The still-unfolding tale of Mel Gibson’s fall from Hollywood grace is a modern spin on an old story-telling archetype: the hero, puffed up by hubris, is felled by the very thing that brought him greatness in the first place.
Before “Passion of the Christ,” Gibson was just another Hollywood genius, starring in and then directing box-office blockbusters. His characters – from “Mad Max” through “Lethal Weapon” and “Braveheart” – always danced on the edge of madness, only to pull themselves in at the last possible moment.
It was this sense of danger and unpredictability that set Gibson’s characters apart from run-of-the-mill action heroes: his characters were both driven and haunted.
With “Passion of the Christ,” Gibson placed an astounding bet on his own passions, putting himself in real danger. Investing his own money, he made a movie spoken in Latin and Aramaic – Gibson could have been financially ruined and laughed out of Hollywood. Instead, he turned the film business on its head.
But, looking back on it now, it was as if that success only pushed Gibson to gamble more, to become edgier and more dangerous in his real life. The dark crackle of his early characters, maybe, were not so much "acting" – but the star pulling on something very real inside himself. Like those characters, he was able to control it, harness it, use it without it using him.
But it now seems as if his astounding success changed all that. He soon left his long-time wife and their family -- then moved on to a series of personal embarrassments that culminated this week in release of audio tapes. On those tapes, a hysterical Gibson screams and hyperventilates in phone conversations with his girlfriend. His language and imagery and behavior are all out of control.
How out of control? Even Gibson’s longtime agents at William Morris have dropped him and distanced themselves from their once-shining star. No attempt at spin, no rush to protect him and make the story go away.
That dangerous and unpredictable hero now finds himself very alone with his all-too-real foibles, flaws and demons.