Thursday, July 5, 2012

When the private life overwhelms the public persona - Is Tom Cruise about to become the next Mel Gibson?

I don't generally discuss gossip, so I'm going to do my best to keep this film-centric.  First and foremost, there is bitter irony that this is all occurring just as Tom Cruise has reaffirmed his movie stardom.  Seven years ago, his box office bankability was put in severe doubt due to the beginning of his courtship of Ms. Katie Holmes.  Now, just as Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol has reaffirmed both his box office muscle and his dedication to a certain level of mainstream quality, the end of this relationship may torpedo his career all over again, be it temporarily or permanently.  Now of course the film that Mr. Cruise was promoting back in June of 2005 when he performed his famous couch-jumping was Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, which went on to earn $234 million in the US and $591 million worldwide, making it Cruise's highest grossing film ever on both levels (M:I4 eclipsed it worldwide last year with $693 million).  In the years that followed, we had a somewhat under-performing franchise sequel (Mission: Impossible III with $133m domestic and $397m worldwide on a $160m budget), a political drama that was never going to be a blockbuster (Lions For Lambs, which earned $15 million in the US but $63 million worldwide on a $35 million budget), an over-budgeted but well-reviewed potboiler (Valkyrie, which cost $90 million and earned $200 million worldwide), and Knight and Day, a $117 million action comedy with Cameron Diaz that still earned $261 million worldwide.  So, coupled with a crowd-pleasing cameo in Tropic Thunder, the idea that Tom Cruise had lost his luster was more about public relations and alienating some of his more casual fans than any real loss of box office mojo.  But this may be different...

*IF* Tom Cruise is an in-the-closet gay man, and I am not privy to anything beyond the rumors we've all heard, it's hard to argue that coming out or being outed back in 2005 would have done any more damage to his reputation than he has inflicted upon himself over the last several years.  The common line is that Cruise basically recruited Katie Holmes to be his public beard after there was reason to believe that he was about to be outed as a homosexual (if I avoid details, it's because I don't want to get into third-hand gossip). The question becomes whether those who were indeed weird-ed out by his post-2005 antics (the couch jumping, the Matt Lauer interview, etc.) would have been equally turned off by the revelation that he was gay.  Sure, I suppose it could be argued that such a revelation could have hurt his career in the 1990s, when he was at his commercial and artistic peaks, and when he was still viewed as a cinema heartthrob. The insane speculation over whether Anne Heche could convincingly romance Harrison Ford onscreen in Six Days Seven Nights back in 1998 certainly adds fuel to that fire.  But by 2005, did anyone still see Cruise as a matinee idol?  Did the kids of 2005 have posters of Tom Cruise on their walls?  And even if they did, to what extent would his coming-out effect his crush-worthy status?  On this I can only speculate, as we've never had a mega star come out as gay/lesbian at the peak of their career.  I can only say personally that my prurient interest in Anne Heche, Portia De Rossi, and Jodie Foster faltered little as speculation or confirmation of their lesbianism came to light.  Since the idea of fantasizing about movie stars is partially about lusting for the unattainable, the knowledge that Cruise (or today's equivalent - Robert Pattinson, Channing Tatum, and/or Chris Hemsworth) was into guys would only slightly alter that fantasy.

But that's a paragraph-long tangent based on speculation and rumor.  Let's presume for a moment that Tom Cruise isn't gay and he just, for whatever reason, fired his longtime publicist in 2005 and basically cracked open his carefully-constructed public persona for reasons unknown. The damage that this divorce could do to his career is actually far worse than the aftermath of any couch-jumping antics.  It stands to reason that Holmes will probably give interviews and/or write a very successful book based on her seven-year relationship with Cruise.  At the very least we'll finally find out why Holmes ended up not returning as Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight, as there has never been an official explanation given.  At worst we'll likely receive confirmation regarding many of the more far-fetched stories regarding Holmes' home-life married to the world's most famous (and outspoken) Scientologist.  And if these relative horror stories are confirmed, what does *that* do to Tom Cruise's stardom and/or box office bankability?  His future box office draw is almost immaterial, in that he's 50 years old and nobody stays on top forever.  But what if it turns out that Tom Cruise is truly crazy? What if Tom Cruise, be he gay or hetero, is an obsessive, paranoid, borderline insane control freak who basically kept his wife as a prisoner in her own life for six years either for his own desires or due to the perceived demands of his religion?  In short, what if Tom Cruise becomes the next Mel Gibson?

Like Cruise (and Hanks, Ford, and Roberts), Mel Gibson's stardom had peaked in 2000.  So the idea that Mel Gibson will never return to the commercial heights of Signs, What Women Want, or Lethal Weapon 3 isn't so much a tragedy as an inevitability.  But with years and years of evidence surrounding his mental state, and the apparent rage-induced outbursts that go with it, it is beyond clear that Mr. Gibson is a seriously disturbed individual.  The level of genuine psychological damage, often showing itself through Anti-Semitic, racist, and misogynistic rants, frankly makes it that much harder to watch, let alone enjoy his prior films.  While I saw Edge of Darkness upon its theatrical release (because I'm a Martin Campbell junkie) and I attended a press screening of The Beaver (because I'm a Jodie Foster junkie), I haven't watched a Mel Gibson film purely for recreation in well-over half-a-decade.  It's not out of some moral outrage and the end-result won't be a grand tragedy.  It's just not as much fun to watch Gibson's work when you know that his 'happy-crazy' shtick (which once made him a wonderfully entertaining talk show guest) is really a mask for some hardcore human pain and possible mental illness.  In cases such as this, ignorance is indeed bliss.  If Tom Cruise isn't gay, then perhaps the coming public meltdown was inevitable.  But if he is gay, and the attempts to hide this fact was the primary motivation for much of his personal behavior over the last decade or so, then it stands to reason that coming out of the closet would have been the less harmful option in regards to maintaining his popularity and preserving his film legacy.

Tom Cruise was a pioneering star in a number of ways, using his early capitol to work with the very best directors (Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Oliver Stone, Barry Levinson, Brian DePalma, etc.) long before that was the 'cool' thing to do and continuing to do so as his popularity grew.  His 31-year career has produced a shockingly low number of truly bad films, with almost none post-Days of Thunder in 1990.  He has provided career boosts to Aaron Sorkin, Cameron Crowe, Paul Thomas Anderson, J.J. Abrams, and Brad Bird while extending the commercial lifespan of Brian DePalma, John Woo, Michael Mann, and Bryan Singer.  Long story short, I fear that the day may soon come when Tom Cruise's legacy will not be primarily about his many contributions to popular mainstream cinema but rather his rather sordid personal life and private actions.  While no great tragedy in the grand scheme of things, it would be disheartening as Mr. Cruise is set to enter what should have been a fascinating final act of his storied career.

Okay, your turn to share.  If Cruise is gay, would the damage of his coming out been greater or less than the PR damage he has sustained since 2005 and perhaps will sustain in the near-future?  If it's revealed that all of the horror stories involving his marriage to Katie Holmes are true, will that affect how you view his films in the future and his past work?  What are your thoughts on conflating the private life with the public art of a given performer?

Scott Mendelson


corysims said...

You raise some interesting questions that I might have to consider, when it comes to if I could view another Cruise film in the future. He headlines my all-time favorite Spielberg film (Minority Report). It would be a complete shame on my end if I wasn't able to divorce his personal life with his professional life when I watch Minority Report. I'm not going to call it a conundrum just yet, but...

You bring up Mel Gibson which is a great example because recently, I purchased the Lethal Weapon blu ray set last week after years of waiting for a proper edition of that series. And, considering where Mel is in his public persona, I still had a blast watching that series and Braveheart recently. Yet, I can't deny that his antics were in the back of my mind.

...and like you, I want to know why Holmes wasn't in the Dark Knight. To this day, considering where her career was at during that time, it made no professional sense for her NOT to be in that film. As a fan of Holmes (minority, I think), I want to know. And frankly, I want Katie Holmes back to where I thought her career was headed.

Considering the other rumors about Cruise I've read online, Cruise better hope and pray Ms. Holmes stays quiet.

obthavariable said...

Speaking for myself, I'll say that I will continue to be a Tom Cruise fan, come what may. That's not to say I will keep a blind eye to his antics, or forgive him for any morally-questionable tendencies he's practiced due to his religion, especially in relation to his daughter, but I will certainly be able to separate his public persona and any details that come out about his private life from the roles he plays and the work he produces. That others may do the same is very iffy, but that's up to them. Yes, I do believe that coming out as gay, if indeed he is, was better suited to occur back then than it is now, but I don't think that said coming out would have done less PR-damage because that's taking on the notion that him coming out would have taken place instead of the other antics, which I don't believe would have been the case. It simply would have been something else about his personal life we would have known about. It's also assuming that the public would have taken him being gay as the excuse for the way he behaves, because that's definitely not the case. It's not like his behavior would/will be dismissed as "that's just him being gay." At large, the public simply has a distrust for behavioral deviance, and they mask that distrust with mocking and/or hatred, no matter the sexual orientation, race, or gender of the person. At the end of the day, no matter his religious beliefs and odd behavior, at least his past is not marked with any hints that he's racist, misogynistic, or homophobic, the last of which would have turned out to be hypocritical if it's true that he's gay. For the record, I don't think he's gay, and I won't even comment on "if he is gay, then" because I just won't believe it until it's comfirmed.

Qwertz said...

IF Cruise is a homosexual, THEN CoS [Church of Scientology] knows. Auditing lends itself to rooting out such things. It shares a number of methods with interrogation techniques. Repetition of a statement until it loses meaning. Encouragement to confess deep secrets. IF Cruise is gay, his auditor knows it.

IF CoS knows Cruise is gay, THEN Cruise began his public advocacy for the Church as a bargain with the Church- Cruise will promote and defend the Church in the public sphere in exchange for the Church's cooperation in keeping his homosexuality a secret. Cruise believes (or at least believed back when he jumped that couch) that a revaluation of his sexuality would damage his career. Scientology (L Ron in particular) is not a fan of the gays. They had a chit to use against thin, and he went along. Keep my horrible secret, and I'll throw my star power behind the Church. As long as the Church keeps the secret, Cruise will have star power to lend it.

IF Cruise has been shilling for CoS so CoS will keep his secret, THEN when Cruise realizes that his secret will not hurt his career if it comes out, he will break with the church. At least, this is what I sincerely hope for him. And it is why I cannot bring myself to criticize him too harshly. I feel for him. I've thought ever since that Oprah episode that Cruise was a man trapped between Scylla and Charybdis. When he realizes Charybdis is an illusion (c.f. Anderson Cooper), I hope he has enough sense left to break, and break hard, with Scylla.

Erlend Lunde Holbek said...

Tom Cruise is not gay. At least not entirely. He has been a movie star for over 30 years, which would make most people psychotic. Not saying it's ok, just saying it happens. People shouldn't be shocked by the rumours about Cruise, just like people shouldn't be shocked about the things that have come out about John Travolta, Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods or Nic Cage, or Winona Ryder back in the day.
Tom Cruise is a tremendeously talented actor, something I really didn't realize until a year or so ago. And he's immediately likeable in a way the previously mentioned people aren't, which leads me to suspect that I'll enjoy his work far too much for far too long, no matter how this turns out.

Leah said...

I do not think that people care so much about him being gay or not. If he is and does not want to come out of the closet, this is his, and only his, decision. The disturbing aspect of this story is that Tom Cruise is a follower of this dumb celebrity sect. Don’t we suffer enough because of traditional religions already? I like Cruise, but I do think that he must be somewhat dumb as well or an opportunist. Also, has Scientology, more than his own lucky career choices, been the artificer of his long-lasting professional life? This damages him more than the alleged homosexuality.

Collindysart said...

His work in Magnolia was superb. You do not find Days of Thunder to be a guilty pleasure? Nicole Kidman plays a brain surgeon who does not wear a helmet on a motorcycle. Priceless.

Ananna said...

I think the bigger issue for Cruise is not the 'gay' issue. His public persona has taken a hit in the past few weeks due to his close relationship with a highly controversial and unpopular 'religion'. In 2005, with the couch jumping and the Matt Lauer interview, he brought a renewed spotlight onto Scientology, which then quickly died down. This was either due to his own interest in preserving his star image, or the 'religion's' attempt to deflect any negative attention. Either way, the "Scientology is a crazy cult" reduced significantly . He got married, had a kid, made movies, no problem.

In the past couple of weeks, the crazed speculation about his role in an extremely controversial religion and the impact that may have had on his wife and daughter have come to light in a massive way. Far from simply gossip blogs and magazines covering it, the stories and issues have been picked up not only by trusted industry publications (case in point: The Hollywood Reporter) but also by the mainstream press, with major newspapers across the US and other countries covering it in detail.

This, I fear will be the bigger issue for Cruise. As more details about the religion and its practices emerge, can Cruise's career really rebound from an extremely widespread public perception that he is an unhinged senior member of a cult? I'm not so sure. Of course it's possible that he could disassociate himself from Scientology, at least in public, and take on a few serious roles over the next couple of years to dismiss such an occurrence.


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