Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Apocalypto, Fear

No, I do not condone drunken anti-Semitic rampages, and yes, I do feel somewhat hypocritical for giving him my money; so sue me, I was curious. When the New Year rolled in we were in a theater watching Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. To even be up at such an hour we should be commended; I don’t think R’s been awake for a New Year for near a decade and I typically find myself struggling to welcome it in, out of tradition.

Anyway, the following contains a couple spoilers; read at your own risk (But it is R, so none of you will be going anyway right? ;-)).

The film started out well; I was fascinated with a look into a culture rarely seen in popular media. One would hope it was somewhat accurate, but seems that may not be the case, in looking into archaeologist opinion. Still, I sometimes appreciate even a look I don’t trust.

But by the 10th act of blood spurting gore, it just began to feel silly (not that it would to most people, but I’ve a hard time maintaining movie magic). I found myself chuckling at the carnage, at how over the top, excessive, and hopefully manipulative it felt.

In all I left the film feeling let down, but I want to go over the good stuff, what got to me, hit a chord emotionally, as art should.

The story follows a “Mayan” (or Lamanite if you prefer ;-)). He’s a good man, a husband and father in a small village. One early morning warriors come from the city, burn their peaceful village and take near all of them captive after a bloody battle. The warriors try not to kill the village men, but subdue them, as they need them to eventually sacrifice in ceremony. It’s what they believe their god wants, for the greater good, to save the crops and so on. The women are taken also, but to be sold. Having no need for the children, they are left alone, if that can be said. Some watch their parents killed and stand in frozen horror. Some cling to and are consoled by their parents who are themselves tied tightly to other villagers by the neck.

It’s difficult to watch and it doesn’t stop there. The parents are then forced off and the children timidly follow through the jungle. Teary-eyed they call to their helpless beaten parents, at a safe distance for miles. I’d imagine the grief in the adults is insurmountable but greatly contained for their children’s sake. They do not want to call the children in closer, but can’t stand leaving them. Eventually they reach a river the children could not cross and one of the older girls, in what would bring tears to my eyes, tries to assure the adults their children will be okay, “Don’t worry; I’ll take care of them. They are mine now.” It really got to me, for the obvious reasons, and one personal reason.

As a general rule, I don’t have nightmares; they are very rare. But I’ve had the same nightmare about 3 times within the last year. I guess it’s now my only nightmare, and I had it again last night, probably because of this movie. Though, it’s not as dramatic or dire as the depiction in Apocalypto--I can’t afford Mel Gibson for my dreams.

Simply, US politics have turned drastically against us and I’m convicted of being gay and sentenced to prison. It always contains the point where I have to say goodbye to our boys. It’s in some concrete building, I’m in restraints, and in front of strangers, emotionless, faceless, uniformed government people; you know, just doing their jobs, the will of the people... They are holding our frightened children, and I’m helpless. They are taking them off to live in another home. You know, they know what’s right for our kids, what our kids “deserve”… Once it was that they were taking the children to live in the women’s prison, with some random inmate, which sounds kind of funny now but the symbolism is clear and not near funny at the time.

Right now, thinking of it, I emotionally know, absolutely, I could move mountains with the passion I feel at the idea. I could will the earth out of orbit, lay waste to battalions of men with a gesture. But that, of course, is not true; I just feel it. That rage and will, no matter how potent, will only go as far as the body can take it. I can be subdued like any man; I can be beaten; I can be made helpless for my children; I can watch, struggle against the metal, and be able to do nothing but seethe.

And such is nothing new or rare enough; I count my blessings. Families have been violently split enough times throughout history, for money, for power, and, as in my dream and in Apocalypto, for a faith. The parents and children can only watch and take it, as the guy with the bigger stick or more coins or more backers does whatever he wants. It doesn’t much matter if he does it for power or to otherwise feel good, as though he’s doing what’s best by the supernatural; the results are the same.

No, in the dream, I have to keep calm for them. Try to look comforting. I have to tell them what I think will make their new life the best it can be without their Dad and me, and it kills me, but I don’t have the physical power of my emotions and so I do it, and they’re taken from their family, confused, hurt, and distraught. The look on their face as I’m taken out of the room is the most vivid part. Here’s where I wake up, with great relief.

I should have known better than to type this in my lab.

Though, in reality, an irrational fear, it’s a tough idea for me, of course, maybe the toughest I regularly encounter, which is probably why it’s a dream. I was still upset far into the morning by this last one. But once I came into work, and went to get some papers out of the trunk, I saw there A had written his name in the salt coating of my car. It’s amazing how they can fix something like that so quickly and inadvertently.

But this brings me to a second fear dredged up by this movie. A continuing theme was fear itself. That it’s ruinous, dangerous; it rots people and societies. But more importantly here, it’s infectious.

Of course, my worry is clear. I don’t want them, my boys, to inherit the fear of the oncoming legislative actions, the legal debasing of our families, the orders of those hostile religions, or the physical threats. I don’t want them to see my face after waking up from such a dream and wonder what it is I’m feeling and why and if they should too. Soon our local lawmakers will be taking aim at us again; last year only a veto saved many of our fellow parents from loosing their parental rights and it can keep me up wondering what’s next and what’s coming back. I do fear that fear can be infectious.

Maybe, off the cuff, working it through right here (don’t hold me to this), I’ve no better choice than to just go with the emotion, the gut response at home. Though I know I’m just as conquerable as the next guy and society can certainly do what it wants with us, maybe my sons should only see that I feel I could move mountains, that I could put the earth off it’s orbit, to protect them, us. Maybe that’s all they should see in me, until they’re adults. I don’t like the idea--it is sort of a lie of omission--and I don’t really know, but it sounds right today. I do know I best be cautious with the outside world; people aren’t afraid to break up families when they can define them out of family or humanity.

Anyway, for a movie that left me feeling “let down” it sure has me thinking. Couldn’t have been all bad ;-), but I’m sure I, a gay non-catholic father, am not taking Mel’s film the way he intended. It begins with the quote “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” And I could agree, but I don’t think Mel and I would exactly agree on what values of this civilization are great and which, if lost, would allow our ruin.

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