"Apocalypto" opens with a quotation from historian Will Durant: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it destroys itself from within." Durant is correct -- but the film's exposition of Durant is utterly wrong. If American (and Western) civilization falls, it will not be because our fears drove us to "Mayan barbarities," but because, like Gibson, we failed to distinguish good from evil.
Not all civilizations are created equal: Some deserve to fall because they are deeply corrupt from the outset. Mayan civilization, with its human sacrifice and primitivism, was never a beacon of liberty. The Rousseau-ian values Gibson sees were not what distinguished Mayan civilization. The strength of Mayan civilization was based solely on its power -- it was doomed to fail from the moment it encountered a society more powerful militaristically and economically than itself.
Western civilization has values worth protecting -- liberty and equality of opportunity -- and those values give it strength. Those values make us stronger than our enemies, unlike the Mayans. Equating all civilizations, as Gibson does, is what undermines Western values. There is a world of difference between using violence out of superstition and using violence to both ensure domestic security and free others from the oppression of a death cult that ritually beheads its citizens or dumps them in mass graves. It is moral barbarism of the highest order to equate the two, as Gibson does.
Critics have rightly focused on the stunning violence of Gibson's "Apocalypto." The movie is certainly one of the most violent ever filmed -- Gibson's camera lingers lovingly over each wound. But it is the violence Gibson does to morality that should worry us. It is that violence that contributes to the internal destruction of Western civilization. If Western civilization is doomed to failure, it will not be despite Mel Gibson's best efforts, it will be because of them.
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