This past weekend I finally watched the new Mel Gibson film: Apocalypto. This film is set in the ancient Maya civilisation just before the arrival of the first Europeans. It’s graphic in it’s violence and it’s portrayal of the capturing of one tribe by another to be used as slaves and for ritual sacrifice is gruesome indeed.
This movie really made me think about the link between fear and courage. This was first brought to my attention by Dr Paul Dobransky, a noted psychiatrist and author MindOS. Basically it goes like this when you are afraid you need courage to do the things that bring fear into your life. When you do courages things it fills up the amount of confidence you have to do other things which may bring feels of fear into your life. Susan Jeffers also wrote an excellent little book, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.
Now back to Apocalypto. This movie is set in the jungle’s of Mesoamerica and right from the beginning it’s very much an adrenalin rush with the capture of a wild boar. Soon after the capture the son of the tribal leader, Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), through intuition or through sharp senses, gets up, turns around and calls out to what turns out to be a huge tribe in migration, to come out of hiding. This tribe is on the run from slave hunters if you can call them such. Flint Sky, the father of Jaguar Paw, reminds his son not to be afraid. He says to these tribal people moving through their forest, something like this: I am Flint Stone! This is my forest. This is my forest! My father hunted in this forest before me, and my sons will hunt here after I am gone! This is a quote that will be repeated by Jaguar Paw later on in the film.
Soon afterwards the village of Jaguar Paw is pillaged by same slave hunters. The Mayan priests and through them, the king, had ordained that more sacrifice is needed to purify the lands, improve the crop harvest and to save them all. The society had been in decline for a number of years. There is elements of the film that is not historically accurate but this has nothing to do with how powerful a message it conveys regarding how to overcome fear with courage. Just before he is about to be executed a solar eclipse takes place and all the ritual sacrifices is stopped. It’s not over for the captures slaves as the high priest orders them killed. Through some tough determination Jaguar Paw outmanoeuvres the hunters who had captures him and manages to escape into the forest.
And here is where he’s courage is brought to the fore. His confidences increases as he gets deeper into the forest. Now just as his village was being attacked he managed to get his newly pregnant wife and son into a deep hole. And this is part of what drives him to keep going. The fact that he has to rescue them before it rains, and they drown. As the hunters close in on him he fights them off in different ways. The most exhilarating scene in the movie could be when he jumps over a waterfall. When you consider how some of the hunters following him hesitate and end up being killed because of bad jumps over the same waterfall you realise how superior Jaguar Paw’s confidence has become. He is not afraid to take risks and he places himself directly in the line of fire on several occasions. With speed and agility he overcomes great obstacles in the chase. Overall though you can start to see how living in the moment, the now, brings you closer to your true self. It brings you closer to nature and your instincts can take over. Now in a modern, westernised, technologically advances society we live in there is absolutely nothing that pushes us in the same way to develop our confidence, our courage and our instincts. To a large extent we become nothing more than automatons doing repetitive things over and over. Our ability to overcome fear when confronted by it is reduces because of this group behaviour and placating activity we call living today.