The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, July 16, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's blog at The Huffington Post website.

Mad Mel's Hang-Up: Love and Addiction

This is -- if not a sympathetic portrayal of Mel Gibson -- an effort to understand him.

It is built from an observation from an unlikely source -- the women on The View -- and particularly Sherri Sheperd's observation that Gibson didn't display the kind of bizarre rage revealed in recordings of his phone calls to his mistress while he was married almost 30 years to wife Robyn Moore. And, indeed, Ms. Moore has testified that his current behavior is aberrant.

Perhaps this comment was meant to reflect on the character of the mother of Gibson's baby, Russian-born Oksana Grigorieva. But I interpret it this way -- while he was ensconced in a secure, non-challenging marriage, Mel remained calm. When he dealt with a younger woman less used to massaging his ego, perhaps chafing under his control, Mel interpreted the woman's behavior as an assault on him personally.

The idea that an older man (Gibson is 54) goes batty over a beautiful younger woman (Oksana was born in 1970) is as old as time -- and certainly has a long history in the movies (think Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel). But Mel was not a hopeless supplicant for a younger woman's love. Gibson certainly had many resources to offer Grigorieva. Along with his personal wealth, he was able to support Grigorieva's career as a singer-songwriter -- producing her 2009 album, Beautiful Heartache.

And I'm not saying Grigorieva is a gold digger or opportunist -- she had some musical success before meeting Gibson. But it is easy to see that a younger woman might run afoul of Gibson's strict Catholic moral standards -- despite the fact that he himself violated the Church's ironclad strictures against divorce and adultery.

We'll leave aside why a man would seek love with a young beauty (if any explanation is needed), and divorce his wife. But Gibson might be expected to be unrealistic about the level of commitment and devotion he could extract from Grigorieva. Among other things, he saw her clothing and appearance as deliberate provocations, and as personal betrayals. She, obviously, might not feel this way. And when these views clashed, Gibson was beside himself. We can see him categorizing public displays of flesh -- normal in an attractive, aspiring entertainment figure -- as beyond the pale of his definition of a love relationship.

Underlying Gibson's reaction is his peculiar personality. One thing that strikes listeners to his phone diatribes was Gibson's plea to his girlfriend, "I have no friends." Remember, this was before his phone calls became public and friends and acquaintances scurried away from him as fast as they could (with the exception of Whoopie Goldberg).

Mel is not a relaxed, sociable individual to start with -- sampling any interview with Gibson leaves the impression that he is awkward and ill at ease in public. His extremely strict Catholic beliefs (he organized his own church) separate him from even other religious Catholics. For a leading Hollywood figure, Gibson was the farthest thing from an industry insider and social networker.

People with a psychological profile like Mel's often seek security in one intimate relationship, on which they place great demands. When these demands are not met -- as they may have been by his wife (producing the surprising defense of Mel by his former spouse), but were unlikely to be by a younger woman -- Gibson felt betrayed to the core. His mad, breathless outbursts -- like a man drowning -- sound like someone whose life is threatened. It is hard not feel for a person in that much pain, even while we cannot excuse the behavior that resulted from it.

As I said, I'm not justifying violence and threats. As a psychologist I am trying to peer into a person -- one I know only through public information. But the expressions of jealous rage in those phone calls are ones I am well familiar with -- they formed a basis for my book Love and Addiction, about love that becomes pathological. When people feel they are deprived of their principal emotional prop in life, they're liable to do crazy things.

Gibson has an addictive history. And love IS the hardest addiction to quit.

 

P.S. (July 12, 2010): I dislike and disagree that Gibson's agency has dropped him. I don't like people ganging up on someone when he's down (even though my post might be part of that). If Gibson's films work as cinema - which some people feel strongly that they do - he should be allowed to make them.