The Beaver (2011) (PG-13)

This review contains SPOILERS
Few movies carry the weight that "The Beaver" does with as much quirk as this picture produces. It portrays a family that seems to have everything right. A successful husband, a loving wife, two kids; but that's only at a glance. The narrator spells everything out for us in the first few minutes: "This is a picture of Walter Black, a hopelessly depressed individual. Somewhere inside him is a man who fell in love, who started a family, who ran a successful company. That man has gone missing. No matter what he's tried, and he's tried everything, Walter can't seem to bring him back. It's as if he's died, but hasn't had the sense to take his body with him. So mostly what he does is sleep."
As far as opening monologues go, this one is fairly short but conveys everything that it needs to. It's hard to place your finger on what exactly "The Beaver" is—is it a comedy? drama? who knows? One thing is for certain, "The Beaver" manages to represent depression in a serious light while still making time to show how funny people can be.
Walter Black, as stated in the opening narration, has gone missing. His depression leads him to go to work and back without putting anything into it, he's a walking zombie. His company is declining very rapidly and his marriage has started to fall apart. His older son wants nothing to do with him, even though he's exactly like his dad. His younger son doesn't understand what's going on, only that suddenly his father isn't in his life anymore.
Pushed to the brink by his wife and job, he contemplates whether to take his own life or not, and then—just in time, he meets the beaver. He found the beaver in a dumpster outside a liquor store, where he took a stock to get boozed up before he killed himself. In order to make room in his trunk (hmm, symbolism here?) he throws out some of his own possessions in the dumpster and places the liquor in there instead. He sees the stuffed animal puppet and decides to take it with him. Retiring to a hotel room, the puppet comes to life and talks to him. Now just to clarify, he's not crazy. He's really only talking to himself at this moment. It's what Vygotsky would call "private speech".
He's so dead to the world that he invents a character that serves as a barrier between him and the people around him. But he's still in there, and this is where the acting is astonishing.
Mel Gibson, has regrettably made a infamous name for himself by just being a real jerk sometimes. But this man can still really act. When his career was at a low point, his friend Jodie Foster asked him to do this role and he accepted. I'm not sure who else could have pulled it off like he did. He plays two character, the more lively one associated with the beaver and then the "hopelessly depressed individual". Sometimes he's these two people at the same time, he's arguing with himself, switching from the beaver's British accent and back to his rapidly. But it never feels fake, at least to me it didn't. He's confused at why his imagination is running rampant and bewildered, but at the same time grateful because of the shied this puppet has created.
The rest of the cast fills out around him in spectacular fashion: Cherry Jones, Jodie Foster, Jennifer Lawrence, and Anton Yelchin...who does a great job.
Jodie Foster also directs this piece and I'm sad that it got no recognition whatsoever during the awards seasons and has basically disappeared from the minds of many people. In fact, I have yet to come across a person who knew what movie I was referencing when I talked about it.
This is one of the reasons I love this movie as much as I do. It feels very intimate, like I've uncovered some sort of lost secret.
The boldness and originality that went into the script are baffling, Kyle Killen wrote a masterpiece here that resembles the great Charlie Kaufman's work. Interesting to note, that Killen also penned the TV serires "Awake" which quickly got cancelled but not before it amazed several people. In "Awake" there are two parallels, sleeping and waking. In one world, a wife has survived a car crash, in the other, a son has. Each world has a therapist telling him that he's awake and each one has a case for him to solve. The worlds influence each other and help him solve both cases.
The oddity of the show and the complexity forced it to be cancelled, so in this scenario, Killen is a victim of his own ingenuity...but I digress.
"The Beaver" is a stunning picture that is light and heavy simultaneously. Mel Gibson gives an incredible performance.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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