Apocalypto Now: Meet the 'New and Improved' Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson is back. In TV interviews to promote his latest movie, Edge of Darkness, the increasingly irascible actor and director came out like a boxer, mixing it up with entertainment reporters. He was at times unrepentant and disingenuous with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder.
Gibson was arrested in 2006, we recall, for drunk driving during which, according to the police report, he yelled out that the Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world. He then asked the arresting officer if he was a Jew. He was.
In an interview late last month with KTLA-Los Angeles reporter Sam Rubin, Gibson wouldn’t even concede he made those remarks. He shifted the focus instead to Rubin, asking him if he has "a dog in this fight." You’ve got to give Gibson credit -- he nailed it. In terms of outing Jews, Mel is two for two. There’s a lot he doesn’t know. Jews he knows. He can only hope his movies achieve that kind of success.
Apparently his breadth of experience, which also includes exchanging a wife of 28 years for a 24-year-old mistress, qualifies him to deliver advice to Tiger Woods. "You have to try to make amends if you can," Gibson told the UK's Daily Mail. "You have to shut up and move on and not whine about it. And you have to deal with it like a man."
Tiger and Mel have something else in common. Both don’t seem much interested in the advice of media-relations gurus and image rehab consultants. Tiger has chosen to avoid the media while Gibson prefers to mix it up with them. It’s been three months since we’ve heard from Tiger and the anticipation is building for tomorrow's one-way, or unilateral, “news conference,” better described perhaps as a statement. On everyone’s minds: Will Tiger show up drunk and blame the Jews?
As we know, the media are in the business of telling stories or “narratives.” A story needs a protagonist, or antagonist in this case, who undergoes dramatic change by the end of the story. A story requires a good arc, but Gibson isn’t playing that game. He doesn’t do change.
Tiger seems to think his narrative will fade as long as doesn’t give it fuel, while Gibson is feeding his narrative with nasty comments that only serve to undermine his mea culpa tour four years ago. For the narrative to have closure, the protagonist needs to be redeemed if not transformed. And so Gibson was asked by Chicago’s WGN-TV reporter Dean Richards: “Do you feel like you’re a different person now, a better person?”
Gibson responded, “I think I’m the same person I always was.” Well, this didn’t quite fit the transformation narrative, so the reporter tried a different angle. "Do you think the public will perceive you any differently after all that's been in the news about you?” Richards asked.
“That's almost four years ago, dude," Gibson shot back. "I've done all the necessary mea culpas. Let's move on." Making amends is apparently like going to traffic school. But did the public buy it? Was his mea culpa tour sincere and credible and persuasive? This recent series of interviews suggests otherwise.
The next question: had the public forgiven him? He responded by asking Richards, without any hint of irony: “What specifically are you referring to?” There was a moment of awkward silence. And then Gibson started laughing nervously. It was almost too painful to watch.
Duncan Shepherd, film critic for the San Diego Reader, adds some perspective:
People who can no longer look at Mel Gibson without hearing in their mind’s ear some of his more unfortunate turns of phrase from the arrest report have a choice to make: either hereafter avoid the tabloids or avoid the movies.
“Tabloids” was an unfortunate choice, a loaded term that seems to mock the public’s interest in this issue; certainly Gibson’s troubles were covered by the mainstream press in addition to the “less savory” media that Shepherd has in mind.
What do the media want from Gibson? Maybe it’s not his style to “open up,” to analyze himself too closely, to have long, searching conversations with members of the media. I can appreciate that. But it doesn’t give you a license to be a jerk. No one forced him to do the interview. You’d think an actor would cope more deftly with the tough questions, especially when he knows they’re coming his way.
At the end of the WGN-TV interview, while the microphone was still on, Gibson could be heard calling Richards an “a-hole.” That’s right, real men don’t do transformation.
Where did his sense of entitlement come from? If you want to promote a movie, you can pay for your airtime and control the content and the message. We all know that’s called advertising; and if you are invited to appear on the news to promote your movie, that’s publicity. You are a guest in someone else’s home. And yes, that means you must be on your best behavior even when you don’t like the question. We recall Gibson’s advice to Tiger Woods: "You have to deal with it like a man." Being thin-skinned and obnoxious? Mel Gibson has redefined what it means to man up.
In 1987’s Lethal Weapon, Gibson’s detective Martin Riggs sits in his mobile home with a beer in one hand and a pistol in the other. I don’t think suicide would be considered manning up, but I do know this: the Riggs character engendered the audience’s sympathies and made us root for him. Right now the same cannot be said of the Mel Gibson the person.
The irony is that the critics’ respect for Gibson as an actor and producer has only grown over the years. He’s challenged himself time and again and has amassed a nice portfolio of work. And with Edge of Darkness, he appears again to have done himself no disrespect.
Film critic Duncan Shepherd finds Gibson a sympathetic character:
The thinning hair, the sagging jowl, the three deep horizontal grooves in his foreheads crossed with two vertical diagonals give him a humanity that is vital to the grieving avenger. ... [He] is very believable when angry. He wears the role well.
Once a leading man that caused women to swoon, maybe it’s time for Gibson to become a character actor. That’s not so bad. And after all, he is one heck of a character.
Edge of Self-Parody
Here’s my satiric interpretation of Mel's interview with KTLA’s Sam Rubin:
RUBIN: So Mel, do you feel you’ve put the whole anti-Semitic thing behind you?
GIBSON: Why? You have a dog in this race?
RUBIN: Come again?
GIBSON: Come on, Rubin. Former Secretary of Commerce Robert Rubin, he’s Jewish. And that Commie radical Jerry Rubin. Definitely a Jew. And don’t forget the Rubin sandwich.
RUBIN: The Rubin sandwich is not Jewish. It’s German I think.
GIBSON: Two for three ain’t too shabby.
RUBIN: Another thing, the sándwich is R-E-U-B-E-N and I’m R-U-B-I-N.
GIBSON: Don’t think you can sneak one past me, Rubinofsky.
RUBIN: Okay folks. It’s opening later this month. It’s Edge of Darkness starring Mel Gibson … at a theater near you.
GIBSON: Don’t condescend to me … a-hole.