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The Beaver

The core idea of having Mel Gibson play a middle-aged man who attempts to self manage his depression by communicating through a beaver hand puppet sounds absurd but it’s the element of this odd film that works best. From Max Mad to Lethal Weapon even to Hamlet, Gibson has had a long career of playing ‘crazy’, but his performance as Walter Black in The Beaver is one of restraint, suggesting a genuine understanding of how depression makes people completely shut down.
Directed by Jodie Foster, who also plays Walter’s wife Meredith, The Beaver is most successful when focused on the smaller details concerning the nature of depression, the effect Walter’s depression has on his family and its hereditary nature. In this regard, it’s a sensitive and non-judgmental film that neither romanticizes Walter’s condition nor indulges it. Walter is going through hell for reasons beyond his control, but the film recognizes that his suffering also affects those around him and that his family’s anger and pain is understandable. By assigning himself a ‘prescription puppet’ rather than seeking legitimate professional help, Walter finds a short-term solution that is certainly portrayed in the film as something amusing and fun, but not without ever fully removing the suggestion that something about this is not quite right.
The irony here, however, is that it’s because of Gibson’s personal woes that his starring role in The Beaver is so desperate, poignant and strangely comical. Gibson embodies Walter Black, a man on the verge of losing himself completely to the abyss of depression. Interestingly, Walter’s vegetative existence is not a result of his life lacking anything – he is, or was, a well-to-do toy executive with a healthy family — but rather an inexplicable, seemingly inescapable numbness that one day drew the curtains and refused to reopen them. His broken-hearted wife Meridith (Foster) wants nothing more than to see her once-loving husband return, but in a bid to prevent his self-implosion from scarring their two sons, teenager Porter (Anton Yelchin) and youngster Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), she holds back her tears long enough to kick Walter out of the house.
The Beaver is a return to form for Mel Gibson and wonderful example of Jodie Foster’s great eye for directing, The Beaver makes for a creative portrayal of mental illness, and of family life around those who live in the dark, reaching a fine balance of drama and comedy.

Currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon.

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