Mel Gibson, for years one of the most despised men in Hollywood, appears to be back on top with the release of a new film “Hacksaw Ridge.” This has brought together a delightful brew of movie reviews, Gibson gossip fests and interminable articles on how this industry pariah and renegade Catholic is trying to redeem himself, through a marathon of interviews in news and entertainment media.
There is valid religion-beat news here. It’s impossible to sidestep the faith factor in the story of how the maker of“The Passion of the Christ” has now come out with a movie about a Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objector who survives one of World War II’s bloodiest battles without so much as a gun by his side.
In one of those journalistic mixes of opinion and fact that are all too common in newspapers these days, the Los Angeles Times expounds on all this.
At the recent Academy premiere of "Hacksaw Ridge," there was a 10-minute standing ovation.
Not terribly surprising, except it was for Mel Gibson.
Ten years ago, Gibson was the most hated man in Hollywood. First, during a DUI arrest, he verbally assaulted police officers using anti-Semitic and sexist language. Then he was caught on audiotape threatening his then-girlfriend with rape and other physical abuse as well as dropping the N-word.
Forget standing ovations; many believed he would never work again.
But forgiveness, like everything else, has always followed a hierarchy in Hollywood. The elite — those who've won awards, broken box office records, sold successful franchises — are often welcomed back even as newbies like Nate Parker or middlings like Lindsay Lohan are cut loose.
After listing Gibson’s more impressive movies beginning in the 1980s, the writer reminds us that he’s not alone in falling from grace.
Hollywood loves a comeback story, or at least a certain kind. A three-act redemption — white male displays gifts/skill, gets brought low by hubris, admits his faults and becomes a better man — remains as big a Hollywood crowd-pleaser off-screen as on.
The shamed, then repentant, then forgiven include Robert Downey Jr., Shia LaBeouf and Christian Bale. Directors Woody Allen and Roman Polanski have won top Oscars in the wake of their scandals involving relationships with teenage girls.
Wrong or right, the scorn many felt toward them was eventually replaced with an admiration for their perseverance.
The piece ends with some bewilderment over why Gibson has not apologized or publicly repented as much as he should be doing. For an industry that often goes out of its way to cross out the faith factor, it’s as if this writer is saying: Hey, you’re Catholic and you should understand this confession stuff. So why aren’t you doing it right?
I looked to see who else was repeating this theme and sure enough, The Atlantic had quite a bit to say about Gibson’s non-apologies on a recent appearance (in the video atop this piece) on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. After all, the writer reasoned:
Colbert, like his guest, is Catholic; the man who teaches Sunday school in his spare time has been known to use his nationally broadcast platform to discuss matters of theology and dogma -- and, with them, matters both of sin and forgiveness. And Colbert, indeed, went out of his way to offer Gibson a chance to publicly wrestle and reconcile with his past, and, in that, to demonstrate the ways he has made himself worthy of the public’s forgiveness.
After explaining how Gibson sidestepped every opportunity that Colbert dropped his way (if that is in fact what happened, since Gibson specifically mentions purgatory), she adds:
In common Catholic practice, the sacrament of Penance requires one first to list, vocally, one’s sins, the idea being that even that most transcendent of transactions -- divine forgiveness -- demands that most human of things: simply admitting that you screwed up. But Gibson, depicter of the crucifixion of Jesus and, perhaps sometime soon, also of the resurrection, could not, on Colbert’s easy chair, enact his own version of that sacrament.
It’s also common Catholic practice to confess your sins privately to a priest and leave them there, in a setting not open to journalists.
Maybe Gibson has done so in many ways, but doesn’t want to self-flagellate himself to please these people. He might also feel he’s said enough and that his contemporaries have gotten off much lighter. As a writer in The Week reminds us:
"Separate the art from the artist." That old axiom, intended to exonerate people who want to discuss art created by morally dubious artists (heaven forbid!), doesn't really apply to Mel Gibson the way it does Woody Allen or Roman Polanski. Gibson has been cast off into Hollywood Purgatory for a decade, following his notorious drunken anti-Semitic diatribe in 2006 and a series of increasingly worrisome psycho-zealot revelations in subsequent years. Allen and Polanski, however, remain as prolific as ever, even winning Oscars despite their well-known transgressions, making Gibson a curious exception to Hollywood's ethical leniency.
Gibson can't seem to win, at least in the media. For "The Passion of the Christ," he was too religious for these folks. Now he isn't religious enough. Maybe Gibson should have read Susan Wise Bauer's "The Art of the Public Grovel: Sexual Sin and Public Confession in America" before venturing out on interviews.
I'm not complaining here. At least writers are trying to do theology in pieces such as this lengthy New Yorker review.
But I do find it amusing when reporters turn priest-like in their insistence on just how repentance should be carried out. Seriously, folks, is that really our job?