Reviews

Let 'The Beaver' Speak For You, and To You

Jodie Foster directs one of the most underrated films of the year, starring none other than Mel Gibson.


The Beaver

Director: Jodie Foster
Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones
Distributor: Summit
Rated: PG-13
Release date: 2011-08-23

The Beaver tells a story about men who have lost their voice. Its protagonist, Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is facing a depression that has seeped into every aspect of his life. When we first see him, he’s lying on a pool floater. Empty eyes looking up -- waiting for answers to drop from heaven perhaps -- his body merely drifting as the water does its job. With a sly use of imagery, director Jodie Foster lets us know that Walter is in limbo. An invisible narrator provides whimsical bookends to the film and at the beginning informs us that Walter’s emotional state is worse than it’s been in the past.

His wife Meredith (Foster) asks him to move for the sake of their sons: Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) who are being affected by his barely there presence. Walter moves into a hotel where he finds a beaver puppet in a dumpster. With reasons until then unbeknown to us, Walter takes the furry creature to his room where he tries to kill himself. After waking up the next morning, not only has Walter failed in his attempt to terminate his life, he’s also been taken over by the beaver, who commands him to wake up and do something to fix his life.

Even if this premise sounds almost too fantastic, we are never victims of any tricks by part of the director. From the get-go we know that Walter is the beaver; we see his mouth move as the puppet talks and he never bothers in acquiring any ventriloquism techniques. As he tries to reenter his former life with his family and at work (he is the CEO of the ominously titled JerryCo toy factory) he lets everyone know that the puppet is a tool devised by an expert therapist. Walter can communicate through the puppet and avoid facing people on his own. To everyone’s surprise, the beaver works and Walter’s life begins to thrive, but only for as long as he uses the puppet.

Parallel to Walter’s story we witness the trials endured by Porter, a high school student who has become so worried about becoming like his father, that he keeps a detailed journal -- by way of OCD infused Post-Its -- of the things that make them similar. In school, Porter’s life is not so different than his father’s. He has become an expert ghost writer who can tap into his classmates’ voices in order to write their papers and essays. Like his father, he becomes so lost within the characters he’s playing that he no longer has an identity. That the film never stresses this out is testament to the loving qualities with which Foster approaches the material.

Once the hottest screenplay in Hollywood, Kyle Killen’s manuscript for The Beaver made the rounds all over the industry, with some of the most respected auteurs putting their eyes on it. Its production materialized only after Foster (who had been working on yet another legendary unfinished opus for years) decided to ask her longtime friend Gibson to play the leading role. Gibson, who has fallen into infamy after his bigotry and domestic violence took over the reins of his career, gives perhaps the greatest performance of his entire career, making Walter someone we can empathize with. His moving portrayal of a man who has lost it all leads us to wonder if The Beaver is acting as Gibson’s own beaver. The tenderness achieved by his now rugged expressions should overcome any doubt that beneath the scandalous public persona lies a man with real talent.

Of course to ask this of audiences who have learnt to judge an artist’s work by their personal lives, might sound like an extreme request. This explains why the film was a box office bomb during its theatrical release and maybe why this DVD release is so light on bonus supplements. The ones included are run of the mill features like a couple of deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette where everyone praises Foster and evade the deeper repercussions of the movie and its meaning.

The Beaver could very well be studied for its remarkable use of language and the essence of the signifier. We ask ourselves for example, why is it that the screenwriter chose an animal that also has become vulgar slang for women’s genitalia (any Google search with the film’s title will lead you to hundreds of jokes). Because beyond its exploration of depression by way of a Harvey-like redux, this film also becomes a remarkable study about the role of gender roles in our society. The vice-president in JerryCo for example is played by a woman (the magnificent, but greatly underused Cherry Jones) who we’re told is much more talented than her male counterpart, but was snubbed when the time for promotions arrived.

Beyond this there's also a complex relation between Walter, his son. and the way in which Meredith becomes a channel for them to express their repressed masculinity. She is given the power role without asking for it and when the time for accountability arrives she is then reduced to what society has told us women should do for their men. It’s truly a shame that The Beaver wasn’t more appreciated upon its release, because the dichotomy between extreme realism and whimsical magic that it achieves surely make it one of the best releases of 2011.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image