Mel Gibson battles his demons–with a hand puppet
Art imitates life in Jodie Foster’s “The Beaver,” a well-meaning drama that attempts to say something substantial about depression and mental illness but doesn’t quite know how to get its message across—which is a pity, because you can’t find a more suitable actor in the role of the movie’s tormented protagonist than Mel Gibson.
Toy company executive, Walter Black (Gibson), has been in the doldrums for some time now. And, even his family has had enough of his inexplicable mood swings. So, torn between love and self-preservation, his wife, Meredith (Foster), asks Walter to leave their house, before his condition manifests its adverse effects on their children, Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart).
But, just as he’s about to give up, Walter finds his unexpected “salvation”—in a Cockney-speaking beaver hand puppet that drowns out his destructive thoughts, then eventually irons out all the kinks in his troubled life!
Meredith and Porter are understandably wary of the unconventional “therapeutic tool” Walter utilizes as a quick-fix solution to his psychological problems. But, they grudgingly play along with it, especially after it resuscitates Walter’s joie de vivre and strengthens his relationship with Henry. Problem is, the Beaver seems to have completely taken over Walter’s persona—even during “intimate” moments with his wife!
As director, Foster handles emotionally charged scenes well, even when there’s hardly any dialogue exchanged. It’s these dynamic and volatile relationships that make the movie watchable, despite its shaky premise.
Unfortunately, the production leaves many unanswered questions about Walter’s back story, and makes viewers “imagine” crucial details on their own that could have clued them in on his predicament—so much for character motivation and clear storytelling.
Moreover, a side story involving Porter’s budding relationship with Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), the class valedictorian, requires viewers to suspend disbelief that the smartest girl on campus is incapable of writing her own graduation speech!
The film underscores the importance of medical treatment for patients with mental illness who manifest psychotic symptoms, because they could prove harmful to the people around them—you can’t just sweep them under the rug and wish for the problem to go away!
Other good reasons to see “The Beaver” are the insightful and instructive performances of Gibson and Foster, who displays her Oscar-worthy acting chops in a scene toward the end of the movie.
It’s interesting to note that in his 20s, and especially in films like “Tim,” “Gallipoli” and “The Year of Living Dangerously,” it was hard to see beyond Gibson’s physical “beauty” and potent masculine appeal. But, now that he’s past his prime, his dramatic acumen continues to see him through the difficult times—now, that’s talent!
Besides, if a former crackhead like Robert Downey Jr. can turn his life around and reinvent himself as a clean-living box-office star at age 43, why can’t the multitalented, 55-year-old Mel?
You may not like Gibson for his shocking sins of commission and for the bigoted views that spew out of his mouth during moments of inebriation, but the guy doubtless knows how to tap into Walter’s tormented soul—and his. As his thespic skills continue to unravel, he makes it easier for moviegoers to hate the sin, not the sinner.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.