Matchup of the Day: Apocalypto vs. The Naked Prey
It’s a man on the run Matchup of the Day. Apocalypto vs. The Naked Prey, the film that inspired it.
The Naked Prey opens with narration that sets up the primary conflict in the film. It describes Africa 100 years ago (Prey was released in 1965) as being rife with slave trading, ivory hunting and tribal warfare where “men, lacking the will to understand other men, became like the beasts”. A group of ivory hunters are then introduced. After killing a number of elephants, they run into a local tribe who amiably demand tribute from the party to pass through their lands. The manager of the expedition advises that they give into the request to avoid trouble. He is ignored by the man financing the expedition, who proceeds to insult the tribesmen. There is a clear contrast between the safari manager, who is more principled and respectful, and the financier, who is belligerent and opportunistic. The tribe later invades the party’s camp. The safari leaders, aside from the manager, are subjected to grisly deaths. Instead of a torturous demise, he is given the chance to flee naked and unarmed while pursued by the tribesmen. They view the pursuit as a sport until their prey proves more formidable than they anticipated.
There is a similar scene in Apocalypto when the tribal hunting party encounters another tribe in the jungle. Unlike the ivory hunters, they have lived off the land for many generations. It is their home. The other tribe willingly offers them fish as a tribute to pass through, while ominously saying their own lands had been ravaged. The portent proves accurate when a raiding party storms the tribe’s village. The survivors are taken to the Mayan city where the men are gruesomely sacrificed to the gods. The few that are spared a sacrificial death are used for target practice by the raiders. Similar to Prey, one of the captives manages to escape. Rather than fighting for basic survival, however, the character, Jaguar Paw, is in a race against time to rescue his pregnant wife who was left behind.
The Naked Prey is morally ambiguous compared to the clear-cut villainy of Jaguar Paw’s pursuers. There are no heroes or villains in Prey. The safari manager isn’t necessarily a bad person, but he works for people who have less than noble plans for the African continent. The tribesmen hot on his trail probably aren’t any worse than those from other tribes. As it is mentioned in the opening narration, men “became like the beasts”, and so the whole chase could be seen as predator vs. prey. Apocalypto portrays the Mayans as the obvious aggressor, a civilization that will be undone by its own corruption and cruelty.
At the end of The Naked Prey, the safari manager makes it back to the safety of the colonial fortress his party emerged from in the beginning. He and his lead pursuer share a moment of mutual respect, since he put up a good fight. Apocalypto concludes with Jaguar Paw reuniting with his wife and setting out to start a new life. The predatory Mayans encounter Spanish explorers who will prove to be a bigger predator still.