Review: Surfing with Mel
by Gail Deibler Finke
Published last year as an e-book, Matthew Lickona’s literary film script about Mel Gibson and writer Joe Estzterhas is now available as a limited-edition art book from Labora Editions.
Based on a letter to Gibson by Eszterhas that described a bizarre few days at Gibson’s house in Costa Rica in great detail, the short, obscenity-riddled “story in script form” imagines the two men’s time together as an independent film, possibly one directed by the Coen Brothers.
The story turns the real-life fight between the two real, larger-than-life Hollywood Catholics over a script for a movie based on the Maccabees into a battle over souls, the fate of humanity, and the best way to serve God.
Almost every sentence is over the top, yet it feels as if it’s an x-ray into the thoughts and souls of two men struggling with their own pasts, their own fathers, and each other. The Ironic Catholic called it a story “about two religious and sinful men trying to do the right thing: one who doesn’t know what that is, and another who perhaps does, but cannot do it.”
Darkly funny and intensely moving, it’s a hard book to peg, more Flannery O’Connor than Father Brown.
While making Mel Gibson out to be a maniac, it also manages to make him weirdly sympathetic, and gradually his many bizarre, anti-semitic, and tortured outbursts begin to sound uncomfortably like the truth. He sees himself as a Judah Maccabee doing his movie for God, but acts like King David, and his infamous rantings about the Jews become curse-filled but profound and uncomfortable ruminations about salvation. The men’s differing views on what God wants from the Jews and from the Gentiles make it impossible for them to work — or do anything else — together.
“I don’t make movies about what people will fight for. I make movies about what people will die for,” Gibson says, in a scene outlining the movie he wants to make — which is not at all the movie Eszterhas wants to make. “The Maccabees didn’t die for the freedom to workshop God. They died for God, period.”
“No one wants that movie,” Eszterhas tells him.
“Everyone wants that movie,” Gibson answers.
Which one is right? Which movie do you want to see?
Lickona, Matthew. Surfing with Mel: a Story in Script Form by Matthew Lickona based upon a Story in Epistolary Form by Joe Eszterhas regarding A Failed Film Project by Mel Gibson based upon The Book of Maccabees by God. Korrectiv Press, 2012; available as a 99-cent Kindle download at Amazon.com or as a $27 limited-edition, hand-printed art book from Labora Editions.
Gail Deibler Finke is an freelance writer, author, and the Senior Editor of The Catholic Beat.
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