Acting and self-destruction are not inseparable activities but they are often intertwined, as in for instance, the life and career of Mel Gibson.
Gibson is resurfacing after a decade in the shame room. Two of his friends, Jodie Foster and Robert Downey Junior, have publicly companioned Gibson as part of a rehabilitation effort. For his own part, Gibson has moved back in front of the camera for several action movies. Most recently he was cast (typecast?) as the archvillain in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables 3, due for release in August 2014.
So, are we ready to have Mel back? Have we shunned him long enough? Is he forgivable? Do we still even care? Given our technologically induced ADD, some readers may be thinking: “Mel who?” Here’s a brief refresher.
Gibson has been involved in television and movies for four decades. His movies have brought in 2.5 billion (yes, billion) dollars. His breakout role was the Mad Max movie (known in America as The Road Warrior) and its two sequels. In 1985 People magazine named him the sexiest man alive. In 1995 Gibson produced, directed, and starred in Braveheart, which won five Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.
Moving from success to success, Gibson starred in (and sometimes directed) a steady stream of movies, including Gallipoli, Lethal Weapon (and its three sequels), The Year of Living Dangerously, Maverick (with Jodie Foster), Signs, When We Were Soldiers, and Patriot.
In 2004 Gibson took a huge gamble when he financed, wrote, produced, and directed The Passion of the Christ. He hit the jackpot. The movie grossed over $370,000,000 in America, and over $611,000,000 worldwide. It was the eighth (at the time) highest-grossing film in history, the highest grossing R rated film of all time, and the highest grossing non-English language movie of all time. Passion of the Christ won over a dozen various industry awards, and was nominated for three Academy Awards.
The film is a stunningly violent portrayal of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus, based on Christian gospels and the visions of an eighteenth-century nun, Blessed Anne Katherine Emmerich. Passion of the Christ is a deeply disturbing, inspired, intensely personal work of art. It evoked intense and personal criticism.
Even those sympathetic to the movie recoiled at the violence, suggesting that it overshadowed the beauty of the story. It was also attacked as being anti-Semitic. During this volatile argument priests and rabbis fell out on both sides of the debate. Since the movie’s villains and heroes were all Jewish, the argument became a bit confusing.
After Passion of the Christ came the passion of Mel Gibson. His life became the focus of intense public scrutiny. The New York Times tracked down Mel’s father, Hutton Gibson for an interview. Dad is a true character. He sired eleven children (Mel was number six), and moved them all from New York to Australia to protect them from the draft. Gibson senior then came back to America to become a Jeopardy champion, and a critic of the Roman Catholic Church. Hutton Gibson believe that recent popes of the Catholic Church are all imposters. This is a theological position known as “sedevacantism” (“vacant chair”, as in the chair of St. Peter being vacant because the popes are phony popes).
Hutton Gibson also doubted that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. When his father’s controversial positions were publicized, Mel reacted by threatening to kill the interviewer’s dog, and calling for the man’s intestines on a stick. In the distance a “sploosh” was heard: it was the body of Mel’s press agent hitting the water from the high bridge.
In 2006 Mel was arrested for a dui in Malibu. He was roaring drunk, and so talkative he filled out an eight page arrest report with comments about how he was going to kill the arresting officer, and how Jews were behind all the wars. He wondered aloud if the arresting officer was Jewish (he wasn’t). In short, like a lot of drunks, Gibson was over the top stupid and insulting. When he sobered up Mel issued a seemingly sincere public mea culpa, admitted he was an alcoholic, and said he was going to treatment.
Mel did go to treatment and sobered up for a while. But his life remained a slow motion train wreck. In 2009 his wife of twenty-nine years filed for divorce after discovering Mel on the beach with a beautiful younger woman. Robyn Gibson had raised the Gibson’s seven children (including six boys) in a disciplined, Catholic household sort of way (even though she was Episcopalian). She got half of her husband’s estate: about $320 million, give or take a few million.
Mel’s girlfriend was a Russian musician named Oksana Grigorieva in October 2009 Oksana gave birth to Mel’s daughter, who was named Lucia, after Sister Lucia dos Santos, the principal seer of the Fatima apparitions in 1917.
The following year Gibson and Oksana parted ways. The separation included a series of leaked telephone recordings wherein a male voice, attributed to Mel Gibson, threatened to burn down Oksana’s house, called her a ‘pig in heat’, saying she was going to be raped by “a pack of niggers,” threatening to stab her, kill her, but only after performing very nasty sexual acts against her. The recordings also made it sound like Mel had hit Oksana in the past.
Oksana and her lawyer appeared on Larry King’s show to publicly accuse Mel of being a very bad boyfriend. These revelations torpedoed Gibson’s attempted movie comeback. Another torpedo hit when scriptwriter Joe Eszterhas claimed he had tape recorded hate-filled rants allegedly made by Mel, including threats of violence against Oksana and derogatory references about Jews and homosexuals.
After this latest public relations disaster, Mel finally figured out people were recording him saying mean things about people. He carried on more quietly, eventually landing a hammy role as a comedic archvillian in the 2013 movie Machete Kills.
Robert Downey Jr. is no stranger to substance abuse, bad press, and career hits. He said Mel Gibson stood by him when no one else would. RDJ showed his gratitude by having Gibson give him a lifetime achievement award, and then spoke directly about Gibson’s plight to their audience:
“I humbly ask that you join me, unless you are completely without sin…in forgiving my friend of his trespasses and offering him the same clean slate that you gave me, and allowing him to continue his great and on-going contribution to our collective art without shame.”
Then Downey and Gibson embraced on stage and were applauded. It was the sweetest public reception Gibson has had in 10 years. He had twenty very successful years as an actor, a director, and producer. Then he had a ten year stretch where he lost his wife, lost his girlfriend, and lost his career by behaving like a coarse, hateful, loudmouthed drunken bully who belittled targeted groups of people. The response? Mad Mel was torched in the court of public opinion, and shunned by his colleagues.
Now he is featured in the plum role of archvillian in Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables franchise. Gibson is no longer a sex symbol. His hair has grayed and his hairline has receded. His face is puffier and more lined. In some pictures fatigue and suffering are evident in his face. But he’s showing up for work.
Mel Gibson will never get back what he once had. That day has passed. But with another turn of the dharma wheel he may gain something even better, something the great protagonist in The Passion purchased: redemption.
Is Mel Gibson older? Definitely. Wiser? We shall see.
Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 18 July 2014.
Daily Telegraph 14 Apr 2009