In Brief: On Mel Gibson

After having watched the “making-of” documentary on the Apocalypto DVD, I’ve finally allowed myself the following [hardly] groundbreaking revelation: Mel Gibson is crazy. He was wide-eyed, fidgety, and — especially amidst the jungles in which Apocalypto was shot — a bit too close to Conrad’s Kurtz for comfort. This saddens me, because I have always liked his acting and his movies. But, too, we live in a culture where we have to look at our movie stars through two different lenses: a “professional” lens and a “personal-life” lens. If we only look at Mel through the professional lens, we see a brilliant artist, an actor and a director who always has a clear vision for his characters and films in general. But the media is always forcing the personal-life lens before our eyes, and so we must also confront the drunk, belligerent, loud-mouthed, anti-Semetic Mel. In much the same way that I view T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, I will cast aside the personal-life lens and try to view his work solely through the professional lens. (Mel’s drunken anti-Semitic remarks pale in comparison to what Eliot and especially Poud touted whilst sober; Uncle Leo, beware.)

Mel is one of those directors who doesn’t use audience screen tests to influence his films; like a true artist, he makes his films for himself first and “the audience” second. And really, this has worked just fine for him until now: in addition to Apocalypto, Braveheart and — dare I say it?! — The Passion of the Christ are works of art to watch and discuss. Even Passion, which is debatably anti-Semetic (“debatably” because we can, after all, have a discussion of just how anti-Semetic the Gospels Passion is based on are), is clearly a work that inspires some and riles others — just what a piece of art should do! It will be interesting to see what films he produces as a director in the future, for at least with parts of Passion and all of Braveheart and Apocalypto, he presents us with human beings on the brink of collapse, and requires us to study them alongside him; hopefully his future works will require us to do the same.

(P.S. If we’re hoping for things, let’s hope he doesn’t make a complete and utter fool of himself again in the future — oops, he just did. Okay, starting now, let’s hope he doesn’t make a complete and utter fool of himself…)


3 thoughts on “In Brief: On Mel Gibson

  1. A thread on Mr. Gibson popped up on Penny Arcade (, and I was surprised to find the same topic covered here.

    I actually got here through Pound, who is a personal obsession of mine. I’ve found the difference between Gibson and Pound to be immense, and lobbing them into the same category is a shame. Pound’s views were tempered by his political desires to find economic equality, social stability and to end war. This is, of course, a great simplification, but Pound’s reprehensible actions were the interaction between these noble goals and his full-on psychosis which had been growing ever since his early days in London.

    Gibson, on the other hand, is nothing more than a filthy, poisonous terror. There is no evidence of objectively greater concepts of goodness, while Pound’s motivations (which led him hand-in-hand with severe mental illness) were generally pure of hatred.

    I always like to being up that Pound spent the last 10 years of his life in repentant silence. In fact, one of my favorite entries in his Cantos is the lines “May those I love try to forgive / what I have made.”

    • Thanks for the comment.

      I concede that I may have been a bit rough on Pound, but I should point out, in fairness, that you are being a bit rough on Gibson. If you are going to blame Pound’s hatred on mental illness, we can blame Gibson’s hatred on his hateful, racist, and anti-Semitic father, who has had a clear influence on his son. But the truth is that neither of these excuses excuse either man. If you can call Gibson a “filthy, poisonous terror,” I can fairly use the same words to describe Pound (and I can even add a few other words, like “traitor” and “fascist”).

      But these are the personal, “real-life” areas of these figures’ lives, areas I have little interest in. What I DO find interesting about these men is their art, Pound’s poetry and Gibson’s filmmaking, which (with the debatable exception of Gibson’s ‘Passion’) displays very little influence from their hateful beliefs. How can you argue, for example, that “In the Station of the Metro” or “Apocalypto” are anti-Semitic? You can’t, because these works of art are not influenced by their artists’ anti-Semitic beliefs. They are just brilliant and moving, each in their unique way.

      But can we dare hope that Gibson will himself take on repentant silence? If he’d just shut up and make films, maybe we wouldn’t have to bother with these discussions!

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