The Beaver is the story of Walter Black (Mel Gibson), a family man and CEO of a company well into his 50s who appears to be depressed. In reaction to his depression, he buys a crate of alcohol seemingly to drink himself into oblivion. In the parking lot of the liquor store, he notices a scruffy old hand puppet in the shape of a beaver. He is fond of it and takes it home with him. Throughout much of the movie he speaks only through the puppet and puts his wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), and those around them through a draining series of tests. The executive tells his wife he’s been back to the psychiatrist and the use of a beaver hand puppet is a form of therapy. When the puppet-therapy seems unending, there begins the movie’s conflict.
Walter is mentally ill, and his wife knows it. Unfortunately, his sickness is generating innovative ideas at work that earn him a spot on The Today Show with Matt Lauer, among another places. It might be argued that mania could have produced the same results. He gets a lot of public attention which just makes it worse. At any rate, mentally ill people often make creative contributions to our world, that’s what this movie appears to be telling us. That and we should try to understand their demons.
There are key roles played by Anton Yelchin (the rebooted Star Trek’s “Chekov”) as Porter Black, the main character’s son and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone and the upcoming Hunger Games) as Norah, the friend of Porter Black. Seldom does a movie bring such an important yet taboo subject into the light with such clarity. Mental illness now has an illustration to show us our humanity and better understand the mentally ill people around us.
There is a father/son dynamic going on here as well. Walter and his son Porter are at odds. Walter has been guilty of the same thing many middle-aged executives are: being absent in the home. Porter accepts payment to write people’s essays in High School and has a very dysfunctional crush on Norah that winds both of them up in jail for the night for vandalism. One can’t help but wonder if Walter’s condition contributed to his son’s issues.
I really like this movie because it shows that mental illness doesn’t have to be just an embarrassment. I am deeply interested in people which probably further adds to my enjoyment — the movie gets into the heart of the family and explores how mental illness permeates it. This film is not for kids, the themes are definitely mature. This is not Braveheart, nor is it Nell. Only through understanding the unknown can we embrace it and make peace with it in our world, Mental illness is largely an unknown in our society. It is good to see Mel Gibson stepping away from his usual action roles to show us what many families and individuals deal with.