Sunday Times, Perth (Australia), in press.
Is Mel Gibson a Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde?
The LA Sheriff’s deputy who arrested Mel Gibson for drunk-driving excused the actor’s anti-Semitic outburst as the “booze talking.” Others may be inclined to view Gibson’s behavior as simply the result of his intoxication.
But some alcoholics use alcohol as a way to express their deeper – true – feelings.
When interviewed on Prime Time by Dianne Sawyer in February 2004, Gibson was thoughtful, quiet, and well-spoken. He was self-deprecating, as he usually is in public appearances. When asked who killed Christ, Gibson responded, “I'll be the first in the culpability stakes here." Gibson told of his “spiritual bankruptcy” years earlier, forcing him to his “knees” to seek salvation.
Gibson refers to his wife and family reverentially. According to one patron at the restaurant where he was drinking before he was arrested, Gibson called his wife a “saint.”
Yet, when he left the restaurant he was apprehended driving more than 40 miles an hour above the speed limit. Although he was initially polite with the arresting officer, according to published reports, he soon turned aggressive. Particularly disturbing was the anti-Jewish diatribe he directed at the officer (who was in fact Jewish).
The law does not excuse aggressive behavior, like assault, because the perpetrator is drunk. And there is good reason for this psychologically and legally. Most people don’t act criminally when they become intoxicated. Those who do must be held accountable.
For some people, drunkenness is a release from ordinary restraints. Gibson seems to fall in this category. And what lurks beneath the surface when his unconscious feelings are tapped is not pretty. This is evident in the deputy’s report of Gibson’s arrest. But his repressed hostility is clear in his pictures as well.
Gibson made his reputation in two series of violent movies – the “Mad Max” and “Lethal Intent” series. Of course, he was simply enacting other people’s words and direction in these films.
But when he began to produce his own movies Gibson was, if anything, even more violent. In Braveheart, William Wallace, played by Gibson, leads the Scots army into bloody battle. He is graphically tortured in the film’s conclusion.
Likewise, Gibson’s controversial film, The Passion of the Christ, was notable for its violence. Only this time, the Christ character is the victim.
Gibson seems torn between antisocial, aggressive behavior – like the kind he demonstrated when arrested – and a submissive, martyr-like attitude. Braveheart combines justified violence with martyrdom, and Christ’s martyrdom gave Gibson a solid basis for expressing the most extreme forms of cruelty.
Gibson’s aggressive and conflicted feelings and behavior are evident in his drinking and his cinematography. To understand the source of Gibson’s ambivalence we must be more speculative.
Gibson’s father is a stern, old-testament style religious leader known for his anti-Semitism. Gibson often expresses ambivalence toward his father. As a youthful roustabout, Gibson must have often run afoul of his father’s moral creed – and temper. Gibson responded by internalizing his father’s standards, while acting out against them.
This has produced in Gibson a man who yearns to be loved, and who seeks approval. He bows to external authority – like religion – at the same time as he often violates social standards. And underlying all of this are feelings of deep hostility that appear in his attitudes toward Jews.
Stanton Peele is a psychologist, attorney, and addiction expert in New Jersey. His most recent book is 7 Tools to Beat Addiction.