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Ever since its release in 2004, Christians have been clamoring for a sequel to the Passion of the Christ, hands down, the bloodiest Christian movie ever made.

“Why did you make this film… I think there’s a tendency for all of us to take that event for granted. And cinematically I think its been sanitized a fair bit so that it becomes ineffective, ineffectual, not emotional and I wanted to illustrate the extent of the sacrifice.”

Many reviewers were disgusted with the Passion’s bloodshed, calling it an epic snuff film, but Christians saw in it God’s manifested love for all humanity. A meaning which Gibson, in the film’s opening quotation, invited audiences to see.

The Passion went on to become the highest-grossing independent and rated R film, earning 610 million dollars worldwide. It’s not surprising, therefore, to see why Christians want a sequel. But they’ve totally missed the one Gibson gave them.

In 2006, Gibson followed the Passion with Apocalypto, a story which is a continent, culture, and millennium removed from the crucifixion. Apart from the arrival of the Spanish at the film’s end, nothing in it appears to do with Christianity, even though just as bloody as the Passion of the Christ.

Christians understood the Passion’s brutality but they could not swallow Apocalypto’s. According to one Christian reviewer the Passion’s “very subject matter – crucifixion – lent itself to such explicit imagery…” But concerning Apocalypto’s violence, they had to conclude, “with no theological framework to guide it, it’s difficult to see how this gruesome film could be recommended for Christian audiences of any age.”

The irony is striking since Gibson has gone to great links to connect the two films.

Language

One of the most obvious is in language. To date, Gibson has directed five films and yet only two, the Passion and Apocalypto, have been filmed using ancient languages which few speak or understand today.

Title

The title is also telling. Apocalypto is Greek for “I reveal” and is related to the Greek word Apocalypse, Revelation, the last book in the New Testament. If we consider that the Passion was Gibson’s meditation on the Gospels, at the beginning of the New Testament, Apocolypto suggests itself as a corresponding bookend.

Echoes

But even more substantial are the many ways Apocalypto echoes the earlier film. Opening, for instance, like the Passion, with a white text quotation on a black background from which it fades to a slow zoom on a wooded landscape. Here, Apocolypto introduces Jaguar Paw and his tribe who like Jesus are hunted, captured, and ripped from the forest to endure an agonizing journey, carrying a beam to a city and a hill of execution where they’re laid on their backs and pierced through as a sacrifice. Here, the film also echoes the Passion in the darkening of the sky.

But here’s where the echoes end. The passion is nearly over. Jesus is taken down from the cross. And in one final scene, rises from the dead. But Apocolypto goes on for another half in which Jaguar Paw escapes and races back to save his wife and child in the place where the film began. There he must confront and kill his enemies, one by one, before the waters rise too high. But the arrival of the Spanish, distracts the last of his pursuers. And after rescuing his family, together they seek a new beginning in the forest.

Theological Framework

Apocolypto and the Passion are two sides of the same archetypal coin. The Passion may begin in the Garden of Gethsemane but its more importantly an allusion to the Garden of Eden. The serpent suggests that Jesus is here undergoing the temptation of Adam and Eve. Whose failure, according to the Bible, cast the mold for every human person. But Jesus rejects the serpent and thereby begins to break and remake that mold. He freely surrenders and endures mankind’s banishment from garden / the curse of suffering and death, so that by sharing in our suffering he might share with us his resurrection and victory over sin. His new humanity. Thus after death, he rises naked, as Adam and Eve did before the fall, the symbol of humanities return to the garden.

The Passion, therefore, isn’t just a story of a brutalized man. It’s the story of how the only innocent man suffered to become the representative of Everyman. And it’s Everyman, that Gibson shows us in Apocolypto. That’s why it too begins with an allusion to the Garden of Eden, seen in the lush foliage of the forest, the happiness and near nudity of its inhabitants as well as a story echoing Genesis’ account of creation and man’s fall.

“I saw a hole in man’s heart…

This is the story of humanity and Apocolypto. And the city which takes Jaguar Paw and his tribe captive is the embodiment of man’s corruption and fall, subjugating people and nature in it’s perpetual quest for more. The fact that Gibson has pulled the film’s opening quote from something which was origina lly said of ancient Rome, indicates that the city represents more than one particular society. And in the pile of bodies, we’re shown an allusion to the destruction wrought by other empires. In fact, Gibson has said that the film is equally about the destruction wrought by the United States right now.

And its in this symbolic city that Jesus repeatedly gives himself, reversing man’s selfish trend. While some have called the Passion an anti-semitic film, its with and for the Jews that Jesus actually suffers. Isaiah 53 is the climax of a much longer passage in which God promises to return the Jews from their war captivity in Babylon. And the God’s servant suffers with Israel in their exile in Babylon to return them to the promised land. The fact that the word Passion (to suffer) is closely related to the word ComPassion (to suffer with) shouldn’t be missed. Jesus isn’t just one man suffering. He is Everyman suffering. And in Apocolypto, Gibson reinforces Jesus’ Compassion in the Passion by comparing and contrasting scenes like these. The graphic violence of these films is intended to remind us of the real world in which real humans actually experience these things. And the real God who endured nothing less with and for them.

And through his comPassion he returns humanity to the garden.

This there-and-back again plot is central to the bible, occurring again and again, representing man’s plight and hope for redemption. Jaguar Paws second half escape is symbolic of man’s struggle to find salvation in fleeing the selfishness of the city. Gibson also appears here to be alluding to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies but discussion of that will have to wait for the comments below.

Deus Ex Machina

This leads us to the film’s end which has been criticized as a Deus Ex Machina, a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is abruptly resolved by an unexpected intervention of some new event, in essence lazy storytelling. Nothing in the film prepares the audience for the arrival of the Spanish.

But its important to note that the same was also true of the resurrection in the Passion of the Christ. While the rest of the film focuses on Christ suffering, the short resurrection scene at the end of the film occurs abruptly and appears tacked on. The film zooms in on Jesus at the beginning and zooms out on his dead body in the end. But The resurrection scene, with Jesus’ sideways exit, appears as something entirely new.

And that should remind of the true meaning of a Dues Ex Machina. It refers to the convention in ancient Greek tragedy to hoist gods onto the stage to solve these unsolvable problems. And in that sense the Resurrection is precisely that. It’s a Deus Ex Machina in the true sense of the term, it is humanly speaking utterly unexpected. To the Mayans, the arrival of the Spanish as strange as aliens landing on the earth. Or as Gibson appears to allude, the second coming of Christ.

For Gibson, Revelation doesn’t just happen once but again and again.

The one who compassionately suffered with the victim has now become their oppressor’s judge.

Hi, this is Matt. I want to do something different today. I usually make videos analyzing the symbolic meaning in films, but today I wanted to talk about how I know and how you can know a film’s symbolic meaning?

If you read the comments on this channel, you will see that I regularly get accused of imposing my beliefs on these movies that I am finding in them something that isn’t really there. Of course, my believing that Andy represents Jesus, Chigurh symbolizes death, the groundhog symbolizes Phil, Max’s Muzzle signifies a beak, and Wilson represents Chuck’s old self but does not make it so. So how I do know that this is more than likely what the filmmakers had in mind? The answer begins with language.

We as humans by nature makers and interpreters of symbols. We listen because we understand. We speak because we expect to be understood, and that’s not all that different from what screenwriters and directors do. They use and invest images with symbolic meaning because they expect us to understand them, and they can do this because it’s something that we do every day.

The words we used are symbols. Take the word “hand” for instance, it’s not the thing itself, but a spoken or written representation of something else. Our cultural context has invest the sound and our combination of letters with meaning, and because words are symbols, not the thing itself, they can and often have a variety of meanings. A list which can grow as words pick up new associations in new context. This is how for instance giving someone a hand came to refer as not to the literal act of cutting out that body part, but instead to help or applause. The specific context was the implicit key by which the hearer understood the speaker’s intent, and from a single usage, the meaning spread to the cultural list of meanings. It’s only in context that we actually know a word’s meaning. A word outside our context means nothing to us, and without some additional context, we simply assume our cultures most common use. Determining if another meaning is intended as a matter of accounting for all the contextual evidence, the more coherence we find increases our confidence that we have indeed understood as speaker’s intent.

In film, images work the same way. An image is simply the thing itself unless context suggests some other sense. Screenwriters and directors invest images with symbolic meaning in a same way we do words by connecting them to other things – a spoken metaphor, a comparison may be between two things becomes a possible meaning when the physical image is shown later on in the film, but metaphors can also be done visually, the effect of cutting between two images places an additional or equal sign between them. Similarities and or contrasts not necessarily shown next to each other can produce the same effect.

But screenwriters and directors also pick images for their pre-loaded cultural associations. Other movies, television shows, historical events, books, philosophical ideas as well as universal experiences already inform us of an image’s possible meanings.

We don’t have to ask a filmmaker what they thought to know what they were thinking; the film tells us in the same way a sentence tells us the thoughts of a speaker. Just as a safecracker listens and considers the sound of a lock testing out hypothesis by trial and error, so we too come to understand a filmmaker’s intent by linking up meaning in film. Since we intuitively understand how symbolism in language works, symbolism is working its magic on each of us.

In Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, Jesus says of his torment, “I make all things new.” And given that it’s a quote from the book of Revelation (21:5), these words seems oddly placed. In the Passion, Jesus is beaten to a bloody pulp. How could this make anything new? The Passion shows how in its beginning and end.

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In the beginning, Jesus is praying in the Garden. And yet its not just Gethsamene. It’s the Garden of Eden. The serpent is found in Genesis, tempting the first humans, as the Devil does Jesus here. Jesus is Eve and Adam, undergoing their temptation. This is important because Adam and Eve aren’t just people in the Bible, as the first humans, they stand for all humanity. In their failure the world failed. And in their expulsion from paradise the whole world was expelled.

But in the Passion, Jesus seeks to do something no human has ever done; overcome all temptation, to crush the serpent’s head, and in doing that replace the failure of the first couple as humanities new representative. He therefore suffers to identify with us and not for his own sin.

This is why the Passion so focuses on Jesus’ suffering. This isn’t just Jesus who is suffering, This is humanity suffering: the child bloodied by the attack of ISIS and the one mistreated by their parent. The list examples on and on. Jesus is suffering with every person. And in righteously sharing in that suffering shares with us his resurrection and victory over sin. That;s why in the resurrection, he stands naked as the first humans did before the fall. He’s returning humanity to the garden.

Just think about Jesus’ suffering as you listen to this song. https://youtu.be/gpOPkzplHRw

I’m not a fan of the Left Behind series. I read the first novel in 1995 before any of the other books came out. After that, I began buying each one with a plan to binge read the whole series when it was finally done. But I never did. By 2003, I began to see that the series misses Revelation’s true meaning.

I know Left Behind is a work of fiction but it’s also based on a real way of interpreting Revelation known as Dispensationalism which sees Revelation, for the most part, as a literal series of near future events. The events occur largely within a seven year period know as the tribulation which begins with a rapture or catching away to heaven of all true believers. After the seven years, Christ returns to earth and reigns for another 1,000. I grew up in a church that taught me to read Revelation and the world with this eye and we watched the news for signs that seven year period was about to begin. But by my early twenties as a history major, I started asking a question no one I knew seemed to be asking. What did Revelation mean for the first recipients? Was it really intended as gibberish for 2,000 years until someone could at last match times with signs?

It was then that I came to see the key to Revelation is really simple. Revelation hinges on a repeated pattern. Five times, the book ushers readers to the throne of God where angels and people of every ethnicity sing songs of thanksgiving and worship to God and Jesus. John describes the first worship scene in chapter 4 and then goes on to describe the effects of Jesus’ breaking of seven seals. The sixth seal leads to a second scene of worship. In chapter eight, the seals give way to the blowing of seven trumpets which yet again ends in a scene of worship. The pattern goes on. The key to Revelation is worship ands it’s intended effect is worship. In fact, Revelation has been called the Psalms of the New Testament because no other book contains the number of worship songs. What we try to solve as a mysterious puzzle was meant more as a hymnal. And as we stain our brains to get it to fit the specifics of our current world issues, we miss it’s intended effect of moving our emotions and turning our hearts to God.

Revelation is not so much about the future as it is a series of symbolic visions of our past, present, and future. The imagery which occurs between each of Revelations worship scenes is in fact indicative of the same time period. Like the metals and beasts of Daniel 2 and 7. Revelation repeats again and again from Christ to the end of time… from Christ to the end of time… from Christ to the end of time. And in all this John shows that all our pain and suffering is being worked by The One Who Suffered for a redemptive end. And again and again, it leads us to worship.

Have you ever noticed the relationship between Cast Away and Back to the Future? Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic might not look like Cast Away but, in fact, they share a unique motif. Clocks and other references to time pervade the earlier film – which is fitting since it’s about time travel. Marty McFly finds himself trapped in the past, trying to get back to the present in a classic race against time.

But references to time also saturate Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film. The opening FedEx logo proclaims “the world on time.” And it’s Chuck Noland’s purpose as a FedEx analyst to invent ways to beat the clock. Like a package himself, he’s rushed around the world to ensure that the system only ever speeds up. Clocks loom over events. Music taps out a quick time. But then Chuck is marooned on a deserted island with his only timepiece stopped. From here, there’s no conversation. No musical score. Not even the sound of insect or bird. Alone in the silence, Chuck finds all the time in the world. It’s a contrast which is foreshadowed in this opening shot. Here the slogan “the world on time” is rushed to the truck but then retrieved upside down and moved at a more leisurely pace. The film’s main idea.

But the island also represents a different time. Chuck arrives, overdressed and overweight, still planning on delivering those packages. But when the surf batters his one hope of escape, he makes a cave his home and let’s go all but a single delivery. He then makes a friend in an object that resembles an idol. And just in case we haven’t recognized the makings of a caveman, he’s shown painting on his cavern wall. When, at last, he resorts to this extremely primitive surgery, the film jumps four years where his transformation into a native is complete.

Do you see it? Chuck has gone back in time. He’s eroded back to the timeless existence of ancient man. And perhaps nothing speaks to that timelessness more than his charting of the annual course of the sun. The figure eight that it makes is our sign for infinity – eternity. Chuck has come to know the world before our enslavement to the clock. And it’s this earliest view of time which is key to his escape and return. To get back to the present in Back to the Future, Marty McFly must connect his time machine’s mast to a precisely clocked bolt of lightning. And Chuck likewise must release his mast at a precise turn in the season to harness the power of the wind.

But Chuck’s return, while echoing back to the future, is also different from Marty’s. Marty finds his present better than the way he left it while Chuck finds it’s moved on without him. And here in the difference lies the why of Chuck’s symbolic journey back in time.

There’s a great deal about Cast Away worth taking the time to see. Why the allusions to the Back to the Future? How does Wilson fit in? And what’s the significance of these film’s ending reference to roads?

I’ll be back next time with a continuation of my take on Cast Away. In the mean time subscribe, comment, and share. And check out some of my other videos.