“The Beaver” is a very good film – it may wind up as one of the year’s best – but Christians should be careful not to mistake it for something many believers would like to see: Mel Gibson’s confession.
Ever since Gibson’s 2006 DUI arrest and subsequent anti-Semitic tirade, followed by the accusations of physical and verbal abuse made last year by his then-girlfriend, many of those who embraced Gibson as the director of “The Passion of the Christ” have been unsure of what to do with him. (I wrote a post about this tension last year.)
Now along comes “The Beaver,” in which the disgraced actor plays Walter, a clinically depressed toy-company executive and father who goes to drastic lengths to face his inner demons, seek help and bring his family back together. Could this be Gibson using his onscreen life as a model for his real one?
“The Beaver,” directed by longtime Gibson collaborator Jodie Foster, makes clever use of the actor’s unique screen persona. He brings a tempered lunacy to his parts that makes it completely believable when Walter wakes up after a particularly painful bender to find a ratty beaver hand puppet talking to him. The puppet (voiced by Gibson in his native Australian accent) suggests a new form of therapy, in which Walter will wear the beaver at all times and only speak through it - even when in bed with his wife.
Perhaps only Gibson’s distinct brand of craziness could make this work (though Foster’s judicious camerawork certainly helps). Even when talking to a hand puppet, the actor proves to be an empathetic vessel for failure and despair - his Walter is beaten, hollow and irretrievably sad. When Walter begins to turn the corner, the movie’s goofiness becomes poignant. We find ourselves, against all odds, rooting for Walter (and the puppet) and maybe, in the back of our minds, rooting for Gibson as well.
In the way that it artfully engenders empathy for victims of depression, “The Beaver” deserves our admiration. But we should be careful not to see a confluence between Gibson and Walter. Not because we don’t want to let Gibson “off the hook,” but because the hook itself isn’t our concern.
Whether or not Gibson has sought repentance in his life shouldn’t matter to moviegoers. As many of the commenters on my earlier Gibson piece noted, this isn’t between Gibson and us, it’s between Gibson and God first, then between Gibson and the people he may have hurt.
Confessions are tricky things, especially public ones that are made through the media to people who have no business hearing them (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent mea culpa comes to mind). Authenticity seems impossible in such a public space. And anyway, the rest of us are in no position to grant any sort of absolution, much less create the judgmental culture that may have coerced the confession in the first place. When it comes to assessing another fallen being’s fallibility, most of us are out of our league.
So go see “The Beaver,” by all means. It’s a loopy and honest exploration of the awkwardness, confusion and hurt that can accompany mental illness.
Is it also Mel Gibson’s confession?