If you could sue yourself for plagarism, disgraced filmmaker Mel Gibson would have one helluva lawsuit.
His newest project about biblical Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee features the same sado-masochistic story-line he’s beaten to death for more than 20 years. It’s basically nice guy, pushed too far, goes all Spanish Inquisition on those who think differently.
The subject matter is significant for a filmmaker with a reputation for group bias, who alienated the Jewish community by reprising the Catholic passion plays that laid the groundwork for the Holocaust, in his 2004 film “The Passion of The Christ.”
Fiction and reality sometimes seem to merge for Gibson, who is now one of the most despised men in Hollywood. He followed up The Passion with an anti-Jewish rant against a California police officer who arrested him for drunk driving in 2006.
The unfortunate cop thought he was a police officer, but Mel made it clear he was just a Jew and would never be anything else.
“Fucking Jews,” he told the cop. “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”
Translation: “you damn Jews keep making us kill you. Why won’t you just convert already?”
Poor Mel. Forced into an unpleasant but necessary jihad by the actions of another – yet again. just like the bloodthirsty family men he favors.
Gibson is the last person you would think would want to make a movie about Judah Maccabee. Unless he wanted to drive home the point that Jews can be just as brutal as other people. Then, it’s a perfect fit.
The problem with such thinking is that it assumes the rest of us share his infatuation with group-based brutality and eye-for-an-eye justice.
The generic Gibson character is a peaceful, pious, family man who has been pushed too far, with devastating consequences for those who tread on him. The “victim” snaps and is transformed into a politically acceptable murderer, who tortures and butchers opponents with grim regret as his steely gaze and chiseled jaw are spattered with their blood and tissue.
Along the way, Mel’s characters typically manage to remain so incredibly sensitive and empathetic to everyone but their opponents that beautiful women are drawn to them. Thereby pairing gratuitous violence and torture with a highly marketable dose of sexual tension.
Judah Maccabee is a perfect fit for the Gibson mold. He led a bloody revolt against the Seleucid Empire about 170 BCE and is one of the greatest warriors in Jewish history, but he is emphatically a warrior from a primitive period when group-bias was the norm. Gibson is not a warrior and does not live in such a period, although he has a curious affinity for it.
Maccabee is basically the Jewish equivalent of Scottish freedom-fighter William Wallace, who Gibson portrayed in the film Braveheart. Hanukkah commemorates the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem, after Maccabee (left) and his fighters prevailed on the battlefield in a protracted group conflict.
The Seleucid Empire was comprised of the eastern conquests of Alexander the Great and stretched from modern-day Turkey to Pakistan and abutted Egypt.
Most Jews are familiar with the Hanukkah story. I was indoctrinated with it as a child, when I was given a cardboard sword wrapped in aluminum foil to carry in a play at my family synagogue.
The message then was that the world was split up into “us” and “them,” and we had to be ready to defend ourselves against them. You know, those guys.
The mystical other that doesn’t crave a cold beer on a hot day, the love of a good woman, a fast car, and a safe society in which to raise their smartass kids.
This kind of polarizing tribal rhetoric, which turns such like-minded men against one another, is one of the over-arching problems with most organized religions. It’s also a staple of the Mel Gibson schtick.
Clerics should be telling the faithful “hey, that guy over there is just like you. He wants decent food and shelter for his family, affordable education and healthcare, a decent job.”
Instead, they routinely advance group hatred via the ideas of “us” and “them” and the fiction that members of different faiths are markedly and inherently different at the individual level.
Fortunately, I learned to think for myself as I grew up and realized that one group’s freedom fighter is another group’s terrorist; politicians and religious leaders often have little regard for the lives of the young men they ask to commit murder; and I really didn’t want to chop up my fellow human beings for them.
Mel never did.
He’s still waving around toy swords and spouting nonsense. Like the idea that his beloved first wife Robyn won’t be going to heaven because she’s Episcopalian, not Catholic like him. Nevermind that the Vatican recognizes other Christian demoninations go to heaven.
“There is no salvation for those outside the Church,” Gibson said of Robyn in an infamous interview with the Herald Sun in Australia
All of which brings us back to Mel’s infatuation with the legend of Judah Maccabee.
Both Judah Maccabee and William Wallace came to embody the violence of those who initially oppressed them. One scene in Braveheart depicts Wallace sending the decapitated head of the Governor of York to the opposing leader, who also happens to be the victim’s cousin.
Maccabee killed Hellenistic Jews – those who embraced the modernizing ideas of ancient Greece – as well as the occupation forces of the Seleucid Empire. He also forcibly circumcised their boys.
No one word yet on whether Gibson will be delivering severed foreskins to the leader of the Seleucids if he takes on the role.
“They profaned his Temple, they killed his father,” Gibson said in an interview with The Atlantic. “You kind of get this guy who more or less is trying to avoid the whole thing, but he just gets to a place where (he) had enough, and he just snapped!”
Clearly, nothing turns on Mel Gibson so much as a reluctant killer.
Maccabee is the Jewish equivalent of a lot of the violent characters the 55-year-old Gibson has embraced during a once stellar career that has long since devolved into cookie-cutter movies and cookie-cutter roles.
None of them were exactly humanitarians who advanced the notion that people from different groups can live in peace. I can’t recall a single instance in which Gibson depicted members of an opposing group interacting lovingly with their family members.
The list includes:
1) Mayan warrior Jaguar Paw in Apocalypto (2006)
2) Vietnam War hero Hal Moore in We Were Soldiers (2002).
3) Fictional priest Graham Hess in Signs (2002).
4) Fictional American Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Martin in The Patriot (2000)
5) Fictional cop Martin Riggs in the Lethal Weapon series (1987, 1989, 1992 and 1998).
6) Fictional nut-job Jerry Fletcher in Conspiracy Theory (1997).
7) Fictional millionaire Tom Mullen in Ransom (1996).
8) Scottish rebel William Wallace in Braveheart (1995).
9) Fictional Danish Prince Hamlet in the film of the same name (1990).
10) Fictional CIA pilot Gene Ryack in Air America (1990).
11) Fictional cop Mad Max Rockatansky in the Road Warrior series (1979, 1981, 1985).
Gibson is listed as director of the Maccabee project right now, but is rumored to be considering taking on the lead role. He seems very enthusiastic about the opportunity to get paid for reworking his old scripts, instead of coming up with fresh ideas.
There’s little chance he’ll ever run out of tales of bloody retribution by oppressed people, given that the victors write the history books.
Gibson’s set-piece filmmaking is fairly predictable. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision him clicking mentally through the possibilities that Maccabee presents:
- Every Mel Gibson project needs a close family member to be victimized early on – substitute some generic Jewish kid for Tom Mullen’s kidnapped son from “Ransom.”
- Sub Judah Maccabee for William Wallace in the generic pre-battle speech.
- Mel likes to work in a prayer for a fallen comrade – sub Judah for Hal Moore from “We Were Soldiers.”
- We can either sub a sword-carrying Judah for the musket-carrying Benjamin Martin from “The Patriot” in the requisite Gibson-led charge, or use computer generated images to put yamulkes on the Scots in Braveheart.
- And of course no Gibson film is complete without the triumphant butchering of the evil opponent as “us” defeats “them” – sub Judah for Martin Riggs from Lethal Weapon or Jaguar Paw in Apocalypto.
You can just as easily envision Gibson telling wardrobe that “we’re going to need one helluva yamulke for Judah. Something nice, but understated. I want people to be drawn to him, but I don’t want him to seem too fancy.”
Likewise, Mel has to be wondering if makeup can pull off a believable “jew-fro” for him.
The tragic and incredibly comedic thing about Gibson is his misplaced sense of self. He seems to need to cling to the notion that he’s some kind of blue-collar everyman, even though he’s a multimillionaire surrounded by people with a financial interest in making him feel good about himself.
That kind of false adulation can unhinge even the best person’s moral compass and seems to have taken Gibson to some very dark places.
Anyone who has ever cut someone’s throat for sitting too close to them on a train or bus can relate to Gibson’s penchant for portraying massively disproportionate and violent reactions. The Australian-American actor has probably murdered more than 500 human beings on film – all of them richly deserving of that fate by virtue of their membership in groups other than those of his lead characters.
One of the low-lights of Gibson’s affinity for human slaughter was the pile of dead Vietnamese soldiers depicted near the end of the film “We Were Soldiers.” The bloody corpses were stacked four-feet high like cordwood (right). Much as the Nazis stacked the bodies of German Jews during the Holocaust.
The ritualistic decapitation of human sacrifices in “Apocalypto” also was pretty hard to watch, especially as the camera followed the heads and bodies down the stairs of the pyramid. That scene borrowed a page from “Braveheart,” as organs were depicted being torn from live bodies in both films.
Fetishist depictions of gratuitous gore of this kind apparently are Mel’s idea of “keeping it real.”
The boundary between film and reality appears to be merging for Gibson. He also seems to think that just because he can get away with murder on the silver screen he can do what he wants off-screen, too.
Gibson’s wife of 29 years divorced him in April 2009 after photos were published of him with Russian pianist Oksana Grigorieva. Apparently, momma’s body was no longer leading-lady material after giving birth to seven of his kids.
Mel’s affair with the smoking-hot Grigorieva led to the birth of a daughter just six months later. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that he has a pretty flexible view of his own marriage vows, despite his vocal embrace of inflexible religious dogma. Naturally, Mel feels most at home politically among Republicans, who have elevated religious hypocrisy to rarefied heights in recent years.
Grigorieva should not have been surprised when they began having relationship problems and Mel responded by going all William Wallace on her.
Gibson never lets historical fact get in the way of a useful marketing ploy either. He presented black slaves as robust, healthy, vibrant, happy friends with their humane and loving slavesmasters in “The Patriot.” It was one of the most sympathetic and disgusting film portrayals of U.S. slavery since D. W. Griffith’s white supremacist “Birth of a Nation” in 1915.
Even when they’re torturing their opponents, or giving them the choice between burning to death amd cutting off their own leg (Mad Max), they do so with an abundance of regret. As if to say “this is going to hurt me more than you because I’m so damn sensitive and empathetic – why are you making me slice you into tiny pieces?”
Over the years, Gibson has been taped referring to Latinos as “wetbacks” and blacks as “niggers.” The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation accused him of homophobia in 1991.
He pleaded no-contest to misdemeanor spousal battery in March. That’s his smoking-hot and batshit-crazy looking booking photo belowright.
All in all, Mel is one helluva piece of work. Like the characters he plays, he’s not particularly encumbered by an abundance of self-restraint or basic human decency toward members of groups other than his own.
It’s not hard to tell why.
Mel’s daddy Hutton is a Holocaust denier who raised his children as Traditionalist Catholics. The fringe sect rejects the reforms of The Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which determined Jews were neither collectively guilty for the death of Jesus Christ nor cursed by God. Hutton views Vatican II as a Masonic plot backed by Jews, and insists that there were more Jews in Europe after the Holocaust than before.
At first blush Hutton’s math appears flawed, but it could just be a question of methodology. The numbers add up better if you count each butchered body part as a complete Jew. Afterall, who can prove they came from different bodies?
Prior to Vatican II, European passion plays typically portrayed Jews with demonic horns and blamed them for the death of Jesus Christ. Instead of the Roman Empire which actually occupied Israel at the time, ruled it through a puppet regime of Hellenistic Jews, and had its soldiers execute him.
The plays were frequently followed by attacks on Europe’s Jewish communities prior to World War II. They’ve been decimated by Christians since the Roman Emperor Constantine merged the Catholic Church with the Roman Empire in the Fourth Century, and the political opportunist declared that Christians could no longer also be Jews. Prior to that edict the faithful were just another Jewish sect.
Those past massacres are one of the reasons many Jewish leaders objected to Gibson revisiting the passion play theme in “The Passion of the Christ.” They had this crazy idea that there are not that many Jews left in the world and it would be nice if the remnants were allowed to live in peace.
Author, Catholic reformer and former priest James Carroll estimates that there would be 200 million Jews in the world today, instead of the present 13 million, if not for group-based massacres like those associated with the Holocaust, Crusades, the Black Plague and the Spanish Inquisition. In other words, Jewish population growth has been reduced 93.5 percent by group-based murder since the Roman Empire conquered ancient Israel.
That’s a lot of dead Jews.
The mainstream Catholic Church has finally come around to viewing that not-so-figurative pile of bones as a disgrace. The Vatican took action via Vatican II to limit its role in fanning the flames of religious hatred after more than a millennium of Jew-hunting in Christian nations.
Church leaders have issued new guidelines on the way Jews should be portrayed in plays about the death of Jesus Christ.
By contrast, the rebellious Traditionalist sect’s approach to the passion plays is a lot like the characters Mel favors. Neither Mel nor the Traditionalists accept responsibility for the role that church-sponsored propaganda has played in violence toward Jews and Muslims.
It seems that we Jews brought this on ourselves.
For Mel, the belief that Jews like me are collectively guilty for the death of someone we have never met is reason enough to reprise a story which has led to the wholesale slaughter of millions of Jewish men, women and children.
Babies who didn’t even know they were Jewish, had never heard of Jesus, and never been near Israel were killed after these passion plays, had their skull bashed in by grown men.
Why not bring the same passion plays to the silver screen and see what happens?
Gibson has been transformed by the passage of time into a bit of a one-trick pony as an actor and filmmaker. The fading entertainment icon also has been exposed as a bigot and as a sexually repressed dude with serious bondage, domination, sadism and masochism issues.
Gibson could save us all a lot of trouble if he’d just clip a couple clothespins to his nipples, stuff a ball gag in his mouth and seal himself inside a leather “gimp” suit, instead of continuing to try to make films for a general audience. Then decent people everywhere could just zip the hood up when he’s been drinking and resume their normal lives, without subjecting themselves to Mel Gibson as William Wallace as Judah Maccabee or as any other primitive leader who justified chopping people up strictly on the basis of their being born into a different group.
He’d be happier. We’d be happier.
Until then, we all have to keep a wary eye on tribalistic extremists like Mel in our incredibly rich and diverse melting pot and hope they don’t completely break with reality. His remarks about New York Times Columnist Frank Rich in 2003 were certainly enough to make you wonder where Mel Gibson ends and murderous figures of the human race’s primitive and violent past begin.
“I want to kill him – I want his intestines on a stick,” Gibson said of Rich, who had written critically of Hutton’s Holocaust views. “I want to kill his dog.”
That kind of talk is cause for concern when you’re writing a story like this. I just hope Mel will steer clear of my intestines (I can be gassy) and go with a proper decapitation if and when he decides I have forced him into a corner with my incomprehensible Jew stubborness.
Likewise, please don’t send my severed Jew head to my non-Jew wife or kill my non-Jewish dogs.
Finally, I would very much appreciate a rose garden for my mulitated Jew remains along the lines of the one you promised former lover Oksana Grigorieva.
We all know you’re capable of it Mel.
Cynical Times columnist Victor Epstein is a non-practicing Jew with a close, warm, personal relationship with the invisible dude in the sky. After 46 years on the planet, he figures he’s got the organized religion thing down to a science and, much like basketball great Allen Iverson, doesn’t need to practice any more.