GALEN HOLLEY: Great artists are seldom saints

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

“Oh God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains. That we should, with joy, pleasance, revel and applause, transform ourselves into beasts.” – William Shakespeare, from “Othello”

I’m not defending the things he’s said, I’m just saying the guy intrigues me. Mel Gibson has produced some of the most completely captivating, totally mesmerizing films in the history of cinema.
The other day I TiVo’d “Apocalypto,” and trying to describe it to someone who’s never seen it is like trying to explain what it feels like to be electrocuted.
Much like “The Passion of the Christ,” that movie is horrible and beautiful and completely and totally spellbinding. It’s like a hunk of raw meat landing on a table. It depicts the most unspeakable horrors of which religion is capable.
Mel’s had his struggles. At some point you begin to wish that his publicist, or his priest, would follow him around with a tranquilizer gun and some heavy shackles, and when he starts turning into a werewolf they’d bind him to a freeway overpass until the moon goes down.
Mel is his own worst enemy sometimes, but I’m going to lay this out there, too: He doesn’t get the credit he deserves from Christian fundamentalists because he’s Catholic.
Vlad the Impaler would probably have gotten as much credit from fundamentalists for directing and producing as Mel did for “The Passion.” In a way that no cinematic presentation of the gospel ever had, that movie became the imaginative template for how young Christians visualize the suffering of Jesus.
It’s a masterpiece.
I can’t help but laugh, sometimes. Not long ago I heard a commentator listing Christian celebrities. Chuck Norris and Kirk Cameron were at the top of the list, and the last name mentioned was Mel’s.
“I’m not sure what Mel’s relationship with the Lord is like, though,” the commentator said, snidely.
On one hand there’s “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ.” On the other, there’s “Invasion USA” and “Growing Pains.” These are not the same calibre artists. Chuck and Kirk seem like very good guys, but, let’s not kid ourselves, neither of them is ever going to make a “Braveheart.”
(I already see the email: “Well, Mr. Holley, perhaps the in-flight movie in hell will be ‘Braveheart.’ Would you like a warm towel? They should have plenty.”)
I’m not defending Mel’s tantrums. They’re indefensible. I like Mel, though, because most of Hollywood seems to have disowned him, which one would think might actually endear him to the fundamentalists, and yet he publicly espouses his faith and pours himself into his art.
Mel needs our prayers, but I can’t help but believe that God chose him, deeply flawed as he is, to create some of the most compelling religious art the world has ever seen.

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or galen.holley@journalinc.com.