Let me get it out of the way. I did not see this one coming. The Beaver was a great movie. I foolishly mocked the directorial debut of Jodie Foster as a ridiculous concoction of black comedy and anti-semitic acting power with a hand puppet attached somewhere. I mean I could not have begun to imagine the bizarre beauty of this film, let alone the superb acting that occurred in this film, most surprisingly by the film’s star Mel Gibson. I am here to tell you that I have seen the light, and damn was it glorious. The Beaver is not only a decent movie, but it is superior to many of its contemporaries, specifically in the genre of dark comedy. To quote a friend who watched the film with me, I am scared by how much I enjoyed this film. Perhaps it is a direct result of my very low expectations coming into the film that resulted in its surprising enjoyability or its relative honest despite being absurdist in nature, but The Beaver is a must watch film and not in the same sense that Plan 9 From Outer Space is a must watch film. The Beaver is not so bad that it is good; I would argue that it is so good that it might be bad. I know that statement does not make sense, but you will not understand until you have experienced this stand-alone piece of cinema.
If you are stumbling upon this blog while searching reviews for this particular movie then you more than likely no the movies ridiculous plot. However, for the few of you who have missed this movie in discussions I will explain. Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a severely depressed man who has inherited his father’s toy company, yet cannot manage to find a reason to enjoy life. His indifference has led his oldest son Porter (Anton Yelchin) to despise every shared quality he has with his father and to his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) demanding his departure from their literally decaying household. Realizing he has lost everything, Walter stops off at a liquor store and purchases an insane amount of alcohol. While returning to his vehicle Walter discovers a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and decides to bring it along with him to his newly inhabited hotel room. Walter, after becoming severely intoxicated, attempts to hang himself with no luck and then attempts to jump off the balcony of his hotel only to fall back into the room and have a television land on him. After blacking out for some time, Walter awakes to a rough Australian voice. However, this voice does not come from a human being, but instead from the beaver puppet which is attached to Walter’s hand. The beaver explains to Walter that it is here to help him get his life back together and remove himself from his severe depression. Agreeing to this change Walter reintroduces himself to his family and job with the beaver attached to him and speaking for him, explaining to his wife and others that it is part of a therapy suggested by his psychiatrist. The puppet works almost instantly, excluding his son Porter, allowing him to rekindle his romance with his wife and take the flailing company into new and productive directions. The joy ride does not last forever, however, and indeed becomes dark as those around Walter realize that his reliance on the beaver has not ended his depression, but instead serves as a veil to ignore it. There you have it. That is the plot for The Beaver. I know it seems ridiculous, but somehow it manages to work and I am very glad to have taken the time to discover the film, which is inevitably doomed for obscurity.
I could do some sort of analysis concerning the vague discussions of religious salvation or its metaphors on the decaying nuclear family. These are important themes in the film, but I would be remised not to mention how well the film deals with mental illness, both in regards to insanity and depression. The character of Walter is obvious mentally instable in his possession of split personalities, one being the mute Walter and the other being the loud, foul mouthed beaver that is excellent with people. As should be understood, people react with some degree of uncertainty to Walter illness often rolling their eyes and whispering uncertainties behind his back. This seems to be the case for Walter’s illness for most of the film. However, in a moment of self-reflection, Walter creates a toy that proves to be a big hit, causing people to exploit him for his creativity. He is shown on various talk shows with the beaver, often being mocked indirectly while simultaneously being praised for his brilliant creation. It makes me think of a musician like Daniel Johnston who has garnered large amounts of critical acclaim for his dark and brilliant lyricism. Musical snobs often quote him as a masterful musician, yet many of those same critics shy away from befriending him due to his unconventional nature. I felt the same thing being done to Walter throughout the film, both by the other characters and by myself as a viewer. I though Walter was an insanely good character, yet overlooked his legitimate mental illness. If I were to meet a similar person on the street today I would shy away from him immediately. A film like The Beaver, despite its absurdity makes us acknowledge that mental illness occurs in various forms and that we must be careful to criticize it whether it is a person who suffers severe depression or more humorously talks through a puppet. Often the latter is the one in need of more help, despite outwards signs saying otherwise.
I am going to avoid recommending the purchase of this film, given that I am uncertain about its rewatchability. Fortunately for you, Amazon.com has a digital rental version. Overall, I enjoyed The Beaver and will likely place it on my Top Ten Films of 2011. A statement I never would have imagined myself saying months ago upon first hearing about the film.