|Oy, are you talking to me, Mate?|
Mel Gibson's breakout role came in George Miller's Mad Max. Made on the cheap in 1979, it tells the tale of Max Rockatansky, a cop whose wife and infant are murdered by bikers. The balance of the film is a straight forward revenge fantasy as Max systematically hunts down and punishes those responsible. Even when he is shot in the knee, Max just lashes together a brace and gets back to his killing spree like a good boy. Becoming ever more remorseless and vicious as the movie comes to an end. It's a great role for a young male actor, and it helped propel him towards stardom. What's interesting is how many times Gibson has made movies that retells Max's revenge.
By our count, he's made variations on Mad Max five times in the last thirty years: Lethal Weapon 1-4 1987+, Braveheart 1995, Payback 1999, The Patriot 2000, and Edge of Darkness 2009. In each film, Gibson's character loses his wife and/or children and before the credits roll the folks responsible all stare down the business end of his 9mm, broadsword, epee, musket or sawed-off shotgun. Generally, Gibson's characters give single minded a bad name. They disregard personal safety, the criminal code and common sense in pursuit of vengeance. If you wronged one, he's going to keep on coming until one of you is dead, possibly both. It doesn't always seem to matter to the men Gibson plays.
There's also a creepy vein of sadism that runs through these films. In many of them, Gibson's character is made to suffer and sacrifice horribly. In Mad Max, he gets shot in the knee and in Lethal Weapon 2 he's stabbed in the same leg. In Payback, his toes are smashed with a hammer while in Edge of Darkness, he is dosed with a lethal, slow acting poison. And of course in Braveheart, he is publicly castrated, disemboweled and finally quartered by a team or horses. Kind of the trifecta of shitty ways to go out. When viewed alongside the acknowledged sadism and brutality of The Passion of the Christ, does William Wallace point to some sort of martyr or victim complex? Let's be honest, it ain't easy being a Mel Gibson character. We're not saying Gibson has ever been flogged by a professional dominatrix, but we wouldn't drop our whiskey sours if he had. Where there are screams of pain there's usually fire (thank you DJ Mixed Metaphor). And we didn't even include The Bounty, Hamlet, Apocalyto or Ransom.
So which came first the abusive chicken or the tortured egg? Mad Max or the revenge theme? Did Mad Max shape the man, or was the man always drawn to gleefully sadistic tales of revenge? Hard to say if you're name's not Mel Colm-Cille Gerard Gibson, and perhaps it's not enough to reveal anything definitive about the man. But we do respect a trend and as a precaution we wouldn't recommend messing with the guy. How's that been working out for you, Oksana?