Apocalypto: Are You Ready?

As we approach the premier of Mel Gibson's latest ambitious enterprise Apocalypto, a run of TV ads for the movie led me to Google more information. For those who have been following this even less closely than I have, Apocalypto is an adventure movie set in Mexico during Mayan rule, at a time of human sacrifice. As described by Mel, it's also a depiction of an increasingly corrupt, decaying and panicky civilization trying to extend itself by means that only accelerate the decline.

The title, from the Greek word for "an unveiling and new beginning" conveys this sense of a critical end-of-one-phase, beginning-of-a-next that Gibson was shooting for. Of course it is also the same word we render "Apocalypse," the name of the last book of the Bible, also called the Book of Revelation. That book is also full of beginnings and endings, war and persecution, the heavenly Jerusalem and the Great Beast — all the makings for a great special-effects movie.

Leading up to Advent the Church makes us listen to a lot of readings from the Book of Revelation (or Apocalypse), and to the end-of-the-world accounts in the gospel, which concern Christ's Second Coming. In one way we hardly need much reminding about the end times — most of us have a sneaking fear of or a fascination with the whole Doomsday theme, whether we like our Final Curtain rendered "realistically," as ecological disaster or nuclear holocaust or lethal meteor, or we forthrightly face what the medievals called the Dies Irae or Day of Wrath. (Their taste ran toward dwelling on literally hellish horrors.)

This has been true from Christianity's beginnings, when you get the impression that the apostles and their early followers went about preaching and baptizing with ears half-cocked for angelic choirs and eyes alert for the prophesied signs. Since then, though Jesus warned us that no one would know the day or the hour, smaller or larger waves of hysteria have gripped portions of the faithful at significant junctures of the calendar (a millennium, an anniversary of Christ's death, a year emerging from one of many complicated formulas for determining the rise and fall of empires or papal succession — imagine the tortuous systems these people would devise for Vegas casinos). So far, no luck — or continued good luck, depending upon your preference for the status quo.

For most of us, how we feel about the Second Coming depends upon how things are going right now in our lives. If we're in a bad patch, discouraged by the stalling out of youthful hopes or concerned about the culture, the reminder that the whole thing might suddenly screech to a halt may be cheering. If we're prospering at a new job, absorbed by a young family or enthralled by a new love affair, or even if we've just put a deposit on a really nice summer vacation, we may react quite differently.

But that's not what the Second Coming is all about. Because the point of the Second Coming is not that empires will fall or even that the Antichrist will be routed. The point of it is the Person coming.

That's the primary reason why the first generation of Christians was almost on pins and needles for Christ's return. They knew him, they loved him, they wanted him back, quite apart from desiring the rewards he might dole out or the judgments he might hand down.

Mel's new movie is rated R for violence, though supposedly it is not as graphic as the brutal but intensely moving The Passion of the Christ. Despite the title, it's not a "religious" movie, and for all I know it may die in theaters. Some people are disappointed that he didn't turn to another explicitly religious theme — a different kind of Mexican movie, perhaps, about Guadalupe. Some of his fans are unhappy with his criticisms of Bush in Iraq. But his is an interesting topic for an interesting time of year — Advent and Christmas, the time of new beginnings and long-awaited comings, joy and hope — but also pain, sorrow, and blood. After all, Herod's slaughter of the Innocents turned the pastoral Christmas story into a chase story too.


Madame X works in Washington DC for the federal government. Because of her employer, she must write under a pseudonym.

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