Despite Mel Gibson's personal drama, the man can act. He proves this again with The Beaver, a tale about a man struggling to cope with his mental illness. The film, directed by Jodie Foster (who also stars), is a realistic portrayal of the damaging effects of mental illness.
It doesn't depict depression or bi-polar disorder (of which Mel's character Walter seems to have) as an irrational, "crazy-person" disease like other Hollywood portrayals. The film focuses on a man who used to function, but now his debilitating depression has taken any semblance of life.
Gibson looks awful in the film and his take on Walter is uncanny considering his own very public personal demise.
Read on to find out why this dark movie was so interesting.
Gibson plays Walter, a man who has been suffering from a dark depression that has affected his relationship with his wife and sons. His wife finally asks him to leave since his attempts to get better haven't worked and their family is falling apart. On the verge of killing himself in a hotel room, Walter finds a discarded Beaver hand puppet that helps him express himself and relate to others again. He uses "The Beaver" to communicate to his family and co-workers in a way that no one quite understands, but are willing to go with as part of his recovery.
Eventually, his family has enough of his "beaver" games and wants the real Walter back, but can he cope without a beaver puppet stuck to his hand?
The Beaver provides a great look at a myriad of mental illnesses. Walter is suffering from so many personal demons, as well as, mental disorders like bi-polar, multiple personality, and depression. These illnesses are not directly discussed, there is a lot going on with the main character. It starts out as a character study of one man and his journey dealing with his illnesses, but slowly opens up to a world outside the individual self and examines the way an entire family must deal with these issues.
Mel Gibson gives a harrowing performance as Walter. He is undeniably using techniques Method actors use, whether he is duplicating his own personal experiences or not -- it works. He plays Walter with a compassion he deserves, but a depth only someone going through that experience can completely understand. It's difficult to play two entirely different characters, but Gibson pulls it off with a superiority that proves above all else, he is an actor.
Foster plays Meredith, the matriarch of the family with a quiet brilliance. She doesn't overpower the real star, Gibson, but compliments his character with her initial hesitation, but full-hearted attempt to support her husband.
At first, the whole Beaver plot-line seemed completely unrealistic and absurd, but as Walter (as the Beaver) begins to explain, with the help of a little card, it becomes much more plausible and the audience begins to understand the great depths this man will go to in order to feel normal.
A large part of the film involves Walter's family's ability to cope with their father's illness. A sub-plot involves Walter's son Porter who fears being anything like his father. He fears this so much that he writes down any semblances on post-it notes in an attempt to wipe them away. This is an interesting storyline that is incomplete. We don't really get a good resolution to those issues or any of the residual effects with Porter.
Overall, The Beaver presents an interesting study of a man trying to deal with is inner demons, while trying to be a decent father and husband. The message is clear -- everyone needs someone in their lives to fight for them at some point, whether they are aware of it or not.