-Statesman: You looked truly disturbed after the movie.
Julia Guernsey: My first reaction was to the extraordinary, gratuitous violence. And the ending with the arrival of the Spanish (conquistadors) underscored the film's message that this culture is doomed because of its own brutality. The implied message is that it's Christianity that saves these brutal savages. I think that's part of Gibson's agenda, sort of, "We got the Jews last time (in 'The Passion of the Christ'), now we'll get the Maya." And to highlight that point there's a lot of really offensive racial stereotyping. They're shown as these extremely barbaric people, when in fact, the Maya were a very sophisticated culture.
Yet he goes out of his way in the first third of the movie to depict how peaceful and human at least some of them are.
Yes, they're shown as wonderful, but ignorant. They're wonderful and they get along great and they've got this rip-roaring humor, but they don't know what's going on a day and a half's walk away, where this massive city, this metropolis, is being constructed. They haven't gotten wind of that because they are in their forest, the forest of their fathers, the forest of their sons. I can feel my heart beating faster talking about this.
You just hate this movie.
I hate it. I despise it. I think it's despicable. It's offensive to Maya people. It's offensive to those of us who try to teach cultural sensitivity and alternative world views that might not match our own 21st-century Western ones but are nonetheless valid.
What were you hoping for going into the movie?
I thought it would highlight some of the achievements of the Maya, but none of them is presented. They show some buildings but they don't talk about them. You get glimpses of some art, but it's overwhelmed by the non-stop violence.
What are inaccuracies you noticed?
For one thing, the characters walk through a tunnel-like space and it's covered in wall murals. I'm nitpicking and it would mean nothing to most people, but it's a reconstruction of some murals that were just discovered in the past few years. They're from the site of San Bartolo in the Maya region (of Guatemala). Some pieces of it are copied exactly from the mural, but part of it is this gory scene of an individual holding a severed human head with blood flowing out of it. That's not in the mural! That's just Gibson on his violence kick. Plus, the murals are Late Pre-Classic, dating to about 100 B.C., making it very problematic that these people were walking through murals dating from 100 B.C. and then we have the arrival of the Spanish, which was in the 16th century. That's like 1,700 years apart.
Couldn't they just be walking through an ancient area?
You could argue that, except that the film presents an inaccurate hodge-podge of architecture. Some of it looked like Tikal Classic Maya, 800 A.D. Some looked Puuc, which is closer to 1000 or 1100 A.D. These are very different regions. It's like the difference between Texas and Delaware. It also looked like they were borrowing from El Mirador, this Pre-Classic metropolis that flourished around the year 0 A.D. It would be as though somebody did a movie on our American culture and they had Madonna and Marilyn Monroe riding in a car together, or they had a meeting of George Bush, Teddy Roosevelt and George Washington because why not condense a couple hundred or a couple thousand years? We would be appalled. We take our culture seriously. We demand historical specificity, something completely lacking here. Gibson had a responsibility to know better. He was consulting experts who should have told him.
Were the sacrificial pyramid/temples really like they are in the movie?
We have accounts from the Aztecs of such things; it shows up in their mythology. And we have some images from the Maya that suggest that that kind of sacrifice did take place and that they probably did roll the bodies down (the pyramid). Now, the guys in the movie at the bottom catching the bodies with nets? That is crazy. We have no evidence for that. Another thing that was so funny was all that crazy, wild dancing with women's breasts flapping. I was just reading hours before I saw the movie with you a 400-page textbook dedicated to Maya dance, and it talked about how women played no major public role in these ceremonies but much more subtle roles.
Was the depiction of sacrifice - lining victims up as if they're in a ticket queue in front of a hysterical public crowd - accurate? That was startling.
We have evidence to suggest that there were group sacrifices. But it would probably have been done as a pious act with solemnity. Some of it was probably public spectacle. But I'm suspect of the women gyrating and going into some kind of trance state, as, let's not forget, the world's fastest ever solar eclipse is taking place.
Did it bother you that the movie completely ignores the ancient Maya inventions and achievements, such as urban planning, writing, mathematics, astronomy and art?
I did hope they would dwell on their achievements. There's this noble savage, 19th-century idea of barbaric savages, and it was like Gibson was rooted in that. All of these advances we've made in understanding their culture were completely forgotten. I think Mel Gibson is the worst thing that's happened to indigenous populations since the arrival of the Spanish. I say that in jest, but what is scary is that people will leave the movie thinking that because the characters were speaking Mayan there is an air of authenticity.
What about the garb and elaborate ornamentation they wear in the movie, including bones in their noses?
Some of that is based on images we have that are probably more or less accurate. But again, they played it up in a way to make them seem somehow subhuman. So the costuming just played into the idea of them as real savages, rather than what it was for the Maya, which was an aesthetic display of beauty, just as we take care of our clothing and appearance. The whole thing was wrong. I was looking at the film's trailer, which says, "No one can outrun their destiny." And I thought, "You better run. You better outrun this movie."
Regarding the sacrifice doctrine, I agree that it is blown out of proportion [in Apocalypto]. I discussed these things in the Pyramid of Fire book (Inner Traditions, 2004). I responded to a question recently on this topic, which Ill paste below, and that summarizes my thoughts on the matter:
There are several reasons why I believe the original sacrifice doctrine had to do with an inner sacrifice or surrender, rather than an outward sacrifice. Mainly, it has to do with how pure truths become debased and literalized through time. All traditions begin with a revelation of truth from the transcendent realm of divine wisdom. A teaching thus might form, such as surrender of attachment to illusion, or the products of ones actions. Observe in Buddhism how images of the Buddha dont even appear until hundreds of years after he lived. A concretization of the teaching occurs. You can trace this backward through time and arrive at the original situation that eventually resulted in a literal practice such as heart sacrifice among the latter day Mesoamericans (the Aztecs, actually). So, there is support for this notion in Mesoamerican archaeology in regards to when, in the historical timeline, literal sacrifices began. Its a result of a literalized debasement of the original doctrine.
Im sure there are aspects of the story that still need to come to light; the above is the general framework that Im working with. And it doesnt have to applied to a historical continuum or timeline. Instead we can understand a spectrum of spiritual practice that exists in the here and now, in which you have the highest form of the practice of sacrifice, what Coomaraswamy would call self-naughting, and at the same time you have others feeding the war deities with the blood of innocents (as we have going on in Iraq). If I was in a different format than a radio interview, I would certainly explore the various caveats and deeper discussion around the topic.
Yes, one wonders why media outlets assume we want to revisit these themes ad nauseum. Those media outlets say its what people want --- you know, shock value stuff, doomsday, fear, violence. But to keep repeating these perspectives over and over and over --- especially with the endless 2012 doomsday theme --- doesnt even make sense from a marketing viewpoint. Advertising gurus know that the consuming public will not respond to the same marketing ploys year after year. The same gimmicks and selling points dont work. Mr Whipple doesnt sell toilet paper anymore. And the media insists on calling all those standard predictable things (violence, fear, etc) selling points --- its what the consuming public want, they say. Its what they buy. I say thats B.S. The underlying truth is that the media outlets, for whatever reason, are involved in pushing something that the consuming public is suppose to stay addicted to. Fear and violence are strong emotional vibrations, and to be stuck in them prevents consciousness from opening. These media outlets are not harmless entertainment purveyors, they are drug delivery systems. The goal: keeping the public unconscious.
You know, its funny, the new clip for Apocalypto includes Gibson saying apocalypse means new beginning. That surprised me. Maybe all the violence is suppose to be cathartic, a prelude to renewal. ?
Thank you for your kind comments. It was a written chat, so I only have a pdf file of the Q & A:
An excerpt of a live online chat I did, fielding questions from people:
Jeff, Attila, Jan, Adrian,
The original Stargate movie was interesting, and the concept of stargate among the Egyptians is related to certain celestial gates in Babylonian star lore. Echoes of these ideas can be traced in Homers Odyssey (the cave of the nymphs sequence) and were later stock-in-trade motifs of certain Greek writers (Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch). There was an eschatological dimension to these stargates and the concept involved two gates on either side of the sky, associated with the solstice constellations of Cancer and Capricorn. Even Senecas paraphrase of Berossus implicates these constellations as eschatological doorways. The problem is that the solstice points shift (with precession) in relation to background constellations. Various Neoplatonic philosophers (Numenius, Macrobius) identified these gates more clearly as the crossing points of the Milky Way and the ecliptic (one at 6 degrees Sagittarius sidereal and one at 6 degrees Gemini sidereal). They were called the Gate of the Gods and the Gate of Man and target ascent and descent movements of the soul into and out of incarnation. These crossing points dont move with precession, but the solstice points do. Thus the December solstice *point* aligned with the Sagittarian stargate in 1998, but the sun is one-half a degree wide, thus the galactic alignment zone 1980 2016. This is the astronomical basis of the Maya 2012 cosmology which, of course, has metaphysical and spiritual implications in a non-dual paradigm.
John Major Jenkins
Thats good parallel to keeping people addicted to violence and fear. There are emotional response patterns that occur when expose to fear and violence that are stressers on the body, just like the bad foods. My friend Jonathan Zap writes about energy vampires in relation to violent emotions and certain foods:
John Major Jenkins
As far as your mention of the idea that the ancient and modern Maya are fundamentally different, I addressed that in a previous post from a few months ago, to the effect that such a concept is largely mistaken. From the perspective that all modern humanity have inherited a debased legacy, the modern Maya are no different in relation to their ancestors than any other people today. And of all modern people, the Maya stand tall in preserving an essential core of their tradition. Regarding the stargates, yes I agree that is a theme that comes up often, frequently in unfortunate cultic contexts (remember the Heavens Gate thing?). Although one can parse out the ancient cosmology around this concept, as I offered in my New Dawn article last month (Ascent to the Galactic Portal) and in my previous post, the stargates have a subjective/experiential reality to visionary shamans, ancient and modern. You have serpent-ropes delivering messages from ancestors, descending from cosmic portals, in Classic Maya art. And today you have DMT trippers reporting voyages through wormholes to view other times and places. In some quantum sense, the cosmic gateway concept gains its greatest ontological truth in the realm of consciousness exploring its full multidimensional potential (meaning its quantum access to non-causal transcendent experiences).
John Major Jenkins
Thanks for your review. Well said and fairly presented. Charitably kind even. I take note of the AP article (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ent/movies/4383585.html), were the following completely pathetic assessment of the ongoing 2012 discussion was quoted in your review:
The latest trendy theory is a largely Internet-based rumor that the Mayan long-count calendar predicts a global calamity on Dec. 22, 2012. Some have woven that together with prophecies from the Bible.
Trendy theory internet-based rumor global calamity with bible prophecies. ?????
That is just a gem of a snapshot on where the mainstream is at. Its like the AP and other mainstream media outlets cannot see beyond the superficial pap of their own headlines --- no ability to Google beyond the surface pith.
Id agree with your disinformation theory, and take it even further --- Apocalypto is an inoculation against deeper meaning. As I said in my recent post to Marina:
Apocalypto serves a function of protecting the limited state of consciousness that exemplifies modernity. It must be protected from opening to greater awareness. Its like the way white blood cells charge toward a breach in the skin, to seal it up as quickly as possible. There are energy dynamics at work here in the collective psyche. Any breach in the collective delusion must be met by the protective forces that will reinforce the limited ego identity. Apocalypto is like an early inoculation against the transformative and liberating potential that 2012 has. It reinforces fear and certain clichés about the Maya, so that people will be bolstered to dismiss anything profound might be connected to a calendar made by savages.
John Major Jenkins
I decided to boycott Mad Maxs Masterfully Macabre and Morosely Morbid Melee, as all Ive heard was violence galore. I was already deeply satisfied (and surprised) by the Mayan themes in Aronofskys recent movie release, The Fountain. Go see it! Twice! Quite amazing actually --- he deftly treats death, sacrifice, fear, eternal soul, letting go, love --- wow. It has a few clichés, but I think its genius.