When it comes to “2012,” public opinion seems to range from “it’s awful” to “not-so-bad” to “so-bad-it’s-great.” I consider myself a member of the latter group; 90 minutes of wall-to-wall Earth demolition can’t be all bad. (Check out my interview with the master of disaster himself, director Roland Emmerich)
But there’s one segment of the audience that has gone well beyond all this squabbling, dubbing “2012” not just a failure, but a reckless and offensive one. They are some of the Mayan experts who have been called on to discuss the film’s underlying assumption: That the world will self-destruct at the end of the Mayan calendar, on Dec. 21, 2012.
The day prior to the film’s release, I sat down to talk with John Major Jenkins, a Mayan expert with loads of books under his belt. He blew apart the film’s larger premise, dismissing the whole 2012 apocalypse as pure silliness.
To summarize our conversation: Jenkins says that in his decades of researching Mayan beliefs and studies, what he’s found is that the Maya people were fascinated in celestial cycles, and that there is indeed a spectacular alignment to occur in 2012 that, even thousands of years ago, these astronomers could predict. “Even back then they could see this processional process, that the sun is always shifting and at some point it would line up with the bright band of the milky way,” Jenkins says. “This had a very powerful mythological meaning for them, since the sun was the great cosmic father and the Milky Way was the cosmic mother. So for these two to align, it was a big event.”
This notion of “alignment” is featured prominently in “2012.” In fact, behind the opening credits we see planets lining up one by one. But Jenkins says that’s about all the movie gets right. What it gets wrong:
- There is no evidence that the Maya thought the world would end in 2012. Unlike other religions, which believe strongly in a final day of reckoning, the Maya saw 2012 not as an ending, but as a new beginning. “They would have seen this as a great time of transformation and renewal, as a great union between their cosmic father and mother. Their emphasis would have been on transformation and renewal, they don’t have anything like the Rapture in their teachings.”
- All that stuff about the sun getting more active, bombarding the Earth’s crust? Not so much. “There’s absolutely no indication that this alignment would do anything to the sun,” Jenkins says. “There are a couple books out there that are not very well researched that give that impression, but my initial reaction was that the filmmakers included all that because, from the very beginning, they wanted a doomsday thing.
- Galactic Alignment: wrong. Even when Woody Harrelson’s cooky character tries to spell out the specifics of this grand 2012 galactic alignment, he gets it wrong. “They cut to a pictures he’s made for only a second, but in that picture you can see they have the Milky Way in line with a few planets, and then the sun, and then more planets and the Earth. But the definition of galactic alignment doesn’t involve all the planets, it’s just about the Earth, the sun and the center of the Milky Way. So even in that moment they got it wrong.”
- Jenkins says the film does a better job when it comes to sentiment. “Part of the film’s message is that it takes doomsday to save the American family, that when the going gets tough we can get together and awaken our humanity to get through the crisis that many feel is upon the modern world. Now awakening together so we can work to create a better world is the same message you find in the Mayan creation mythology.”
- But what ruined “2012” for Jenkins was to be found earlier in the film, in a cutaway moment that many viewers may not have even noticed. When things start falling apart in “2012,” we are given a quick glimpse of a news report on a television screen –of a report broadcast from Mayan ruins in South America, where a band of believers committed mass suicide. Jenkins says this was the moment that struck him not just as silly, but offensive. “It was what that scene insinuated – if you look at the actual bodies it wasn’t like they were tie dye-wearing new age people, but indigenous Mayan people, and the insinuation was that the Maya would commit mass suicide,” he says .”It’s so infuriating because the Maya people would be the last to give in to fear and violence. They would be the ones preparing the altars to do the ceremony, to help facilitate the birth of a new cycle with their prayers. They would be looking towards the future, not killing themselves. That’s when you realize this is just Hollywood being Hollywood, they don’t have a clue.”