“The Beaver,” director and co-star Jodie Foster’s latest film, is a mental rollercoaster.
The movie, which is only playing at a handful of theaters, stars Academy Award winner Mel Gibson as Walter Black, a husband who has sunk so low in his depression that his wife (Foster) kicks him out.
Walter unsuccessfully attempts suicide, but the unexpected turn comes when he spots a beaver hand puppet in the dumpster outside a liquor store.
The beaver ends up being his salvation and his doom. Walter starts talking to himself through the hand puppet (with an accent), and it becomes his crutch to help deal with the outside world.
Through the Beaver, Walter is able to reconnect with his wife and youngest son by telling them the hand puppet is a tool his therapist gave him to help deal with depression, since nothing else works.
He does everything with the Beaver, never taking it off: he showers with it, brushes his teeth (and the puppets’), and always uses it to communicate, which leaves little room for Walter to be himself (he even keeps it on during sex with his wife).
While Walter can’t reconnect with his older son Porter (Anton Yelchin), whose goal in life is to be nothing like his father, Walter does make a turn-around at work.
He gives control of his toy manufacturing company over to the Beaver and the employees seem to go with it. Walter becomes extremely popular because of his obsession with his new puppet, even going as far as being on talk shows and magazine covers.
But slowly, the Beaver becomes more of its own entity, instead of being a tool to help Walter. Walter even becomes violent through the Beaver when people try to get him to leave it or take it off. In Walter’s mind, the Beaver is a reality.
Like all addicts, everything seems okay at first but then the addiction – the Beaver – starts taking over his life. And like all other unhealthy obsessions, the best way out is to cut out the source. This leads to some very dark, disturbing and cataclysmic moments near the end of the film.
It’s a pity that Gibson’s insane personal life has lead to this film being released like a small art house movie. There’s a good chance the public will stay away from it because of Gibson’s recent and inadvertent revelations. While it’s no big summer blockbuster, it is a well-done, dark movie.
Gibson does an exemplary job portraying the troubled Walter, and Foster nails the role of the loving yet scared wife who only wants to protect her family.
At one point the narrator says, “People seem to love a train wreck, as long as it isn’t happing to them.” This seems to be true when it comes to watching Gibson’s personal life play out, as well as the life of his character. This is not a family-friendly film, but it does makes you think.
**** out of five stars