The Beaver

Rude Name, Rude Actor

Good heavens it’s hard to defend ‘our’ Mel Gibson after he blew up his marriage and slagged off the Jews and got into a messy situation with some Russian harlot. It’s really hard to take him back into our hearts after all the news and PR disasters – most of which were self-inflicted – and try and take him seriously as an actor. How can we not see the guy on the screen and not think of the chaos? How can we ever see any star without the baggage of their public life?

He’s here in this movie, with a rude name.

It comes as a shock that the poster-girl for the politically correct, Jodie Foster of all people would team up with Mel Gibson, and then defend him in public. It didn’t work. People stayed well away from watching ‘The Beaver’ but they might have missed an interesting movie as a result. I know, Mel Gibson is insufferable in some ways, even for his fans and the only person more insufferable than Mel is of course Russell Crowe. In ten years’ time it may well be Sam Worthington. You can see the trend developing.

What’s Good About It

I was thinking when the last time was that Mel just had to act. Of course it was the ill-starred ‘Edge of Darkness’ remake, but before that feels like it’s been a while. it’s actually nice to see Mel Gibson do his acting thing. There’s still the actor who did lethal Hamlet in there and he’s still got some chops without being over the top or self-referential or heaven-forbid boring. The directing is adequate if a little oblique, and the script is interesting enough. It has a few nice laughs, if you’re inclined for some black humour.

Frankly, I’m shocked Jodie Foster has such a black sense of humour, even though she brings in the film with a touching end, reminiscent of ‘American Beauty’. The Beaver character is most excellent in bringing to sharp relief, the drama inherent in the story. It would have been easy enough to make a movie about a depressed guy and how his depression is ruining his life, but this isn’t quite that film. This film is about the persona of the Beaver that comes out of crisis and ends in (SPOILER ALERT!) blood sacrifice. It’s arresting and intriguing, and that makes it good.

What’s Bad About It

The American high school bildungsroman ‘B’-story running against the ‘A’ story of the beaver seems overwrought. It’s a good story on its own, but it detracts a fair chunk of energy from the black comedy of the Beaver himself. The other thing that bothers me is that I don’t think the psychosis of Gibson’s character has any realism to it, so the realism with which the film is shot runs quite counter to the tone of the script.

What’s Interesting About It

It’s never clear what kind of craziness is afflicting Walter, as played by Mel Gibson. So we’re never really sure about the status of the beaver as a character. After all, we see Mel Gibson mouthing the lines every time it speaks, but the Beaver has an English accent, largely reminiscent of Ray Winstone, which adds an alienating effect to the character. Also, the eyes of the beaver puppet are strangely real looking, so when the Beaver get s a close up, he looks a lot more serious than a muppet. The Beaver, as voiced by Gibson, is a fantastic character.

Mel Gibson’s Self Loathing

I don’t know why Mel Gibson of all people should have so much self-loathing, but based on his characterisation of Walter as well as the Beaver, it seems quite apparent that he draws greatly on his self-loathing to energise his characters. It’s either that, or his temperament is naturally an angry depressive that wants to kick the world in the balls; but the thing is, he’s freaking Mel Fucking Gibson. He’s a star actor who made a good fortune out of playing leading men, and then went on to direct movies and won Oscars. He builds his own version of a Catholic Church. He makes his own bible epics for his own pleasure. Most people would be pleased as punch. But not Mel. He’s out there binge-drinking, drink-driving, and telling traffic cops how he hates the Jews in Hollywood. I’m trying to wrap my head around that.

I kept wondering as I watched the film, just how awful were his experiences growing up – in Australia no less – for him to be so angry? And, you know me, I’m an angry dude, so I know what anger is, and even then I can’t fathom the depth of Mel Gibson’s self-loathing. What makes the film so funny is just how much he can bring this self-loathing to his characters, Walter and the Beaver. In some ways, this is his maddest performance yet, beyond Mad Max and Thunderdome, way beyond even Hamlet.

Maybe Mel Gibson is like a medieval despot, who is constantly in fear for his life, and this is why he keeps searching for the inner shithead, and expresses it to the world. I just can’t fathom it, but when he can point it at the screen, he sure is capable of capturing folly and madness. One of these years, he’ll be able to play the best King Lear on screen, ever.

Jodie Foster As Middle Aged Mom

I’m a little freaked out that I can remember Jodie Foster from ‘Bugsy Malone’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ through ‘The Accused’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ through to ‘The Brave One’. Now she’s this taut-faced, rather sour-looking woman. I don’t know if it was the acting that made her role like that, but it was notably sour to watch. She was always a cold fish on the screen but I think she has now become a seasoned pickled herring of a woman. She’s harder to warm to on the screen than ever before.

It’s not that she’s playing an unsympathetic character; it’s that she herself presents with the wrong nuances for the character, and that leaves you cold. Back in the day when she was winning Oscars, she was better at showing this as an edginess, but it’s interesting that she comes across more alienating these days. It’s understandable just looking at her on screen, why her husband character Walter would be so depressed. The fury of the Beaver is totally understandable because Jodie Foster is playing the wife. Maybe this is excellent casting. you sure as heck wouldn’t hire Jodie Foster to play a mom in any conventional Disney film, for instance.

What’s really interesting, I guess, is that this is the film she wanted to direct, but then I’m always surprised by some of the films that get made when I shouldn’t be.

The Beaver Persona As Tyler Durden

I think Mel Gibson must have got the persona of the Beaver from working with Ray Winstone in ‘Edge of Darkness’ because that is exactly who he sounds like. The Beaver is a bellicose and belligerent bastard of a beaver puppet (and it must be asked, what kind of toy manufacturer makes a puppet like that?). If we are to see him as an independent character and not Walter’s projection, then he’s also a bit of a pervert who enjoys the vicarious pleasures of a threesome. It’s funny, but also creepy and that is exactly the zone where the black humour lies. The Beaver arrives at Walter’s moment of moral crisis as he is about to commit suicide and like a hostile personal trainer, goads and threatens and humiliates Walter into being the picture of some kind of success.

The closest character I can think of is in fact, Tyler Durden from ‘Fight Club’, so it is no mean feat that this film got made and  also, the meme of the violently hostile alter ego is getting another run. Is the Beaver Mr. Hyde? Would the Beaver perhaps house all of Walter’s hidden anger and negativity? – and if so, are they not possibly Mel Gibson’s own? One is left wondering at the strange bravura of the Beaver character.

Certainly, given that the film is called ‘The Beaver’, there probably should have been more development of the character instead of playing a two-way bet and pretending it was all an extension of Walter’s insanity.

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