The Beaver
Tale about depression makes strong mark ___ 8/10

The BeaverWritten by Kyle Killen
Directed by Jodie Foster

Mel Gibson ... Walter Black
Cherry Jones ... Vice President
Jodie Foster ... Meredith Black
Anton Yelchin ... Porter Black
Riley Thomas Stewart ... Henry Black
Zachary Booth ... Jared
Jennifer Lawrence ... Norah

Walter Black: We reach a point where, in order to go on, we have to wipe the slate clean. We start to see ourselves as a box that we're trapped inside and no matter how we try and escape, self help, therapy, drugs, we just sink further and further down. The only way to truly break out of the box is to get rid of it all together... I mean, you built it in the first place. If the people around you are breaking your spirit, who needs them? Your wife who pretends to love you, your son who can't even stand you. I mean, put them out of their misery. Starting over isn't crazy. Crazy is being miserable and walking around half asleep, numb, day after day after day. Crazy is pretending to be happy. Pretending that the way things are is the way they have to be for the rest of your bleeding life. All the potential, hope, all that joy, feeling, all that passion that life has sucked out of you. Reach out, grab a hold of it and snatch it back from that bloodsucking rabble..

Right from the gitgo, let me give you an excerpt from a good little review on IMDb, relative to whether there is comedy afoot in The Beaver.

If you are going expecting a comedy, I will warn you right now that you should stay far away. This is not a comedy and it's not even a dramedy. While it does have a few light-hearted moments here and there, this is probably one of the darkest mainstream films that I have come across in quite some time. I don't know how well this is going to do, one for the obvious reason of Mel Gibson, but also because of the small niche market for this film. It obviously has great performances, good direction, and a well written story but the subject matter isn't what most people want to see. I think it's great to see a film be as ballsy and real as this one but I also know this isn't what sells tickets. I would be curious to see how this does when it's released. I personally think it's a must see and recommend those who are into really serious dramas to put this on the top of your list. It's a really unique take on depression, as well as a unique piece of cinema. From MovieManMenzel

That's exactly how I feel in a nutshell.

Putting the DVD into the player, I was thinking ol' Mel in the trailers we see on TV, another offbeat comedy. Not. As MovieManMenzel puts it there are a handful of lighter moments, some pertaining to 'the Beaver.' But we start out with Walter Black (Mel Gibson) basically being kicked out of his home by his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster)... not that he puts up a fight. He's a well-to-do, recently promoted CEO of a high-tech toy company in the Northwest somewhere... and nothing means anything to him anymore. As he remarks in the quote above, he "start(s) to see ourselves as a box that we're trapped inside and no matter how we try and escape, self help, therapy, drugs, we just sink further and further down."

Gibson does a fabulous job creating the hopelessness of the medically depressed condition. He's rented a motel room and walks around with a bottle of vodka moving toward suicide by the light of the TV. Somehow he winds his way beside a dumpster outdoors where someone has tossed out a old arm-puppet of a beaver. In a moment of drunken catharsis he puts the puppet on his hand and moves the mouth of the puppet to his own words: In his alcohol maxed-out depressed state, somehow Walter Black comes up with a 'new slate' through his new friend, The Beaver.

Thereafter, The Beaver becomes Black's constant companion and the alter ego who Black wishes he was. Through the puppet—whom Black insists is real—life is no longer bleak: his wife takes him back, and his younger preteen boy appreciates the newfound playfulness enhanced by the furry accouterment. But the older teenage boy Porter (Anton Yelchin) is having issues of his own, and the beaver prop only confirms the boy's worst feelings about his old man. Porter is an extremely bright kid who worries that he's turning out to have the same behavior qualities as his pop.

This coming of age element is a clever complement to the real pain of having a loved one, a parental authority, undergoing deep suffering and desperate measures to compensate. Porter has a talent for writing, which he uses surreptitiously at his high school to write term papers for substantial ducats. He's had his eye on the bodacious babe of the senior class, Norah (Jennifer Lawrence), who is super smart, cheerleader, and valedictorian. Porter's reputation is high, and she knows he's the right person to give her her own words for the speech she has to give at graduation. Why? It's more than his skill, she realizes he's also deep and different, less conforming, than other whiz kids at the school.

Her commission of Porter leads to further discovery of her own past, something she's been living with for a few years that puts a cloud over her. Well, directly, Porter learns that she did some juvenile delinquent thing in the form of 'artistically enhancing' public property—a misdemeanor referred to as tagging. This suggests she has an artistic, wild side very few people see in Norah. It also ties into the emotional cloud. Porter and Norah do the teen romance dance, quickly finding that they may be soul mates. Enter Dad and The Beaver. Ouch: a real buzz killer for young love.

Wife Meredith works hard to make the new Walter viable. But it's a lot to ask. He keeps the prop on constantly, even in the shower, even in bed. Foster does a fine job conveying the angst and exasperation of a spouse having such a heavy burden placed upon her. Both Gibson and Foster capture the humanity of the predicament, they make the situation completely believable—we know people who suffer as they do. Who is it that said, "Most people lead lives of quiet desperation."? You can definitely feel their pain. But—and this is a tribute to the writer, director, and actors—not so much that the viewer is overwhelmed. The viewer may be challenged, but not hammered by negativity so extremely to lose interest.

A reason the movie carries us along, even though the destination looks less than hopeful, is we are additionally caring for the young adults in their struggles to find themselves against the odds. I won't share the IMDb quote from Norah's graduation ceremony speech, except to say it's precocious. Her statements are so manifestly true, essentially that perfection and happy endings and happy beginnings are not something to count on. The writer has a slightly more conventional response for non-perfection than I do, but I respect the sentiment.

So kudos all around. Nice to see the old actors and the young. Nice to see the thinking behind the movie, the creative ideas. Very skilled presentation, which could turn into a train wreck if not done with intelligence. Then, considering Gibson's off-screen turmoil, the role of Walter Black is especially moving. The Beaver is one of those stories that makes you feel grateful for not having to face such problems. Different without being oddball, realistic without being maudlin. Worth watching repeatedly for the subtleties, and from the perspective of what technically makes a good film.

2011 October 12
Copyright © Brian Wright | The Coffee Coaster™
The Beaver | Mel Gibson | Jodie Foster | Depression | Psych Problems

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