So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?
(SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2, an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory, in which “A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one”?
Jerry Fletcher: I mean, if you can prove it, it means they screwed up somewhere along the line.
You’ll probably have heard the key Mel quote, one supposedly told to green room attendees of The Graham Norton Show in 2018, whereby Hollywood is “drenched in the blood of innocent children” and it operates “institutionalised paedophilia”. They “harvest the energy of the kids. They feast on this stuff and thrive on it… They harvest the blood of children. They eat their flesh. They believe this gives them the life force. If the child was suffering in body and psyche before it died, they believe this gives them extra life force”. Now, Mel may believe this (and the substance may be true) and he may have told people something similar, and “his” words have certainly become much passed-around fodder for the undiscerning conspiracist (or even maker of semi-professional looking YouTube docs) in the post-adrenochrome environment, but the source of “his” statement is rarely scrutinised in the rush to cite him as evidence.
Because the now defunct YourNewsWire, like its inheritor site News Punch, was very fond of refurbishing essentially the same story about Hollywood paedos and their activities at intervals, but attributing them to different celebs who may or may not be considered fringe types and therefore more likely to nurse more believable opinions of what’s really going on. So on the one hand, Mel, Macauley and Keanu are reported to have told similar tales (mind you, Mac and his band would insert pizza into the lyrics of well-known songs, so make of that what you will, while Keanu has been known to throw occult hand signals openly on Jimmy Fallon). On the less credible end of the spectrum, there are likes of Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman (perhaps the latter case was purposely taking the piss, given the alleged activities of her infamously accused father). The motive of the fake news sites? One might charitably suggest they’re trying to shine a light on the reality of the situation. Which isn’t to consider the consequences when the credulous cite disinfo as proof, particularly when the likes of Chris Cornell quite possibly stand as evidence of what happens when someone in the system really does try to speak out.
Jerry Fletcher: To be normal, to drink Coca-Cola and eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, is to be in a conspiracy against yourself.
It’s a fair bet, though, that whatever litany of sins Mel is guilty of, adrenochrome addiction isn’t among them. While his charge sheet is unenviable, there’s a certain credibility in being a Hollywood pariah. At the time of Conspiracy Theory, though, his star was at its peak, even if the picture itself was an underperformer ($137m on an $80m budget is nothing to shout about, although the expense of an extensive New York location shoot is all up there on screen). It’s notable that Mel’s likely favourite conspiracy angle (given his “crime-without-equal” Holocaust-denying dad – who died this year at 101 – and alleged statements at the time of his 2011 arrest) is conspicuously absent. But then, there’s no Flat Earth either. Or plandemics. There’s plenty of still-timely fodder in the movie, though, even if most of the juicy stuff comes during the opening credits monologue – apparently improvised by Gibson, which is entirely believable – as Gibson’s Jerry Fletcher bombards a succession of fares with his insights into what is really going on.
Jerry Fletcher: You think you’re living in a free country? You think this is a democracy? Of course, it’s not.
There are references in there that are on the more obscure side, but none of them are made up per se, just embellished a little. Jerry relates how, on July 8 1979, semen samples of all Nobel Prize winners’ fathers were taken at gunpoint; threats aside, Germinal Choice was the actual sperm bank designed for his purpose, “to fill the world with genius offspring”. Allegedly, this inspired – if you can call it that – Jeffrey Epstein’s plan to seed the human race with his DNA. The bank ran from, yes, 1979 to 1999. Next up is Brigadier General Jack D Ripper’s favourite:
Jerry Fletcher: You know what they put in the water, don’t you? Fluoride. On the pretext that it strengthens your teeth. Ridiculous. You know what this stuff does to you? It actually weakens your will, takes away the capacity for free and creative thought and makes you a slave to the State.
Admittedly, mention of calcification of the pineal gland would have been game, set and match, but that’s pretty good going nonetheless. Then there are militia groups, which are really the UN: “When the time comes, they’ll just take over, and we’ll be toast”. Yeah, that one’s reaching a bit, but with George Souros funding insurrectionists as we speak, the essence isn’t so outlandish. Jerry further debates the reasoning for ads telling you to eat beef or drink milk, which feels a little They Live! (“Consume”).
Jerry Fletcher: I mean, George Bush knew what he was saying when he said “new world order”. You remember those fatal words “new world order”? Well, he was a thirty-third degree mason, you know, and an ex-director of the CIA.
Now, this is an interesting one. Mel had waxed lyrical on his theme of who is really in control prior to the picture, most notably in a 1995 Playboy interview conducted by Lawrence Grobel:
Gibson: The guy who’s in charge isn’t going to be the front man, ever. If I were going to be calling the shots I wouldn’t make an appearance. Would you? You’d end up losing your head. It happens all the time… If he’s the leader, he’s getting shafted. What’s keeping him in there? Why would you stay for that kind of abused? Except that he has to stay for some reason. He was meant to be the President thirty years ago, if you ask me.
Grobel: He was just eighteen then.
Gibson: Somebody knew then that he would be President now.
Grobel: You really believe that?
Gibson: I really believe that. He was a Rhodes scholar, right… Cecil Rhodes established the Rhodes scholarship for those young men and women who want to strive for a new world order. Have you heard that before George Bush? CIA? Really, it’s Marxism, but it just doesn’t want to call itself that. Karl had the right idea, but he was too forward about saying what it was. Get power but don’t admit to it. Do it by stealth.
Words that would warm the cockles of any self-respecting conspiracy theorist’s heart (of course, Gibson recanted somewhat a little later, as one does if one wants to continue surfing the wave). But lest we ascribe omniscience to Mel as a consequence of such insights, he didn’t vote for Trump (popularly proclaimed as the only one ever who hadn’t been prescribed beforehand), although he’s said some appreciative things about him, and he did vote for Dubya. He what? How could he do such a thing, when he knows what he knows about his dad? Perhaps he just thought him the lesser of two evils (notably, Jerry has a Clinton file in his apartment, and Mel surely wanted no truck with Gore). Come 2004, Gibson was voicing his doubts on the legitimacy of the Iraq War (like, you think Mel?) but insisting, despite this, that a lot of what Dubya had done in his term had been “good”. Doesn’t really compute, does it? In 2011, he was back to cynical disdain: “Why should we trust any of these people? None of them ever deliver on anything. It’s always disappointing”. Which is a relief.
Jerry Fletcher: … but you know, somebody’s got to lift the scab, the festering scab that is the Vatican.
One dear to Hutton Gibson’ heart. Mel’s Dad had a very outspoken take on the Pope’s legitimacy. Like Jerry, he produced a (quarterly) newsletter (The War is Now!, with a particular angle of critiquing the modern Catholic church). We’ve had a fair few scandals relating to Vatican cover ups over the last couple of decades, and I think it’s fair to assume that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As it goes, Hutton also had strong views on the US federal government and public debt, and on 9/11.
Jerry Fletcher: I mean, it’s only a small, logical step until they start putting it in us and our children, and then, before we know it. Oh my God, they’ll probably come with the pretext…
I’d love to know where Jerry/Mel was going with the inevitable chipping of us all – following on from our pets. What kind of pretext would it come with? That it’s for our own good? For our safety? Such as combating an invisible disease ravaging the globe? Jerry also refers to tracking chips in new hundred-dollar bills (better just to ditch the physical money, then you’ve got total tracking) and black helicopters (“They’re everywhere”). We also hear him listening to a tape asserting “Jack Ruby didn’t kill Lee Harvey Oswald”. On which subject, back to Mel’s Playboy interview:
Gibson: There’s something to do with the Federal Reserve that Lincoln did, Kennedy did and Reagan tried. I can’t remember what it was, but my dad told me about it. Everyone who did this particular thing that would have fixed the economy got undone. Anyway, I’ll end up dead if I keep talking shit.
Not so crazy, although, being Mel, I expect he was being a little sardonic there. But then, a decade later, he was talking up Dubya… As Jerry says, “I’m only paranoid because they want me dead”. And on the subject of the Kennedys, Jackie’s subsequent husband Aristotle Onassis features in Jerry’s suggestion that Vietnam was fought on the basis of a bet between Howard Hughes and the shipping magnate. Well, in that regard, there’s the Gemstone File, suggesting Onassis had Hughes kidnapped in 1957 and held prisoner while he took over his financial affairs. And Vietnam does figure into that whole theory (Onassis had JFK killed due to his reticence regarding war in the country).
Alice Sutton: So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake.
Once we’re into the movie proper, it’s inevitably necessary to dilute real conspiracy theories with invented ones, so as to make the overall picture seem mild and inoffensive. Hence Jerry’s claim that there have been “Six major earthquakes in the last three and a half years, and the space shuttle has been up in orbit for every single one of them”. Leaving aside the nature of outer space, Jerry’s onto something with his suggestions of weather control beneath a ludicrous exterior (this is, of course, the era of The X-Files leading the way in misleading mainstream conspiracies… and of Oliver Stone).
Jerry Fletcher: You know why the Grateful Dead are always on tour?... Because they’re all British agents, intelligence agents. They’re spies. Jerry Garcia himself has a double-0 ranking, just like James Bond.
Garcia has certainly been linked to MKUltra and the CIA (Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon). As to “That’s what they want you to think” in response to Alice’s “Jerry Garcia’s dead?” see a rollcall of John Lennon, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Jim Morrison, Chris Cornell and many more for suggested members of the “rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated” club, although depending on the individual for sometimes antithetical reasons (the Kennedy family’s longevity is also under scrutiny at the moment, along with Di’s and almost anyone else you care to mention).
Jerry Fletcher: That’s why they, they start when you’re young, y’know. When you’re little they, at school they, they Baden-Powell all the boys and they Betty Crocker all the girls, and they, then they air condition ya’ and put ya’ in the Heat N’ Bake Oven and ya’ can’t breathe any more.
Jerry’s apartment attests to his wide-ranging interests in the conspiracy field, presided over by a poster of Lennon. There’s a pamphlet on the Trilateral Commission “American’s New Secret Government” and namechecks for Operation Highjump (Rear Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition, allegedly repelled by Nazi UFOs), Alternative Three (the 70s “revelation” of off-world human colonies via the brain drain, in particular on Mars) and more prosaically The Forgotten Fifteenth (the daring airmen who crippled Hitler’s War Machine, it says here). Jerry’s newsletter meanwhile is very ET/space focussed per three of its four headline stories: The Truth About UFOs; The Space Shuttle’s Seismic Secret; The Oliver Stone-George Bush Connection; Alien Faces on Mars. One might conjecture the first was a debunk if not that the face on Mars suggests credulity, and if we didn’t know the earthquake angle might suggest the shuttle was a scam, although it could be a veiled reference to the Challenger conspiracy (I didn’t notice any Moon landings literature). The Stone-Bush one is a goldmine, though: “Oh yeah. Sure. I mean, he’s their spokesman”.
Jerry Fletcher: Yeah. You think if anyone had the information that he’s got, and had a national podium to shout it from that they’d actually let him do it? No, it’s quite clear that he’s a disinformation junkie for them. The fact that he’s still alive says it all. I mean, he probably should be dead, but he’s not.
And it is a good line of reasoning. That Stone, who parodied his conspiratorial bent in Dave, should then make vanilla, determinedly lack-of-waves-making dramas from material overripe for conspiracy thinking – W., the actual George Bush connection, World Trade Centre, as well as the entirely uncontroversial Snowden (the only interesting thing about that one would have been suggesting he’s still CIA) – rather lends support to Jerry’s thesis. Indeed, when Stone got round to his The Untold History of the United States, he entirely failed to mention the now widely-known advanced knowledge of Pearl Harbour. In the alternative field, a similar charge is commonly levelled at David Icke (usually including his lizards theory, one he now tends to avoid mentioning, as an intentional gaffe, such that the entire movement can be instantly ridiculed through him; it’s certainly a take that holds up in terms of say Peter Hitchens distancing himself from any notion that Icke is occupying similar territory in relation to opposition to the plandemic, although I tend to the more lenient reading of Icke as simply flawed… mayb he’s just promoting the Great Barrington Declaration on the basis that it’s better than nothing).
Alice Sutton: They?
Jerry Fletcher: There’s lots of groups, actually. Lots of initials. CIA, FBI, IMF, you name it. They. But they’re part of the same two opposing factions.
Alice Sutton: Which are?
Jerry Fletcher: Which are one. One. Some of them are really, really wealthy families. Their thing is to maintain stability. That’s what they call it. The other is Eisenhower’s industrial-military complex. And they want instability, so they say.
Alice Sutton: So you’re saying that group is warring with group two?
Jerry Fletcher: Yes, at some levels. But at others, it’s the same group. It’s scary! It’s hand and glove. Cold wars, hot wars. They sit back and watch the whole damn show.
When it comes to the grand overarching theory, Jerry has a pretty good take on it all too, with nominally oppositional groups that are the same at some levels. This is reflected in various actual takes on Elite control and secret societies (some sharing Luciferian agendas, some not). Of course, Jerry can throw this out there in a movie like this because it’s unclear which things he’s saying are supposed to stick and which are supposed to be his overactive imagination.
Hence, good guy Agent Lowry (Cylk Cozart) who works for an unspecified agency, “the uncle no one ever talks about”; per Enemy of the State, the following year’s far-superior surveillance-state thriller, the mainstream Hollywood narrative requires a one-bad-apple approach whenever broaching conspiracy material, such that order can be restored, with just enough truth dropped and no more (promoting plausible deniability, predictive programming, and the idea that the masters need to let us know their plans in order to consider that we have consented).
Jerry Fletcher: I don’t know why, but whenever I see one… I have to buy it. And if I don’t see one… well, I have to find one to buy… so that I can feel normal.
The heart of the picture’s conspiracy, in some respects disappointingly – because Jerry is a legitimate conspiracy theorist on account of being the victim of an actual conspiracy, rather than because he’s just an average joe with “wild” ideas – is all about MKUltra, though, and Jerry having been brainwashed, Manchurian Candidate style. It also means his obsession with Alice isn’t creepy after all – no, really – since his motives for stalking here were pure-hearted. As Alice says “You take an ordinary man and turn him into an assassin” (a “vulgar generalisation” responds Patrick Stewart’s Dr Jonas; Stewart’s a very generic villain here, an Olivier in Marathon Man knock-off).
Jonas has it that the programme ended when John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan (“No, that wasn’t us. But the technique had been stolen”. Again, a necessary misdirection of Hollywood, that even the bad guy – because he’s American government, however out of control – wouldn’t be responsible for such historical acts. Hinckley’s case is actually fairly classic, and per the Jack Ruby reference earlier and more specifically RFK, it’s commonly suggested that the patsies in these operations had no involvement in the actually killing, but rather were programmed to be at the scene, necessarily dazed, to be discovered when the actual perpetrators have completed the task.
Most of the MKUltra content here is fairly run-of-the-mill, then; it quickly becomes clear that Conspiracy Theory has little in the way of edge (director Richard Donner was reportedly disappointed it garnered an R rating, given how tame he considered the content). Indeed, the most inspired part of Brian Helgeland’s screenplay is probably Jerry’s need to buy copies of Catcher in the Rye, because it’s a programming tick (this riffs on both Hinckley and Mark Chapman having copies, and Seven in the act of its purchase signalling a certain dangerous personality type).
Indeed, while Conspiracy Theory is engaging for the performance of Mel, and being pock-marked with conspiracy nuggets, it’s a fairly lacklustre, uninspired picture once it gets into the main plot. There’s never a sufficient sense of threat, despite a couple of strong set pieces (Jerry’s initial escape from Jonas, and then the exit during the SWAT assault on his apartment). There’s little real chemistry with Roberts – Jodie Foster turned the role down, understandably, as the Jerry-Alice dynamic has something of the Travis Bickle-Cybill Shepherd in terms of obsession and Foster’s Iris in terms of gallant protector, along with the baggage of that leading to Hinckley. A bit of a shame, as I can imagine a much stronger, sparring quality arising from her presence. Conspiracy Theory (even the title is pedestrian) feels in some respects like another under par Roberts thriller in the line of The Pelican Brief. Donner doesn’t bring much to the table; it could be another Lethal Weapon as far as he’s concerned (and as the director of The Omen and The Goonies, there’s enough rumoured-related fuel in his history that he might have been expected to bring something first-hand along).
One can but speculate how much of the driving force Gibson was here; probably a significant one, since it represented another teamup with Donner, and the latter had hired Brian Helgeland on the basis of Assassins. Mel had of course, been involved in Air America and Lethal Weapon (both big on covert CIA activities) and would later broach conspiracy territory again with the disparate likes of, Edge of Darkness, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto. Given Jerry’s opening monologue, its open to debate whether Mel came up with hospital room 322 (the address of the Skull and Bones Society at Yale holding the skull of Geronimo, mentioned by Jerry), and popular black ops methods of disposing of someone (“Heart attacks happen”). As for the three names of serial killers/assassins schtick, it occupies a similar space to popular numerology deep dives.
Alice Sutton: This guy’s a restraining order waiting to happen.
No one really minds Gibson’s conspiracy theorising, of course (Evolution: “it’s bullshit… It’s a nice theory, but I can’t swallow it. There’s a big credibility gap”). They mind his “homophobic, misogynistic… Racist, bigoted” language: “I think if you suggest that you find some modes of behaviour unnatural, then you become all those things. And you get vilified. It’s like having people holding signs and trying to spit on you”. This comment came a decade before Twitter, of course. Prophetically, he added “I’ve got to learn to keep my mouth shut”.
Perhaps the out-of-favour Mel of the mid-2000s would have made a less compromised, generic Conspiracy Theory; Edge of Darkness, for all that it pales beside the BBC original, sees its essential story through admirably. Conspiracy Theory wants to land as a big summer splash, but it should have been quirkier, smaller and less beholden to marquee and marketing if it really wanted to make a lasting mark.