Was Mel Gibson Always a Violent Psychopath?

Mel Gibson’s obscenity-filled, threatening rant – recorded by Oksana Grigorieva, his mistress and mother of his child – has caused some re-evaluation of Mel’s good-guy, Christian image.

First, there was his anti-Semitic interaction with the Los Angeles cop in 2006. People thought that outburst might simply have been due to a drinking problem – I know I always spew anti-Semitic epithets when I have a few drinks. Now, people are beginning to wonder – particularly given the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigation of Grigorieva’s claim that Gibson hit her twice while she was holding their baby.

But has Mel’s violent nature been as apparent as, well, his image sprawled across the big screen? Initially, Gibson, the actor, meted out justified violence – as a futuristic vigilante in the Mad Max films, as a law enforcement officer in theLethal Weapon series, and as a combination Revolutionary War hero and father protector of his family against vicious British invaders in The Patriot.

But the nature of the violence changed in the three films Gibson directed himself. Each of the movies – BraveheartThe Passion of the Christ, andApocalypto – was gut-wrenchingly violent. The films all have a special vision of innocent men, noble or political or religious icons – Gibson himself inBraveheart, or his stand-ins in the Christ and Apocalypto films – who are set upon by tyrants or factotums or sadists who torture and martyr the Gibson figure.

Let’s play psychoanalyst for a bit. Here is a man who feels his anger is justified by the forces that beset him, such as wayward cops (especially Jewish ones) and Jezebel-like mistresses (Gibson is recorded telling Oksana, “You fucking deserved it!” when she accuses him of hitting her) – just like William Wallace and Jesus were.

Gibson portrays his heroes’ suffering in loving, lingering, graphic detail. How else is a man to react when assailed by evil forces in this way – other than with rage and aggression? And that’s a wrap. But why did audiences – including film critics and religious leaders – jump on the self-pitying violence bandwagon Gibson was driving?

As an actor, Gibson has always displayed an appealing innocence and sensitivity while brutalizing deserving villains. But his ability to lure audiences into his depictions of violence – to revel in them – escalated in the films he directed. This began with William Wallace being gutted and dismembered inBraveheart. I thought of the crowds that gathered to watch actual events like these when they occurred – are we returning to that level of gawking at public torture?

Gibson’s success achieved a peak with The Passion of the Christ – in which his portrayal of the torment and agony of Jesus reaped praise from religious figures, even liberal ones. This film was the basis for Gibson’s selection as Time Magazine’s Man of the Year (along with Michael Moore!) in 2004. In retrospect, Gibson’s Christ now looks like a cinematic expression of psychopathology.

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