The movie tracks a young Mayan man who is captured in a surprise raid on his village. Forced to abandon his family, he and his companions are taken to the nearby city to be sacrificed. He manages to escape and, pursued by his captors, attempts to return to his village to save his family. During his getaway, he reaches a beach where he witnesses the arrival of Spaniards.
This final scene tells us that the movie focuses on Maya society on the eve of Spanish contact in the 16th century. Yet the Maya city portrayed in the movie, central to its plot, dates roughly to the 9th century. This is akin to telling a story about English pilgrims founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and showing them living in longhouses described in "Beowulf." In fact, Gibson incorporates Maya images from as far back as 300 B.C. Throughout the movie, these anachronisms make Maya civilization seem timeless, and undermine the idea that the Maya could and did respond to change.
Another question I had more about the logistical accuracy of Apocalypto: how did main character Jaguar Paw so quickly and expertly find his way back to his village in the forest of the Yucatan peninsula from the city center? And who is supposed to symbolize Jesus--Jaguar Paw, or his water-birthed child? Also, why was the forest so close to the cornfields as well as the beaches that the Spaniards land on?
Actually, I was disappointed that Apocalypto did not actually tackle head-on the downfall of Mayan civilization, whose supposed causes--pestilence, colonization, depression of trade, slave revolt--are in dispute; however, maybe it's for the best that Mel Gibosn is not the one to do this. As Canuto says of Gibsons enormous inaccuracies:
If there were ever an apocalypse in the history of the Maya -- and herein lies the ultimate demoralizing irony of the movie -- it would be because of European contact. But in the movie, after two hours of excess, hyperbole and hysteria, the Spaniards represent the arrival of sanity to the Maya world. The tacit paternalism is devastating.
Nonetheless, I loved Apocalypto only because it was totally INSANE; and fortunately it has compelled me, as the writer hopes, to look into the real history of Maya civilization rather than trust Mel Gibson.