“The Beaver”
Most of us men are socially incomplete. We have certain insecurities, some of which we can name and compensate for, and of course, some days are better than others. A darkened computer room is a “man cave” is a mild form of agoraphobia. Talking about sports is a safe way to avoid subjects that are psychologically painful. Humor is a classic way of masking feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes, when things get overwhelming, men turn to the bottle. Or to all-too-available prescription drugs. Or to internet porn. Or just sleep a lot. Anything not to have to deal with it.
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a married man with two sons who inherited a thriving toy business from his entrepreneurial Dad, but now he’s sinking into a deep depression and doesn’t know how to snap out of it. His wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), is getting really weary of carrying the family load, and his Vice President at work (Cherry Jones) tries to put on an optimistic demeanor, but the whole enterprise is beginning to collapse because there is no leadership. His older son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), is tired of all the drama and very frustrated, both with his Dad for mentally “checking out” and with his Mom for enabling him. But Walter’s younger son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) doesn’t understand what’s happening, especially when Mom and Dad embark on a “trial” separation. “Why can’t you go with us?”
Now Walter is at a new low, with his own family leaving him to his own devices. After a botched hanging attempt, something snaps in his mind, and he finds that he begins to hear the voice of a puppet, a beaver, especially when he puts it on his left hand.
Walter uses a different voice when the Beaver is speaking (that’s easy for Mel Gibson, who just falls into extreme native Australian). Walter “hides” behind the puppet persona, who in public is bright and cheerful and funny, but in private, castigates Walter for his inactivity and his laziness. Meredith is not so enamored (“What do you mean, talk to the hand?”) but Henry immediately accepts the radical relational shift, because he now has much more of his father’s personal attention Porter is not at all amused, but then, he’s already afraid of becoming like his father, anyway, and has his own issues about concealing his identity by being the “ghost writer” for fellow students. This works great until the ruse is discovered, but by this time he’s developed a crush on the brightest girl at school, Norah (Jennifer Lawrence) who has her own struggles about submerging her personal issues in a blizzard of apparent achievement.
Walter’s sudden re-entry into work (as “The Beaver”) re-energizes the employees, who are just glad to have a boss that’s present again, even if he has gotten weird.
Ah, but what if you’re a man with significant issues of self-identity, who tends toward self-loathing, and turns that relational anger inward---what happens with all that internal conflict?
Only an actor like Mel Gibson could pull off this strange, demanding role successfully. He’s thoroughly believable, and it’s great to see Jodie Foster again, both in front of and behind the camera. The fine supporting cast helps set the tone for a really dramatic, compelling, complex, difficult, unique, engaging story.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas