LOOK AT THOSE PHOTOS of Mel Gibson taken at Moonshadows in Malibu only hours before his arrest July 28. How innocent he looks in his ignorance of the fact that he's mere hours, maybe only minutes, from self-immolation. From letting his id run briefly wild and changing his life forever. From committing one of those rare acts for which no apology short of "I'm sorry you had to see my true inner ugliness" can have any meaning.
Movie people are infrequent apologizers. Unlike pretty much every other profession -- in which public pronouncements of regret for various unfortunate words or deeds have come to be expected -- this group has been given so much license to misbehave that an offense has to be truly noteworthy to require penance.
Even when it is, if you're shameless enough, you can get away without apologizing. Woody Allen never did, and he never stopped making movies; Roman Polanski's quarter of a century of non-remorse didn't keep him from winning an Oscar; and despite his lack of contrition for his lunatic attacks on Brooke Shields and psychiatry, Tom Cruise is still working.
But Gibson was never going to get away with that. He offended a lot more people than Allen, Polanski or Cruise did, and his infraction was even more serious than, say, a drunk Russell Crowe throwing a phone at someone. This is not Johnny Depp telling Germany's Stern magazine that the United States is like "a dumb puppy that has big teeth that can bite and hurt you" because -- despite the efforts of the law-breaking firm of Bush, Cheney and Rove -- it's still not un-American to criticize America. It's not Hugh Grant with Divine Brown, or Jude Law with his kid's nanny because, really, who was affected by those indignities but Elizabeth Hurley and Sienna Miller? It's not even serial groper Arnold Schwarzenegger because the media was willing to allow his predatory and vulgar advances toward women to be downscaled to having "behaved badly sometimes" on "rowdy movie sets."
No, this is of another ilk entirely. This is one of the world's biggest stars caught spewing hatred of millions of people so vividly that it's been burned into the nation's brain. As automatically as you think "murderer" when you hear "O.J. Simpson," the mere mention of "Mel Gibson" will forevermore make you think "anti-Semite" (and, maybe, "sugar tits," whether or not he actually said it).
This was an offense that required, at a minimum, abject on-camera groveling for forgiveness. What was first offered was very far from that, a boilerplate PR release -- complete with two claims of being "ashamed," one of having "disgraced" himself, one expression of profound "regret," one "truly sorry" and three offers of "I apologize" -- that sought to recast the offense as one of mere drunken churlishness.
The failure of the statement to even acknowledge, let alone atone for, the instantly world-famous observations about Jews rendered it dead on arrival, and a sequel was quickly prepared that dealt directly with the key issue. "I am not an anti-Semite," this second statement read in part, and "I am not a bigot," though no explanation of how such anti-Semitic, bigoted remarks came to be spoken by a non-anti-Semitic non-bigot was offered.
So, he's officially apologized, and he's begun "an ongoing program of recovery." The first scenes from the redemption script have been played, though the lead has yet to make an appearance. Expect to see him emerge in a month or less (probably significantly less) from wherever he's gone to "recover." Expect to see Gibson meeting with whichever Jewish leaders are craven enough to participate in the rehabilitation of the reputation of a dyed-in-the-wool, lifelong anti-Semite whose father's denial of the Holocaust the actor has never repudiated. Expect to see the people who still have a financial stake in him -- mainly at Disney, whose namesake was no slouch in the anti-Semitism department -- circle the wagons around him.
Then, with the release of the film "Apocalypto" imminent, expect to see Gibson in the obligatory and probably tearful interview with Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer, or maybe on a prime-time special with Oprah, herself a recent apologist. Expect to see him on Leno and Letterman and Conan and Larry King. Despite all these efforts, expect to see the audience for "Apocalypto" consist exclusively of those twisted millions of Americans who were as delighted with Gibson's comments about the Jews as those Arabs dancing in their streets were with the events of 9/11 -- and whose punishment will be spending hours watching unknown Mexican actors speaking in an ancient Mayan dialect.
And, finally, whatever else he does in the remainder of his life, expect to see a reference to the incident of July 28, 2006, in the first paragraph of Gibson's obituary. This one's not going away.