Bloodred Beauty: A Meditation on Mel Gibson's Midlife Allure

Article excerpt

He walks in blood, like women do.

When I lost my mother, I discovered Mel

Gender and nurture. These are the crisscrossing avenues I travel as I mediate on Mel.

He and Mel Gibson are not the same. Gibson is a real person whose work in film, primarily as an action hero, has made him one of the most famous men in the world. Mel is an intimate and epic individual, a fetish and fixation that serve mechanisms of displacement, projection, and transference. These beauties and functions do not differ from those of other movie stars, except that Mel has provided me with a psychic, emotional, and intellectual sustenance that no other fantasy figure derived from popular culture figure has.

Braveheart (1995) is Gibson's tour de force. He won an Academy Award for directing the film, which also took the Award for Best Picture, and he stars as Scotland's medieval patriot leader, William Wallace, Braveheart himself. I watched Braveheart for the first time in May 2000, a couple of months after Mom's death. Dad had died eight months earlier. As the art historian Griselda Pollock writes, "The subject is always massively unknown to itself," and little did I know that, in my bereft state, I needed both to love a hero and to be one.' I viewed almost all of Gibson's more than thirty films over the summer of 2000. Braveheart and Payback (1999) are my favorites. Not only are they aesthetically compelling-Gibson's other films are not-but because they are midlife projects and I myself am in midlife, they allow me an acutely satisfying identification with Mel. Gibson made Payback when he was forty-two; before I learned that he was thirty-eight when he acted in Braveheart, I thought he was in his midforties, if not close to fifty in the film itself.' Gibson and I look more or less the same age, even though, as I write, I am just about fifty-three.

Aspects of Gibson's personal, midlife allure contribute to Mel's: the strong, round muscles of his built body, which resemble mine, and the wide face, dark, silvering hair, and intense, inviting eyes-features that we share. Mel lushly inhabits his body, and Mel and I inhabit one another. An unparadoxical weight and lightness-dense muscle, ease of movement--characterize Mel's rich corporeality, which I call in-the-bodyness. Despite its inelegance, that phrase describes a grace of soul-and-mind-inseparable-from-body, and it recruits me into Mel's charisma, which I come to realize is my own. The word recruit is derived from the French recrute, new growth, and the Latin re-, meaning again + crescere, to grow, increase. In the acts of enjoying and thinking about Mel, the charisma that withered after my parents' deaths grows again; he stirs my blood, my heart increases, he nurtures a new life.

Years ago I believed that, as Tina Turner sings in the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) soundtrack, "We don't need another hero."3 Beyond Thunderdome is the last of the Mad Max trilogy, which brought Gibson, who played Max each time, international stardom. Art cowboys, corporate adventurers, antic avant-gardists and politicians, and scholarly, bureaucratic, and playboy patriarchs upon patriarchs bored and repulsed me. But Mel, in his bloodred beauty, both humanizes and womanizes the hero, so that, at the age of fifty-two, with his help, I could understand that the hero is, and has always been, me.

Hero derives from the Avestan haraiti, (he) protects. Certainly, Gibson's heroes throughout his career protect an ultimate manliness glamorized in Western civilization's gender designs. Consequently, Wallace and Porter, the professional robber protagonist in Payback, could have been in danger of the emotional and aesthetic deficiency that signals kitsch; they could have dazzled me simply, with a beauty that is mere manly charm.4 Mel is penis/phallus extraordinaire. When coffee-shop counter girl (Marisa Tomei) asks Nick Marshall (Gibson) in What Women Want (2000) if he's ordering a Tall or a Grande, Mel responds, "Grande. …