Apocalypto and the Book of Mormon

Over at Kultureblog I have a review of Apocalypto. It’s a bit tongue in cheek, comparing it to several popular action movies. But the obvious question lurking in the background is how Mel Gibson’s film will affect how we look at the Book of Mormon. Now Kultureblog is not really a Mormon blog, even though there are a few Mormons on it. So don’t discuss Mormonism there. I thought one of the other blogs might broach the topic while we here at M* were undergoing our transition. But no one did, so let me throw out the question to your if you’d seen Apocalypto as to how it affected how your visualize the Book of Mormon.

Let me say in advance that whatever the merits of the movie, I think it’ll be a watershed for getting lay members to think of the Book of Mormon more in terms of the FARMS limited geographic model (LGM). One problem that frustrates me to no end is that folks still have this tendency to think of the Nephites as quasi-Romanesque Europeans. Part of that is, of course, due to Arnold Frieberg’s painting. (Which always have me thinking of Arnold Swartzenegger – even the women look like Xena warrior princess) However as John Sorenson noted decades ago, the Nephites would have been traditional middle eastern looking and fairly unlike the Europeanized Jews of today. That is they would have been shorter and much, much darker than lay members think. More or less they’d have looked like what we see in Apocalypto.

For myself the best part of the movie was the trip to the city. The upper class with their dresses and jewelry immediately made me think of the passages in the Book of Mormon regarding fine clothing and setting oneself apart. While I think it entirely appropriate to liken the scriptures to ourselves and our own class divisions, I strongly suspect that we were seeing something in Apocalypto more in line with what the Nephites and Lamanites encountered. Of course the Book of Mormon doesn’t mention human sacrifice. But the blood lust of the characters in the film probably does correspond to both the Nephites and Lamanites – especially in the end of the Book of Mormon.

Of course Apocalypto is taking place more than 1000 years after the end of the Book of Mormon. So one should be careful. But I do hope this transforms how even short films about the Book of Mormon are made.

62 thoughts on “Apocalypto and the Book of Mormon

  1. Of course the Book of Mormon doesn’t mention human sacrifice.

    Actually, it does (Mormon 4:14):

    And they did also march forward against the city Teancum, and did drive the inhabitants forth out of her, and did take many prisoners both women and children, and did offer them up as sacrifices unto their idol gods.

    There is also Moroni 9:10, which could also be considered evidence of human sacrifice.

    I do very much agree with your analysis, though. Especially the reality of Nephite skin color.

  2. Clark,

    well said. It’s too bad that Gibson has to go ultraviolent to portray a nation that really probably wasn’t that violent. But Gibson has exaggerated before (The Passion—Roman soldiers did not treat the Savior any differently than any other Jew they set to be crucified. To them, he was just another Jew).

    I’d love to see more stories on the Mayans and the Olmecs done by skilled artisans. (I’ve been brewing in my head a story taking place in the Jaredite nation around the time of Akish and the rise of secret combinations in the Jaredite nation).

  3. This is no reflection on the righteousness of lack of righteousness of anybody on this board or anywhere, but I will not be seeing Apocalypto because of what many reviewers have called the extreme violence of the movie. I have one reviewer say it was the most violent and bloody movie ever made. I saw the Cleanflicks version of Passion of the Christ and could not get through it because it was just too bloody. Red dye companies must go crazy when they hear Mel is about to make another movie. Yuck!

  4. I like what Kenneth Turan of the LA Times said about Gibson’s Apocalypto:

    Gibson unblushingly intends “Apocalypto†as a clarion call warning modern man to watch his step or risk following the Mayas into decline and near-extinction. To this end he opens the story with a famous quote from historian Will Durant about the fall of Rome: “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.â€

    This is all well and good, but the reality of “Apocalypto†is that this film is in fact Exhibit A of the rot from within that Gibson is worried about. If our society is in moral peril, the amount of stomach-turning violence that we think is just fine to put on screen is by any sane measure a major aspect of that decline. Mel, no one in your entourage is going to tell you this, but you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. A big part.

    PS: BTW, when are you going to allow the a href = “” link to work?

  5. Geoff,

    Thanks for not reflecting on my righteousness. I didn’t see the over-the-top violence that some people are talking about. I thought that Passion did contain over-the-top violence. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is very violent and there is a lot of blood, but I think the film pretty much held true to what the reality could be–nothing more. There just isn’t a nice way of showing someones head get chopped off or having their heart ripped from their chest. If you choose to show those events in your movie, you’re going to see some blood on the screen–as I imagine you would in real life. If you’re going to watch a jaguar chewing a guy’s face off, it might look a lot like it did in Apocalypto.

    I think that this kind of don’t-look-away violence shown on screen can have a powerful effect on a story–the opening battle in Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. I found that the violence in Apocalypto also served the story.

    Please don’t respond to this by saying that you can allude to violence without actually showing it. That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about.

  6. You shouldn’t go see Apocolypto mostly becuase it sucks. It wasn’t even close to as violent as reviewers made it out to be (especially since the effects were so AWFUL) either. The photography is amatuerish. The acting is mediocre. And the effects are sub-par. The plot is weak. And the one part of the movie I was excited for – the Mayan city- well, thats about 10 minutes and barely glosses over it all. We were laughing by the end. Oh, and don’t get me started on the ending. It was just a really poorly made film all around. Seriously, the oh-so-violent sacrifice scenes were laughable they looked so fake. And the dialogue…anyway, it was really really a crappy movie in my opinion, and seemed to westernize an ancient civilization in their dialogue and mannerisms (in a very cliche hollywood sort of way). Anyway, I don’t think this should influence possible BOM movies at all, because I would hope those would be better.

  7. I don’t think it sucked but it’s definitely not what it thinks it is. I’d disagree with the cinematography complaint as well. I thought the cinematography was fine.

    But I do agree it’s pretty silly with bad special effects. Seriously, anyone disturbed by the jaguar puppet is really reaching to be disturbed.

  8. Nate C, I am of the old school in which I believe movies would and should be made without all of the violence of movies today. I agree completely with the reviewer Dan mentions in #4, ie: “If our society is in moral peril, the amount of stomach-turning violence that we think is just fine to put on screen is by any sane measure a major aspect of that decline. Mel, no one in your entourage is going to tell you this, but you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. A big part.”

    War movies were made from the 1920s until the early 1960s without all the blood. I miss those days.

    But returning to your point, it’s certainly debatable whether Apocalypto was more violent than “Saving Private Ryan” or other recent war movies. My personal choice (and this is not a choice that I would necessarily suggest for others, just my personal choice) is not to see movies like this.

  9. Clark, I don’t know that apocalypto will have much of an impact on the way the majority of LDS people in America view early Mayan civilization. I say this because Apocalypto is rated R. I am willing to allege that at least 51% of LDS people in America still do not view, or rarely watch, R rated films.

  10. Matt, within a few years it will almost certainly be on TV with more exposure. But even people who don’t see the movie will be indirectly affected by how it changes the way the topic is discussed. (IMO)

  11. Both the post and the comments are bizarre. We Mormons are certainly an odd lot. And just why would ancient Jews look substantially different then other Mediterranean (Southern European) peoples of then or now? BTW, assuming BofM historicity, almost all the contributors to the book clearly have an axe to grind (like the bible), so who knows what really happened? It’s a bunch of quite one-sided accounts.

  12. I didn’t care to go see Mel Gibson’s “Jesus Chainsaw Massacre” and I don’t think I’ll be seeing Apocalypto either. From what I’ve heard, the sheer violence of the film simply drowns out any other fine qualities it might have (and this from jaded film critics!).

  13. It’s definitely violent. I’m not at all convinced it’s more violent than your typical Indiana Jones movie. If anything, at some key places it is less violent. But that’s me. There is nudity though since they have the native clothing down pretty accurately.

  14. There does appear to be a substantial LDS interest in this movie. SLC is the # 2 city in the U.S. for google searches on “apocalypto” according to google trends, which is surprising. Los Angeles is only #4, and NYC is only #10.

    I agree with Nate and Clark that the movie wasn’t nearly as violent as the reviews tried to make it appear. My wife and I both liked the film and I thought the cinematography was way above average. The occasional violence was essential to the story and not gratuitous, any more than the descriptions of violence in the BoM are gratuitous.

    Those of us who don’t buy the FARMS Central America theory don’t see the connection to BoM people, but the movie does depict the Mayan civilization in a realistic way, based on the Mayan ruins, Mayan murals, and the accounts provided by Cortez et al. In fact, Apocalypto is toned down from those accounts. Whoever said the Mayans were “not that violent?”

    Re human sacrifice in the BoM: Isn’t this what Alma was referring to in 34:9?

  15. Re: the cinematography – did you like the handheld 8mm shots running through the jungle that made up 90 percent of the movie? I mean, the photography in Blair Witch was better…

    For those of you concerned with the violence, this movie wouldnt even make it in the top 25 violent movies I have seen. Im not sure what the reviewers were talking about…Saving Private Ryan and just about every slasher-horror movie I have ever seen is way more violent. Its not a quarter violent as Passion was.

  16. I suspect that most Mormons won’t see the movie, and that it will therefore have no effect on how the church generally thinks about limited geography or anything else.

    I’m puzzled by Clark’s comment about the film getting the native garb right. How on earth can we know what those folks were wearing 600 years ago.

    Geoff’s nostalgia for the war movies of 40 years ago makes me nostalgic for the wars that were fought “back in the day,” when all deaths were heroic, relatively bloodless and quick–no moaning for “Mother” as your guts spilled out of the gash cut in your abdomen by a shell fragment and life oozed from you, no coughing, gargling from froth-corrupted lungs.

    Ah for those days when it really was dulce et decorum pro patria mori. (w/apologies to the Latin grammarians and Wilfried Owen.)

  17. There’s more commentary from the LA Times about Gibson’s…lust with violence.

    What I would add to Turan’s — to nearly everyone’s — comments on “Apocalypto” is this: It is not so much the detail with which it treats violence that finally disgusts even the most hardened moviegoer; it is the ritualistic staging of it. Most reviewers have commented on the scene in which the Mayans stretch their victims across an altar and cut out their hearts and lift the still-throbbing organs to the skies. Gibson repeats this action and then sort of tops it by having the Mayans behead their prey and send their excised noggins bouncy-bouncy down their temple’s steps.

    This is a standard Gibson trope. He loves to get people painfully restrained and then do really bad things to them — Turan mentions the actor’s drawing-and-quartering scene in “Braveheart” and the ghastly flogging of Jesus in “The Passion.” We are not, in these instances, dealing with mere “violence.” We are dealing with ritualized sadomasochism — an open manifestation of one of those dark fantasies that those in thrall to them must endlessly repeat and that have, of course, some sort of psychosexual component.

  18. He continues:

    That’s why “Apocalypto” is so discomfiting. Ordinary movie violence generally happens on the fly, without an awful lot of calculation or consequence, though we can occasionally be instructed by it, as we were by “Hotel Rwanda” or the current “Blood Diamond.” But psychosexual violence of the kind Gibson is drawn to takes us to a truly ugly place. It is beyond the reach of the law, diplomacy, public policy or moral resolve. We can punish its practitioners only when fantasy turns into horrific, real-world acts. But we cannot cure them. They represent the irreducible, ineluctable evil of the world — the grimmest side of the social compact.

    Gibson, of course, would argue otherwise. He believes that the blood of martyrs fertilizes good things like faith and freedom and that graphic depictions of their torments must strengthen our resolve in these matters. I say his slavering interest in the torture of the innocent and the idealistic is a form of [the "p" word]. I wouldn’t ban it. But, were it not for stern critical duty, I would shun it — because it is infantile. And because it tells me more than I want to know about the filmmaker’s mind, spirit and unspoken fantasies.

  19. Dan, I don’t see your point in posting these quotes. This L.A. Times writer obviously has a problem with Mel Gibson. Myself and others disagree with his assessment on the violence in Apocalypto. So do I respond to his argument through you? Will you send him an e-mail and then wait for him to tell you what to say?

    Do you feel that reading his article makes you understand what the violence in this movie is all about? I assume that you haven’t seen the movie and for this reason you resort to using the words of others to make your point. That point evidently being that the movie contains gratuitous over the top violence and that this somehow reflects on Mel Gibson’s character. I hope that you and others would refrain from forming opinions based on the obvious bias of this L.A. Times writer.

  20. I’ve not seen his movie, nor will I ever. The author’s point, from how I understand it, is that Gibson is showing a rather sadomasochistic lust for violence. And the irony, as Kenneth Turan made in his review of the movie, is that Gibson’s point is that gruesome violence shows the decline of a civilization (the Mayans), while not realizing that he himself is a perfect example of the decline of our civilization by the very fact that he shows this violence, and we accept it as not anything to worry about.

    What this author is saying is that Gibson uses violence for the sake of violence, rather than showing the decline of a civilization. I tend to agree, having seen previous Gibson movies. It’s the staging of the violence, the camera work, the placing of the image just so, as to highlight the chopping off an English arm by a Scottish farmer, the thrust of a whip against the body of the Savior. Gibson not only leaves nothing to the imagination, he shows a lust for the act itself.

  21. Nate C, I can’t understand the point of your comment. Dan is simply telling you why he wouldn’t see the movie (the same reason I won’t see it). He is also making a very valid point that filmmakers who use violence to “condemn” violence are part of the problem rather than the solution. It is also worth pointing out that Mel Gibson has a long history of over-the-top violence in his movies. Braveheart was controversial in its day. The guy is simply in love with violence for violence’s sake.

  22. Justin, that is very interesting. Any idea on the current religious activity of Mr. Hansen?

  23. I disagree that these movies portray violence for violence’s sake, as if it were a horror/slasher movie. Anyone who has visited the Central American sites and related visitors centers has seen depictions of violence worse than I saw in this movie. Apocalypto could have been even more violent and gory just by depicting scenes from additional Mayan murals. If there’s a point to portraying any historical event, it ought to be done accurately (although clearly this movie is a conglomeration of many different events).

    I thought the movie offered some insight into the practice of human sacrifice that we see in the Bible and BoM.

    War movies made “without all the blood” are insidious because they glorify war and make it seem somehow appealing. I’d much rather see a realistic portrayal of a war or a civilization than a phony effort that pretends bad things don’t happen, or that when they do, they’re not so bad after all. Maybe if Americans didn’t pretend bad things don’t happen in war, we wouldn’t be finding ourselves in hopeless wars in the Middle-East.

  24. Jonathan,

    If there’s a point to portraying any historical event, it ought to be done accurately

    You’re implying here that a historical document as, say, the Book of Mormon, is not accurately portraying historical events because it doesn’t get into the nitty gritty details of how people were murdered. In the movie Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence had to execute the man he saved in the desert. David Lean could have shown the bullets hitting Gasim, which apparently profoundly affected Lawrence, as he later states he found pleasure in it. Instead, David Lean focuses on Lawrence’s reaction. The execution is implied, with no need to show the actual bullets piercing skin, and blood flying all over the place. More importantly, Mr. Lean and Peter O’Toole effectively showed how Lawrence found pleasure in that execution.

    Some filmmakers today, most notably Gibson, leave nothing to the imagination anymore. We’re not to use our creative minds anymore, someone else has done it for us. Frankly that’s pretty boring. But more disturbing is the fact that the more we see graphic violence, even if shown for the purpose of “education” (i.e. to show how bad some people can get, so we are so shocked that we could not imagine it happening again), that very act actually lowers the threshold of acceptability. By the very fact that we see a bullet break a man’s skull, we’ve accepted that visualization, and lowered our threshold of shock. It no longer will shock us. Some people are not shocked at all at seeing a man in a mask run around with a chainsaw ripping people in pieces. That should disturb us far more than anything happening in the Middle East.

    I’d much rather see a realistic portrayal of a war or a civilization than a phony effort that pretends bad things don’t happen, or that when they do, they’re not so bad after all. Maybe if Americans didn’t pretend bad things don’t happen in war, we wouldn’t be finding ourselves in hopeless wars in the Middle-East.

    Hmmm, since Saving Private Ryan and the “realistic” portrayal of war we’ve found our nation at war with three nations (Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq). We’ve threatened two other nations (Syria and Iran), accepted the bombardment of another (Lebanon), and seen others digress back into civil war (The Sudan and Somalia), all without us seemingly concerned by the amount of violence.

    That’s the irony about showing violence. It feeds its own lust.

  25. What I’m basically saying, as a counter to your point that the more violence we see, the more we would be willing to hold back on warfare is that the opposite is in fact true. The more we DON’T see violence, the more we will be willing to not use violence, because we let our minds create how horrible the violence will be. by showing the violence, and lowering that threshold of acceptability, we in fact don’t see it as bad as first thought. Thus when encountered with the possibility of the use of violence, we’d be inclined to use it because hey, it’s not really that bad.

  26. Dan, right on! “Psycho” (about 1960) is generally acknowledged as one of the most affecting movies ever, but you never see the knife stabbing the victim, nor do you see blood spurting all over the place. You see the silhouette of the knife, and then hear a horrible sound and then blood going down the drain. The details are left up the imagination.

    I’ve used this example, but I’ll use it again. “Key Largo” (1948). Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson. Edward G Robinson plays this horrible, horrible killer. No swear words, no blood. At least five people die on the screen, with knives and guns, but there is no explicit violence, it is all implicit. Yet it is terrifying and shows good overcoming very, very bad. No bloodbaths anywhere.

    Directors today have no imagination, no ingenuity compared to the directors of an earlier era. Everything is about pushing the envelope into new territories of violence and shock and sex. This is exactly why Mel Gibson felt the need to use the techniques he did: if he didn’t show it explicitly, he was somehow not providing enough shock value for today’s audience.

    There are plenty of good war movies that show the horrors of war without explicit violence. “All Quiet on the Western Front.” “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” “The African Queen.” “Sergeant York.” “The Great Escape.” I could go on. None of them show blood flowing anywhere. It simply isn’t necessary and does nothing to prevent wars. Instead, it desensitizes us to bloody warfare.

  27. For the record I don’t think any less of anyone who wouldn’t see the movie because it is violent. Although I think that if they have a copy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on their shelf at home I think they are being a tad hypocritical.

    But I strongly feel the idea that there are movies people must see is ridiculous. Yes Shindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan are great movies. But honestly I think people could be good before seeing them and after. I’m not at all convinced that for most people – especially those who don’t want to see the movies – that it will be this huge life changing event. I think we give art too much credit sometimes.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think on society they can have a positive effect. But to assume everyone needs see them seems silly.

    As to Apocalypto and violence. I think one has to distinguish between real violence and killing and movies of it. The LA Times article isn’t making that crucial distinction. Gibson’s already said that he sees the movie as a kind of allegory for the United States. While I disagree with that characterization, to compare on screen violence with say torture at a secret CIA prison is ridiculous.

  28. As I said in my #6 comment, leaving it up to the imagination has nothing to do with what I’m talking about. I agree that leaving things to the imagination is a very effective way to tell a story, but you’re talking apples and oranges. Let’s say that the apples films don’t show it, but instead leaves it to the imagination. It sounds like some of you just like apples films and that’s fine. I happen to like both.

    Orange films (like Apocalypto) are the kind where you see the action as if you were there and an actual witness to the events. You can’t tell me that in Laurence of Arabia, if you had been there with them, that instead of watching Laurence shoot the guy, you would have instead walked over to him and gazed into his face so that you could catch his reaction to what he has just done. Apples and Oranges.

    The problem is that some films that are oranges do decide to take things way over the top–in that they don’t represent the reality of what could actually happen. For example, 3 gallons of blood squirting out of a guy’s neck when he doesn’t have 3 gallons of blood in his body to begin with. I think Gibson fell into that trap with Passion, but not with Apocalypto. I don’t think that anything was shown in Apocalypto that couldn’t have happened if I had been a witness to the fictionalized events.

    Lastly, I believe that there is value in showing violence in the way that “orange” films do (when the don’t go so over the top as to be too incredibly unrealistic). After watching Saving Private Ryan, I think I got about as close as I could get to understanding what those men went through without having to actually go through it for myself. If Spielburg had chosen instead to focus on Tom Hank’s reaction to the violence, that also could have possibly been a great movie. But it would have been a different kind of movie. My emotions and understanding would have been different. I’m glad that he made it the way that he did.

    If people don’t want to subject themselves to that sort of violent reality portrayed on film, I absolutely respect that. It can be very hard to watch. For me, though, I find that the orange movie experience is a movie experience that I appreciate in a different way than an apple movie experience. I enjoy them both when they are done well. Apocalypto is done well. It’s not that you dislike Apocalypto (you can’t dislike it because you haven’t seen it), it’s that you dislike the orange films. I think it’s important to differentiate.

    #25: No, Dan isn’t simply telling us why he wouldn’t see the movie. He is regurgitating another person’s idea “that Gibson uses violence for the sake of violence” and that “he himself is a perfect example of the decline of our civilization by the very fact that he shows this violence”. I disagree with these statements as they pertain to the film Apocalypto–not necessarily Braveheart or Passion. Now that I disagree with those comments, what do I do? E-mail the L.A. Times guy? Not practical and that isn’t the forum in which these his ideas were introduced to me. So I don’t see the point in re-printing something that you can’t back up with facts other than appealing to an authority–one of my favorite Mormon fallacies.

    #29: Are you really trying to say that Saving Private Ryan somehow caused or contributed to the recent conflicts our nation has been involved in? Ridiculous. Please connect the dots for me and show us how one led to the other.

  29. pneal

    I know. But since I put the verb “was” outside the quote, I left the “est” out of the Latin. Thus the apology. But it didn’t make sense to have two forms of “to be” in the sentence–one present tense and one past.

  30. Nate, well said.

    Dan, the BoM is pretty explicit when it comes to describing arms being cut off and carried to the king, people burning to death, decapitation, cannibalism, etc. The Bible is also.

    If I understand what you’re saying, your concept of deterring violence by not showing it actually represents a common way that governments perpetuate violence. To suppress dissent, the Bush administration tries to cover up the awful repercussions of Iraq; e.g., no photos of returning coffins allowed, denunciations of media that describes what’s actually going on, etc. We saw the same thing in WWII, when Hitler kept the concentration camps secret. In Vietnam, it wasn’t until the media started showing the bloody footage on TV that the public turned against the war, and the same thing has happened now in Iraq. The more people know what war is really like, the more they resist it. That’s been one of the major criticisms of Bush; never having gone to war (unlike Kerry or Gore), he was more willing to start a war.

    What you said earlier exemplifies the problem with your concept: “It’s too bad that Gibson has to go ultraviolent to portray a nation that really probably wasn’t that violent.” We can pretend that the Mayans weren’t violent (like pretending war is heroic or murder is a facial reaction) and decline to either depict or view depictions of that violence, or we can deal with the reality that they were exceptionally violent.

    As Clark said, no movie is a “must see” (although in terms of cultural literacy, some movies create a national consciousness about certain issues). People can legitimately choose to see or not see types of movies. What I object to is people using a purported disdain of violence to color their perceptions of reality.

  31. Jonathan N, Dan can defend his ideas ably, but I would like to point out once again that for decades movies portrayed the evils of violence without actually showing arms being cut off, blood spurting, heads hacked off and rolling away, hearts being pulled out of chests, etc, etc. You simply don’t need to show certain things.

    One good example is the Church movie on the crucifixion of the Savior in which you don’t see the nails going through the wrists and hands, but you see the hands being placed on the cross and then you see a hammer being lifted. That is enough to allow you to understand what is going on without going for the “gross out” factor. In fact, I think the Spirit testifies quite strongly to the horror of the Lord’s crucifixion for us without having to see “blood from every pore” and the actual details of how the Lord was crucified. I believe such details would drive away the Spirit rather than attract it and keep in there, which is why the Church chose not to show such things.

  32. Jonathan,

    If I understand what you’re saying, your concept of deterring violence by not showing it actually represents a common way that governments perpetuate violence.

    I used to think that, but you know what, since Vietnam, we’ve been at war how frequently? I honestly believe Americans have the stomach for a large body count, if they could see a demonstratable progress in the battle. You think during World War II Americans didn’t know how many of their sons died? They saw success and progress in their actions, something Americans did not see in Vietnam and now in Iraq. The problems with both Vietnam and Iraq are that the leaders were not honest and upfront with Americans.

    The problem with our debate now is that we’re talking generalizations. Our nation is far more diverse and complex. The issue with movies like this (violent shows that glorify acts of violence) is that those who see them represent a very small percentage of the American population, so the effect is minimal. But I believe in that small percentage of the population, they have a greater acceptability of seeing humans die than those who do not.

    What you said earlier exemplifies the problem with your concept: “It’s too bad that Gibson has to go ultraviolent to portray a nation that really probably wasn’t that violent.” We can pretend that the Mayans weren’t violent (like pretending war is heroic or murder is a facial reaction) and decline to either depict or view depictions of that violence, or we can deal with the reality that they were exceptionally violent.

    You’re misreading my words. I did not say the Mayans weren’t violent. I said they probably weren’t as violent as portrayed by Gibson (who has a history of exaggerating the violence in his art).

  33. Geoff when you say, “you simply don’t need to show certain things” I’d agree. But then one has to add “to be entertaining.” However I think Nate’s point that the violence changes the effect of the movie as apt. To make an analogy John Wayne’s The Green Berets would have been quite a different movie had they showed real violence in Viet Nam rather than the non-violent violence.

    So you certainly can say, “it’s not necessary.” But only in the sense that no movie is necessary. I honestly do think that the directorial decisions would be massively different depending upon how the violence is shown. If all you care about is the general story then I suppose that won’t matter.

    I understand what you are saying about say The Passion of the Christ but I think that movie affected me quite profoundly in a way that the more stylized versions the Church puts out don’t.

    Dan, when you say the Mayans weren’t as violent as Gibson portrays, what do you mean? I agree that the probability of all the things happening to Jaguar Paw in one day that did is remote. Life just doesn’t work that way. But if anything, from what I’ve read, the Mayans were far more violent than presented.

  34. Clark,

    One thing I’ve learned from history is that a violent civilization tends to be unstable, and not last very long. What I mean by violent is one where that civilization is constantly at war. We know the Mayans were quite advanced technologically for their time. They were educated. This kind of growth cannot happen when you are constantly at war. Let me say this, the Mayans were in no way more violent than what we see in Iraq today. From the accounts I’ve read, Mayans, when they battled with other people usually took the lower classed individuals as slaves, and took the leaders for sacrifice. That’s not really that violent.

    Finally you state it well. Gibson took all the recorded violent acts and placed them all in his movie, which of course is highly unlikely to have occurred in any given day in the Mayan civilization. However, by placing it all in his movie, it gives the impression that the Mayans were far more violent than what they really were.

  35. Dan, since Vietnam we’ve had no wars even close to the violence and death that Vietnam featured, and it’s unlikely that we’d ever have one again. If Bush had gone to Vietnam, we wouldn’t be in Iraq, either. His father knew what war was like and wisely avoided the mess W. has gotten us into. I just don’t think it’s a good idea to pretend war is actually the way it was portrayed in the old John Wayne movies.

    I’m not sure what history you’ve been studying, but most civilizations throughout history were more violent than ours, by far. E.f., the Egyptians lasted a long time, but they were pretty violent by out standards. Besides what is mentioned in the Bible, they commonly used ears to document the number of people they killed, until one of the Pharoahs wanted to specify how many men were killed, so he ordered his soldiers to bring genitals instead. There’s a mural in Luxor depicting a pile of genitals used for this purpose.

    If you don’t think the Mayans were more violent than what’s going on in Iraq, you’re simply misinformed (if the Mayan murals and Spanish accounts are to be trusted). Even the worst of the Iraqi terrorists don’t entertain live audiences with their decapitations; they videotape them in secret hideouts. The Mayans used these ritualistic atrocities openly, in public.

    As I mentioned, Gibson left out lots of documented Mayan violence, including cermonial bloodletting from genitals and sacrifice of children, on top of what Gibson portrayed. He could have made his movie much more gory and violent if, as you suggested, that was his objective.

    Geoff, I don’t know why the Church produces movies the way it does, but as we’ve discussed there are a variety of filmmaking techniques that achieve different purposes. Gibson’s Passion movie made me look at the scriptures in a new way and gave me a greater appreciation for what Christ went through, especially when he looked at his mother as he was heading for the cross. I thought it was a highly spiritual movie; since you didn’t see it I suppose you can think it would drive the Spirit away, but that wasn’t my experience. Certainly there were some misinformed Catholic notions in that film, such as Mary being a prostitute, but there were other insights that I found very profound and beneficial. That’s another discussion, I suppose, but it’s a weak to meaningless argument to suggest that the Church’s films contain everything that we need to know.

  36. Jonathan,

    Dan, since Vietnam we’ve had no wars even close to the violence and death that Vietnam featured, and it’s unlikely that we’d ever have one again.

    I disagree. Just wait until we attack Iran.

    I’m not sure what history you’ve been studying, but most civilizations throughout history were more violent than ours, by far.

    if you read my comments more carefully you’ll find that I never implied our civilization is more violent than previous ones.

    If you don’t think the Mayans were more violent than what’s going on in Iraq, you’re simply misinformed (if the Mayan murals and Spanish accounts are to be trusted). Even the worst of the Iraqi terrorists don’t entertain live audiences with their decapitations; they videotape them in secret hideouts. The Mayans used these ritualistic atrocities openly, in public.

    Huh, yet these videotapes somehow end up for all the world to see….I’m sorry but what is happening in Iraq has only happened in a few other places in history: Rwanda, Cambodia, the Sudan, etc. It isn’t on that scale yet, because American soldiers (as few as we have there) are holding them back. But you bet Iraq is far more violent than the Mayans. Iraqis kill each other out of hate and vengeance. The Mayans sacrificed to their gods not because they hated their conquered, but because that’s what they did to appease their gods.

    Moreover, it is accurate to say that the more violent a civilization the less stable. The Mayan civilization was quite stable for most of its existence. They had their wars (as all civilizations have), but their level of violence is nothing like the failed state and failed civilization you see in Iraq today.

    As I mentioned, Gibson left out lots of documented Mayan violence, including cermonial bloodletting from genitals and sacrifice of children, on top of what Gibson portrayed. He could have made his movie much more gory and violent if, as you suggested, that was his objective.

    I’m sure he could have. But see, he’s got a business to maintain. He can’t be makin’ NC-17 movies and make them profitable. Sorry, but if he could, I believe Gibson would show you just that.

  37. Jonathan N, just one quick quibble: I saw most of the Passion via Cleanflicks, and I was sickened by it. I felt a complete absence of the Spirit. But to each his own.

  38. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a film based on what it looks like after being hacked apart by cleanflicks.

  39. Dan: One thing I’ve learned from history is that a violent civilization tends to be unstable, and not last very long. What I mean by violent is one where that civilization is constantly at war.

    Rome did pretty good.

    I guess it all depends upon what you call stable mind you. Most of the civilizations I think of that were long lived were fairly violent. There were more agrarian or hunter gather societies that were very stable. But I’m not sure those count as large civilizations.

    Dan: Let me say this, the Mayans were in no way more violent than what we see in Iraq today.

    OK, but by my book that makes them pretty violent.

    Further if this is your argument against Gibson it’s pretty weak since there isn’t really anything in his film that even comes close to what has been reported done by Al Queda in Iraq the past few years.

  40. Dan, the examples you cite are relatively recent, but you can find plenty of genocide in history if you look for it. The notion that all people have moral value, which underlies our modern ethics, wasn’t even shared by the ancient Greeks. It would be difficult to find any historical society that had anything comparable to modern ethical values. Even the “righteous” people in the Bible wiped out entire communities, leaving nothing alive.

    The main difference I see in Iraq and what took place among the Mayans was the Iraqi people and their elected leaders strongly oppose the violence, but for the Mayans, the violence was perpetrated by their leaders. At any rate, I think it is more violent to kill someone by ramming a spike up their neck through their head, or by ripping out their heart (or feeding their flesh to their children, according to the BoM) than to shoot or bomb someone.

    You might be right about the war with Iran, but I haven’t seen that part of the future yet, so I can’t say.

    Geoff, I’d probably feel the same way as you if I had watched portions out of context. It’s interesting, though, the Enoch saw the crucifixion the way it happened. Why would he need to have that vision if he could have learned the same by just reading a brief account of it?

  41. Jonathan, that is a great point about Enoch.

    We know that the Lord has shown many visions to individuals. Some of the visions were of not-so-nice things. I wonder if those people saw the edited versions of events or if they saw in vision the way that the events would/did happen–with blood, violence and all the horror that goes along with the evils of war and sin.

    I bet they saw the “orange” version. (from #33)

  42. Nate, that is one of the many things we’re trying to fix. This is why we have been trying to get an administrator of the last two months. Sorry about the inconvenience.

  43. Clark, Jonathan,

    I guess it all depends upon what you call stable mind you.

    I think that says it best. We haven’t defined our terms in this debate, and are probably gone past the point where we should have defined them. Thus we are not communicating clear and well.

    We’re way off topic anyways, so I’m not going to continue further.

    On the topic, no I don’t think this movie will spur all that much debate about the Mayans and their relationship with the Book of Mormon

  44. Jonathan, I’m not sure I agree. For one, Sadr who is behind a lot of the violence is quite popular and is an important leader within the government. (Although work the last week has been going on to push him out – I think people thought involving him in government would make him more mild) For an other the leaders of the insurgents within the Sunni community are popular and while perhaps not elected certainly fit your criteria. They are a kind of shadow government and the problem of shadow governments is, in a way, the problem of Iraq.

    I’d also dispute the way people are killed in Iraq is less violent than the Mayan sacrifices. Sorry, but a quick knife to the heart is much more human than slowly having your head cut off by a dull sword while a video camera rolls. And most bodies found on the streets of Iraq have been tortured first. There have also been people burned alive and all sorts of things. Go to your typical fundamentalist Islamic web site and I can guarantee you can find real video of far more inhumane actions towards people than you’ll find in Gibson’s movie. Further, as I noted in my review, Gibson’s movie doesn’t actually show most of the violence but leaves it offscreen. Unlike say the Indiana Jones movies.

  45. Johnathan #46,

    That’s a fine distinction until you consider all the Iraqis being kidnapped and tortured to death with power drills. After which, there doesn’t seem to be much of a distinction at all (other than the level of organization involved).

  46. Dan, thanks for the discussion anyway. But I don’t know why a term such as “stable” needs a special definition. It’s like speculating what the meaning of “is” is…. I don’t think we’ve had any confusion due to not knowing what “stable” means, but I do think you’ve misstated both the violent nature of the Mayan society and the lessons of world history.

    Nate, I suspect these visions relate actual events, not “Clean Flicks” versions. I don’t imagine the Spirit abandons people in horrific situations; at least, when I was stabbed once, I didn’t feel like the Holy Ghost fled. I suspect that God is fully cognizant of the atrocities people commit, and I think the notion that we would chase the Spirit away by becoming knowledgeable about actual history is nonsense. But as we often say, to each his own.

  47. Dan, I’m really not trying to suck you back into an off topic debate, but I just can’t let this comment go unchallenged.

    You said: “He can’t be makin’ NC-17 movies and make them profitable. Sorry, but if he could, I believe Gibson would show you just that.”

    And you base that belief on what evidence? I highly doubt that profit is much of a motivator for Mel Gibson–and he has publicly said as much. My understanding is that he financed most or all of Apocalypto himself and that he has more money than he could probably ever spend in his lifetime. I think he could do pretty much whatever he wanted as it pertains to making a movie.

    I think you’ve fallen into the trap of being influenced by some (i.e. the L.A. Times writer you quoted) who have some pretty extreme biases against Mr. Gibson. Now I’m not here to defend Mel Gibson, but I know a character assassination when I see one. This is a dangerous trap to fall into–digesting information about something that you haven’t experienced and or fully studied out for yourself and then regurgitating it to others. You’re welcome to believe whatever you want–obviously. But I suggest you keep those beliefs to yourself (especially when it discredits the character of another human being) unless you can back it up on your own with facts from your own experiences.

    I wonder how many people think they know what Joseph Smith is all about? They’ve probably heard about him–maybe read a few articles. Maybe their Pastor taught a lesson on why Mormons aren’t Christian. I bet they walk out of that meeting thinking they know something. I bet they think that they have it all figured out now.

    And I bet they probably make it a point to remember some of the really good quotes from those articles and from that lesson so that they can pass those ideas along the next time they find themselves wanting to leave a comment about Mormons on an internet message board.

  48. Nate,

    And you base that belief on what evidence? I highly doubt that profit is much of a motivator for Mel Gibson–and he has publicly said as much. My understanding is that he financed most or all of Apocalypto himself and that he has more money than he could probably ever spend in his lifetime. I think he could do pretty much whatever he wanted as it pertains to making a movie.

    He still knows the rules of the game, and if he made a NC-17 rated movie, his stock would go down. I shouldn’t have said just profit. He’s obviously a very rich man who finances his own movies. But if he were to go overboard these days, he’d lose the ability to make movies reaching a wide audience. Whatever the case is, he is certainly pushing the limits of violence seen on screen.

  49. Nate, you’re spot on as usual. Dan and many others form srong opinions based on what other people say about the movie without viewing it themselves, or even studying the topic (Mayan violence). It’s like forming a strong opinion on Mormonism based on someone else’s review of The Godmakers.

    A related article: BYU avoids controversy by not showing States of Grace: http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/61917

    I didn’t like that movie (another topic), but I respected what Dutcher was trying to do. I suppose for BYU the point is to avoid controversy.

    Clark, I agree that the violence in Gibson’s movie was not as gruesome as smoe of what we’ve seen in Iraq, but I’m saying Gibson didn’t depict the worst of Mayan civilization, either. But the main point is that the Mayans apparently embraced the violence as a national ritual, while in Iraq everything is still done in a shadow. If they get to the point where Sadr and the others start beheading people in public, with the mass of people cheering, then I’d agree they’ve reached the depravity of the Mayans.

    For that matter, we have gruesome goings on everywhere in the world, including Utah. Forcing people to drink Drano, raping and murdering little girls, shooting one’s wife and dumping the body in the trash, etc. No one wants to focus on these things, but at least, so far, we’re not making it a public ritual.

    One could argue that gory movies are a public ritual equivalent to the Mayan ceremonies, I suppose, but everyone in the theater knows it’s fake. It’s a way to vicariously experience what it would have been like to live in a different time and place. States of Grace is another example.

  50. I just want to comment on the part of the original post at top of this board:

    “…One problem that frustrates me to no end is that folks still have this tendency to think of the Nephites as quasi-Romanesque Europeans. Part of that is, of course, due to Arnold Frieberg’s painting. (Which always have me thinking of Arnold Swartzenegger – even the women look like Xena warrior princess) However as John Sorenson noted decades ago, the Nephites would have been traditional middle eastern looking and fairly unlike the Europeanized Jews of today…”

    I haven’t seen Apocalypto, but from what I’ve seen of the previews in regards to the setting and costumes of the characters, I was quickly reminded of the Testaments film that the church used to show in the Legacy Theater in Salt Lake. It almost appeared that Mel Gibson even borrowed some of the costumes and set pieces used in Testaments. I know that’s probably not the case here, but the point is, I think the church and probably others have already started to produce films portraying BOM stories and events in the same type of setting, atmosphere, and apparel as what’s visible in the previews of Apocalypto.

    Ever since seeing Testaments, I’ve always imagined BOM events and stories to take place in the type of setting and civilization that appears to also be portrayed in Apocalypto.

  51. I have read many, many comments comparing different films with violence. Some of you have the opinion that if you watch one violent movie (Indiana Jones for example) and feel that a different violent movie is not appropriate to view (Apocalypto), you are being hypocritical. Some have the opinion that if you don’t agree with the explicit violence portrayed, you are closing you eyes to reality.

    I feel that it is not necessarily a matter of how much blood is shown, but rather the overall feel of the film. I see no benefit to a film that leaves the viewer sickened with a feeling of darkness. It is true that there are horrible things that people have done to each other in the past, and do to each other now; in our country as well as every other. Why pay money to be further engulfed in darkness? I’m not saying that we should ignore violence or pretend it isn’t real. There are many films that show conflicts among men, and still leave the viewer with a feeling of hope for mankind and a resolve to do better.

    I have not seen Apocalypto. I’m curious, those who have, did you feel uplifted at the end?

  52. It was suppose to be a praise of the family kind of film. But I felt at the end that it was just a B-action movie dressed up as an art house film. So I felt neither uplifted nor “downput.” Kind of indifferent.

  53. As a convert you Mormons have caused me to make many paradigm shifts in
    >my thinking about the BofM. Like you I still have Arnold Frieberg
    >images stuck in my head. First it is all of north and South America
    >then it is Mesoamerica. After reading all I can about the BofM people I
    >have arrived at the following personal believes.
    >
    >When Lehi arrived in Mesoamerica they quickly were absorbed into the
    >indigenous population. Laban and Lemuel may have been from another
    >mother. Even another mother and father of Africian/Asian decent. Nephi,
    >Sam, and Joseph were a mix of Jewish/Asian decent. The rest of the
    >group were a mix of Jew/Asian decent. When Laban and Lemuel split off
    >from the others this could account for the dark skin and lack of Jewish
    >DNA problem. They were lost into the Mayan population with in two
    >generations.
    Laman and Lemuel may have been from another mother even another mother
    >and father of African/Asian decent. When Laman and Lemuel split off,
    >their racial back ground would account for the dark skin and lack of
    >Jewish DNA problem. This would be just as the Olmec stone heads appear
    >to look African/Asian and no longer appear to be found in the Mayan
    >people.
    >
    >
    >Nephi’s group were lost into the Mayan population within 3 to 4
    >generations or may have been segregated by being in leadership, royalty
    >and hierarchal standing an marring within their own tight group. Within
    >one generation the term Nephite became a cultural or political term not
    >a race term. The Nephites were the target of assassination and hunted
    >to extinction. The BofM record was kept by a small select secret group
    >that were rigorously trained in middle eastern language, culture,
    >history, thought and directed to follow strict rules to record the
    >scriptures in the middle eastern thought. They lived the rest of their
    >lives as Mayans but recorded in the middle eastern traditions. Some of
    >the middle eastern culture may have made it into some of the Mayan
    >culture but would be hard to detect. I think we should not look for a
    >Jewish Nephite but, 90% Mayan and maybe 5% middle eastern. This is the
    >only way I am able to justify many of the problems the BofM has with
    >trying to place the middle eastern culture in Mesoamerica. If a Mayan
    >historian of the BofM time was ask to record it’s history with no
    >middle eastern tanning, the book would read very Mayan. The reason for
    >such strict middle eastern record keeping was to keep it incoded so no
    >one could tamper with scriptures and it would have the same feel as the
    >Bible. I have absolute nothing to back any of this up, but that is my
    >story and I am sticking to it.

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