Apocalypto and the Over-exaggeration of Cinema Violence

Here is a quote from Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star’s review for Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto:

Like Gibson’s previous two splatter epics, Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto fuses a highly speculative sense of history with primal emotional manipulation rendered in state-of-the art technological know-how. Prepare yourself to see not only a heart ripped from a human chest, but a still-beating heart. And get ready to finally know what dozens of freshly lopped heads bouncing down the majestic stone staircase of a monumental Mayan temple actually looks (and sounds) like.

You know after reading something like that, I would (and did) have second thoughts about seeing this film. However, after sucking it up and deciding to see the film, I can say that these comments were somewhat exaggerated.

First, I would say that the amount of heads going down the staircase is more like four (and they go down one at a time).

Also, sure hearts are removed, however this gruesome act is, for the most part, done off camera, with the audience only briefly seeing the removed organ (though in fairness, the act is done twice – with the second time being more “emotional”).

Compare this to a heart removal in a film released 22 years ago: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

In this film, we see the villain Mola Ram actually stick his hand into the chest of a person and remove, an equally still-beating, human heart.

Heck, Jim Carrey does the exact same thing 10 years later in the comedy Dumb and Dumber.

It should be pointed out that Indiana Jones was rated PG (though, the scene lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating) and Dumb and Dumber was rated PG-13.

What makes the scene in Apocalypto worse than either of these two other examples? Is it just because Apocalypto is a more “realistic” depiction of heart removal?

I have to agree, the violence in Apocalypto can be quite graphic and disturbing. It is rated R (18A here in Ontario) for a reason. However, I can’t say that the violence is gratuitous. It’s just part of the plot and the whole sacrifice scene is over and done with after approximately five (ten at the most) minutes.

So, can the critics just leave the violence alone and enjoy the film?

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).