The 2006 Mel Gibson film Apocalypto follows the story of a Mesoamerican man known as Jaguar Paw, played by Rudy Youngblood. Jaguar Paw is a part of a tribe of people who all have names like his that fit the setting and time frame. Some characters include his wife, Seven, Cocoa Leaf, Smoke Frog, and Curl Nose. Since its release, the film has received praise for its accurate representation of Mayan civilization as well as its outstanding cinematography.
The dialogue is an indication of when and where the story takes place, which was also true of Gibson’s earlier film, The Passion of the Christ. At the time the movie opens, Mayan cities are on a decline and they are desperate to find ways to restore themselves to their former power. While Jaguar Paw and his tribe are hunting at the beginning, they encounter another group seeking to pass through the jungle.
The action begins right away when the tribe wakes up the next morning to an attack by another group. During the battle, Jaguar Paw’s father Flint Sky is killed by a member of the opposite tribe, Middle Eye, and Jaguar Paw is taken captive by the raiders. Meanwhile, his pregnant wife and their child, Turtles Run, are separated from him. In the midst of the commotion, they are able to escape capture, but the cave they use to hide traps them and nobody is around to let them out.
After the battle dies down, the captives and their captors begin their journey back. Along the way, Cocoa Leaf is injured, so Middle Eye kills him. Their leader, Zero Wolf, is displeased, presumably because the captives are all needed in order to fulfill their plan. The group of raiders, who come from a nearby Mayan city, are struggling as a result of their city’s decline. They are suffering from drought, lack of crops for food, and sickness, and if they can’t fix things, many of their people will likely die.
In response to their situation, they kidnapped the members of Jaguar Paw’s tribe with the intentions to sacrifice them, which they believe will help their city. At the time this story takes place, many people believed that human sacrifice was a way to please the gods. Since they think the gods have cursed their crops and their lands, sacrificing members of another tribe is meant to turn the gods back in their favor.
This film follows Jaguar Paw as he fights against the Mayans and their plans to kill him and his people, while his wife and child remain trapped in their hiding place with seemingly no escape. The story explores what these civilizations were really like and highlights the things that make them interesting to today’s audience through following characters that belonged to a tribe.
Apocalypto is a story of danger, adventure, and family that captures the heart of this time period through language and setting. The attention to detail and focus on character will make it live on as a great film for years to come.