They say there are no more original ideas left in Hollywood, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anything like The Beaver. If you’ve seen a film where a man lives vicariously through a beaver puppet on his arm, then you’re more cinematically cultured than I. This is an odd little movie with an inconsistent tone and a subplot that doesn’t gel with the main story, but it’s nevertheless intriguing and easily watchable, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a hopelessly depressed individual. His marriage to Meredith (Jodie Foster) is falling apart and his oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), does everything he can to not be like him. (If Mel Gibson was your father, you’d probably do the same.) Before he retires to a hotel room for the night (after having been kicked out of the house), he throws some of his possessions away in a nearby dumpster. Inside he spots a beaver puppet and is oddly drawn to it, so he snatches it out and heads to the room. After a failed attempt at suicide, he decides to use the puppet to start over and informs his family and friends to address it as if it were him. His name is The Beaver (Mel Gibson’s left hand) and he’s there to save Walter’s life.
I think it’s safe to say that nobody condones the things Mel Gibson has said and done in the past. Frankly, he has become a deplorable person, taking an incredible nose dive after being praised as a beacon of Christianity with his immensely popular film, The Passion of the Christ. But I’m not here to judge the man. I’m here to judge the actor and in that regard, Gibson reaches sheer brilliance. He has always been a talented filmmaker, in front of and behind the camera, but never have I seen him put such veracity into a role. He gives a nuanced performance where even the slightest change in mood is brilliantly expressed, perhaps because the character, who is misunderstood and merely wants to start over, so closely resembles his own life. Regardless, he wonderfully draws out the emotion, forcing even the most jaded Gibson haters to forget about the man and invest themselves in the character.
An explanation as to why he’s depressed, however, is left unexplained. It’s easy enough to put a reason together given the current state of his family, but some moviegoers may want more. I was ok with its ambiguity, though, because one doesn’t need a reason to be depressed. Depending on which study you read, anywhere between 8 and 26 percent of American adults suffer from some type of mental illness and although you can trace some cases to certain sources, most simply exist.
If anything, I was disappointed with how the illness was explored. Its presentation was fine, but its analysis is questionable, which is where the inconsistent tone comes into play. The Beaver is a movie that presents a man who is trying to better himself and overcome a deadly illness that had him on the brink of suicide, but at times it felt like we were supposed to point and laugh. A movie about a man who has his hand inside of a beaver the whole time (a premise that opens itself up to a host of scrutinizing jokes) already has many challenges to face and it doesn’t win some of them. Just when it looks like it’s going to settle down as a serious look at mental disorders, a humorous moment comes and throws it off track. Of course, some of its more somber sections don’t work either, like a late scene where Walter wrestles with the puppet. Despite having serious dramatic intentions, it brings to mind those “Saturday Night Live” sketches where a stuffed animal is attached to a performer as he or she rolls around on the ground faking danger for chuckles.
As for the subplot, it revolves around young Porter as he courts classmate and cheerleader Norah (Jennifer Lawrence). Although it works on its own terms, it is only loosely connected to Walter’s plight. Had the two stories been intertwined to a greater degree rather than working as two separate entities, The Beaver would have had a smoother flow, which could have offset its tonal problems. It could have been something that was truly great. As it stands, however, it’s merely good.
The Beaver receives 3.5/5