By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is depressed. Ever since taking over management of his father’s toy company two years previously, he can barely get out of bed. His wife Meredith (Jodi Foster) finally asks him to leave their home. His eldest son Porter (Anton Yelchin) notes every undesirable trait of his father so he will not become like him. Walter’s younger son, Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), loves his father but is confused.
Walter discovers an old beaver hand puppet in his stuff and decides to use it to communicate. Walter now has an Australian accent when the Beaver is speaking and he asks people to address themselves to the puppet. Thus, Walter manages to get the toy company back on tract and he moves back home.
Porter lives a secret life: he writes papers for other students for cash, and gets involved with the class valedictorian, Nora (Jennifer Lawrence), who wants him to write her speech and then he is caught for writing another student’s paper. Nora has her sorrows as well, opening up a whole other dimension to understanding depression. At dinner for their 20th anniversary Meredith doesn’t want to speak to the Beaver. This does not turn out well.
I have to give Mel Gibson credit for taking on a role that seems like an “apologia pro vita sua” : a defense for some of the tragic moments in his own life that have played out across the media for years. The film invites us to understand the inner life of one who is emotionally or mentally ill, those voices inside their heads, and extend empathy and understanding. Walter, a danger to himself as played out in an off screen moment of self-violence, is hospitalized and gets the help he – and his family - has needed for so long.
I was moved by this poignancy and helplessness portrayed in the film, by those who suffer illness and those who love them. To me, the acting is flawless and direction by Jodie Foster, a longtime friend of Gibson, is strong and right on. More than anything, I wish Mel Gibson well, because he can really hold his own on the screen.
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