Application of the François Truffaut’s Auteur Theory to Mel Gibson's Filmography
Mel Gibson was born in January of 1956 to Hutton and Anne Gibson who were“staunch Catholics” (Peter Carrick, 1998, pg.18) which became the main focus of Gibson’s upbringing and then his creative direction as director. As Carrick (1998, pg.19) also said “The children grew up in a god fearing..household” this had a strong effect on Gibson. Still at a young age, in 1968 Gibson being 12 years of age, Hutton decided to move his family to Australia, a growing economy and their lack of involvement in the Vietnam war were a few of the reasons for the move and with “No real reason to stay in the United States” (Roland Perry, 1993, pp.11-12) the Gibson family were living in Melbourne by the November of the year. After high school, a fairly mild segment in Mel’s life, he joined acting school which lead him onto the set of his first film, Mad Max (George Miller, 1979), which was Gibson’s proportion into the industry.
After the hype of Lethal Weapon 3 (Richard Donner, 1992) and Forever Young (Steve Miner, 1992) Gibson started his directorial career with The Man Without a Face (Mel Gibson, 1993), also starring in the film as Justin McLeod (Mel Gibson), one of the main characters in the film. Gibson went straight on to, again, direct and act in his award-winning Braveheart (Mel, Gibson, 1995). After the extreme effects that directing and acting had on Gibson he left the directing chair completely, till 2003. When he directed The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2003) and then Apocalypto (Mel Gibson, 2006). Following these successful ventures. Gibson fell into a bad alcohol addiction which ultimately leads to his demise from stardom. Over-ever he has recently started his inevitable comeback, with staring in films; Edge of Darkness (Martin Campbell, 2010), Blood Father (Jean-François Richet, 2016) and more recently Daddy’s Home 2 (Sean Anders, 2017).
François Truffaut’s Auteur Theory explains that a director is the sole creative force behind a film and all the crew and cast are extensions of the director’s vision. The theory expresses a director must portray certain traits to allow the theory to be successfully applied to them. Here are a few of the elements directors must demonstrate to be considered an Auteur.
Conveying the Filmmakers personal vision of the world
This means a Director must use their views and experiences to create a “distinctive visual style” (Anon, n.d, https://brianair.wordpress.com/film-theory/auteur-theory/). This should be portrayed through the use of mis-en-scene. A director must also have a distinctive editing and sound to their films.
Similar Narrative starter and Character Functions
Throughout a directors career they must use similar narrative structures for their films. They must also use similar characters in their films, especially characters that have the same personality traits. If these are met effectively the audience should recognise the film to be a certain director’s film without originally knowing.
Similar Crew and Cast
Another trait of a true Auteur is that they use the same, or similar crews and casts on each of their films. Retaining the ability to fully control them, in creative and technology terms.
Gibson pursues a firm linear narrative, sprinkled with flashbacks, contained within period drama settings combined with lavish layers of violence that the protagonist has to either instigate or endure to overcome or overpower the portrayed villain in the film. As the BFI (British Film Institute) stated “Gibson’s yen for gruesome period violence”(Anon, n.d.) is continued after Braveheart with The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto. However on quite the opposite note, Gibson uses religion to guide the protagonist, as in Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson, 2016) when the young Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is lead by a force connecting his previous actions of beating his brother in a fight, and the immediate future of being beaten by his father, to give into the 10 commandments towering above him on the wall. Which ultimately leads to the plot twist later in the film.
Throughout his films Mel uses similar crew members holding them with very high regard to their skill level and having optimistic exceptions but expressing them in quite a basic form. This reflects Mel’s own words talking about James Horner, who composed the score for three of Gibson’s film. “James Horner…one of the best…he’s gonna do the best score of his whole life” (Pop Culture Pandora, 2015).
Scene Analysis, Early Period: Braveheart
Towards the end of Gibson’s second directing effort, Braveheart, William Wallace has been captured by his sworn enemies the English, specifically King Edward II(Patrick McGoohan) who had killed the love of his life Murron (Catherine McCormack) earlier in the action-infused period drama. In the opening to the scene, Wallace is seen from a low angled shot, showing he is holding the power at this point in the scene, while he prays to his God asking for strength for the violent death he has foreshadowed for himself. To confirm this foreshadowing the light streaming down from the sky, in the background of the shot is, not aimed at Gibson’s character, this suggesting God is no longing watching or protecting the character.
The character is then carted to a crucifixion cross-shaped execution table where he is strapped down like Christ was strapped and bound to the cross, similarly to the famous death scene in the Bible. The unfolding scene quickly turns into a torture of Wallace, using extremely exaggerated violence from the English with the aim to break Wallace’s faith in his country, this symbolising the Roman’s efforts the break Jesus’s faith while he was dying on the cross. Wallace’s dying screams are “Freedom” (William Wallace) this is freedom not only for him now he has escaped from the world he hated being in after the death of Murron, but also freedom for his people and for Scotland from the English. Gibson is suggesting that Wallace is a Jesus character, giving up his life to save his faith and country.
Scene Analysis, Mid Period: The Passion of the Christ
After Gibson’s long break from the directing chair, he returned with one of his most controversial films, The Passion of the Christ. The scene, in which Jesus of Nazareth (Jim Caviezel) is crucified, opens with a flashback to the protagonist Jesus, preaching to his followers. The opening establishes that Jesus has accepted the death he has foreshadowed for himself. In the following shots, we see Jesus is determined to reach the summit. After reaching the summit, another flashback shows Jesus preaching that he is the only one who can allow himself to die and to be brought back, this acts as foreshadowing for the plot twist at the end of the film. Jesus is then forced upon his cross lying on the floor, allowing for the torture like treatment to unfold afterward. The graphic, almost unwatchable violence that proceeds show that his enemies are trying to break his faith. The scene ends with Jesus condemning his spirit, symbolically accepting the sins of everyone.
Scene Analysis, Contemporary Period: Hacksaw Ridge
After another long break from the directing chair and in fact the film industry altogether, Gibson made his return with a less controversial film, Hacksaw Ridge. This felt less like a normal Mel Gibson film, with the lack of certain scenes and regular shots seen in his previous films.The film has periods of gory violence and it is steeped in religious tones throughout. However, in the ending scene of the film, we see Desmond Doss eventually injured after protecting his comrades from a grenade. This monument is almost symbolic of Gibson fall from grace in 2006. The following actions show Doss losing his bible, which to the character is like a form of torture. Doss doesn’t rest till he has regained possession of the book. He is then lifted down off the ridge, but with the camera movement, it shows Doss ascending into the white clouds above, symbolic of heaven. This is where the film doesn’t fully fit with the Gibson style, as the protagonist would normally die and enter the kingdom of Heaven.
In conclusion, Mel Gibson would appear to uphold many of Truffaut’s Auteur theories criteria. With Gibson repeatedly using a similar style and having a clear vision for the point he is trying to covary to his audiences. After each break from directing Gibson appears to have reviewed his stance on directing, changing small elements of how he approaches the film. With his last break, after Apocalypto, changing he stance a lot, this would imply that Gibson is not an Auteur. On the other hand, the heavy use of regions and quite strong sections of extreme violence would suggest he was.
Throughout his film Gibson uses broadly the same personnel in his crew, often talking of them in high regard. The protagonist of his film are often similar and Gibson tends to be able to see himself in them, this also implies that there are segments of his film-making that are up to Auteur standard.
Throughout this study, there has been a large religious element from Gibson’s childhood. I have often been intrigued by how religion affects people and vice vera. I’ve learned that religion has a massive effect on people from where they live to what school they go to. As of a result of this, I am keen to pursue a film that experiments with religion and how it effects on people. Specifically, the extremes people go to to keep within their religion’s rules. I’ve also learned about violence in films, how too much can damage a scene but how sometimes you need the violence to covary your message, like the extreme violence in The Passion’s crucifixion scene.
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