1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE (1992)

Scene Analysis
Tape Two: 0:00:00

Moxica: Scapegoat for Atrocity

by
Daniel Spangler

[1]  Christopher Columbus has long been viewed as a symbol of American pride, heroics, and determination.  However, this man is historically far from the moral founder of democracy in the New World.  Rather, he has more in common with the shrewd business and power-minded European leaders of his time.  Ridley Scott’s film, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, tries to uphold the positive image of Columbus that is deeply ingrained in American thought, while simultaneously accounting for the destruction of an entire race of native peoples and their cultures.  In order to accomplish this, Scott generously incorporates poetic license into his version of the Columbus tale.  The blame that Columbus does in fact deserve was placed on the highly fictionalized character of Moxica.  In the film the American people can still hold Columbus as a patriotic hero, while accepting the horrors that, in reality, he initiated.

[2]  Scott accomplished this goal in one gory scene (tape two: beginning).  It is the bloodiest scene in the film and focuses on the violent actions of Moxica.  Moxica dresses continually in black, and his physical features (long black hair against a pale complexion) are the classic signs of an evildoer.  In short, he looks like a 15th century Marilyn Manson.  It is all too easy to place the entire blame on this sinister character, and even easier after he commits the single act of violence that, in Scott’s account, brings about the complete destruction of the New World’s native population.

[3]  The scene focuses on the collection of gold.  It opens with earthy, uplifting music playing while the audience sees the natives working the Spanish gold mines.  Since the music sounds primitive, a viewer is likely to associate it with the native workers, and, since the music sounds joyful, the uncritical viewer is led to believe that the natives are happy to work the mines.  This mood is carried into the main portion of the scene, where the gold is being collected.

[4]  The camera pans through the commotion of the gold collection, panning over a Spanish conquistador, armored and drinking from a pewter goblet.  The Spanish in the scene are the minority, but because of their dress and demeanor they are instantly seen as bringing structure to the native people, who peacefully line up to leave their names and required gold.  They carry the gold in leaves and slide it into the European scales with care.  The one aspect of this procedure that discredits the Spanish at all goes by in a split second.  It is when a Spaniard, rather than carefully sliding the gold dust off of the leaf, dumps it into the scale, losing some in a cloud of brilliant dust.  This exemplifies the entire Spanish approach to reaping the New World’s riches; sacrifice is made in favor of expediency and gross profit.  The gleaming dust which is lost, just as valuable as that which remains in the scale, can symbolize the loss of native human life in order to quickly obtain the more permanent land and resources.  Other than this observation, the Spanish seem peaceful and the natives complacent and cooperative.

[5]  Conflict arises when a native man says he has found no gold.  He is the only native wearing a shirt, which is one step closer to European dress.  The head man at the table asks, “What did he [the native man] say?” looking as if he will try to solve the problem.  Most of the Spanish are once again portrayed as the order in chaos.  This is the point when Moxica steps out of the shadows, where he had been lounging on a hammock, eating a piece of melon, separating himself from the situation and people around him.  Moxica steps up to the native, lays a hand on the man’s chest and announces, “He’s lying.”  The native has an arrogant look on his face but is just trying to keep his composure and dignity under the intimidating glare of Moxica.  Moxica’s all-knowing stare is in line with historical accounts of colonization.  The Spanish had the preconceived idea, as does the character Moxica, that they knew best, and it was their duty to rid the New World of deception and disorder.

[6]  The Native man is then instructed to lay his hand on the table.  He complies, not knowing that it will soon be shorn by Moxica’s sword.  The man in charge of collecting the gold sees what is happening and gives the moral command, “Moxica, you cannot do this thing.”  Moxica replies, “I can’t,” sarcastically as he bobs his head as if he is thinking it over, and then, sounding like pure evil, he replies, “I can.”  He then draws his sword and chops off the hand.  The native lets out a scream as he falls back, spraying blood all over the white shirts of the respectable men at the table.  Moxica has defied existing morals in the film and in this one stroke becomes the scapegoat for all of the atrocities committed during Spanish colonization.

[7]  The lighting of this piece of the scene is very representative of how the genocidal destruction actually occurred, although I don’t know if the director had it in mind.  As Moxica draws his sword, the smoke encompasses him, blurring his image.  As he strikes, he lunges into a beam of sun, which lights but blurs his image even more, like using high beamed headlights in fog.  The actions of the Spanish conquistadors can be said to be blurred by the thousands of miles between them and the “civilized” world of Europe.  Light, which is a classic symbol of justice and good, can be applied to their belief that they were ambassadors of God and Spain.  With this excuse, all bloodshed was explained away; it was the will of God.  However, just as Moxica’s image was blurred by the light without him conscious of it, the explorers’ divine pretense blurred their actions without them knowing.  They separated their evil actions in coming from themselves, as did Moxica.  Moxica let his primal violent desires flow, under the surface excuse that he was bringing justice for Spain.

[8]  The scene concludes and is followed by Columbus condemning Moxica for what he has done. “In one act of brutality, you have created chaos.  All the tribes are now joining forces against us.  All of that because of your criminal savagery.”  Moxica replies with,  “Savagery is what monkeys understand. You should have done the same before, Don Christobar.  Your ways don’t work.”  Columbus is once again portrayed as upholding morality and democracy, placing all of the fault on Moxica.  In historical reality, this is far from the truth.  Historically, the natives revolted because the only event that is similar to this scene is when a man named Hojeda cut off a native’s ear who had stolen clothes.  This was very humane compared to Columbus’s idea for punishment – decapitation (Ayala 25).  Columbus was not the heroic revolutionary that 1492 made him out to be, but rather an outcast Spaniard whose life-long desires for power and recognition he lived out in the New World, much like 1492’s evil Moxica.
 

Works Cited

Ayala, Sergio Rivera, and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera.  "Columbus Takes On the Forces of Darkness, or Film and Historical Myth in 1492: The Conquest of Paradise."  Based on a True Story: Latin American History at the Movies.  Ed. Donald F. Stevens.  Willmington: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1997.  13-28.
 
 

Copyright (c) 2002 by Daniel Spangler, Undergraduate Student at Lehigh University.

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