In what may be considered another of those loosely-autobiographical films (think The Wrestler), we have Mel Gibson starring as Walter Black, a chronically depressed man whose career is in the toilet and his relationship with his family at breaking point. Sound familiar?? Jodie Foster – who also expertly directs the film – is his loyal wife, who despairs at both a cure for her husband and a fix for her damaged family.
Walter is living in a shitty hotel when we meet him: depressed and suicidal. Until: (and this is a little mind-bending, but somehow it works) a toy beaver that he rescued from a bin on a whim starts talking to him in a brutally honest pep talk-ish kind of way. And then the Beaver becomes an extension not only of his arm, but also of Walter. Simultaneously snapping Walter out of his slump, and becoming his ballsy and opinionated spokesperson, Walter appears to be fighting his demons and clawing his way out of depression. His relationship with his family begins to mend (although his relationship with his teenaged son, Porter, remains fraught), his career revitalizes and it appears that Walter might be getting his shit together generally.
Until his wife suggests the Beaver might have finished his good work, and that Walter can be himself - sans the puppet on his arm...
This is a strangely good film. Foster manages to convince the audience of the Beaver doing its work with the general acceptance of all those around Walter (it reminded me a little of how the community reacts to Lars’ girlfriend in Lars And The Real Girl – heartwarming in a way). The extent to which depression – Walter’s and the people surrounding him – is dealt with as a subject matter is challenging. So, too, is putting aside prejudices regarding Mel Gibson and his off-screen behaviour.
This is an interesting, sad film… I’m not quite sure how to rate it, as I found it quite discomforting to watch! 3.5 stars – wait until it’s weekly (and you’re mentally prepared to deal with such an explicit exploration of depression).