Viewfinder Magazine

The Beaver

2011. DVD (Region 2 PAL). Icon Home Entertainment. Running time: 88 minutes (+ 25 minutes extras). RRP: £15.99. Available from retail outlets. Official website:

About the author: Doctor Andrew Macaulay has been a Psychiatrist for over thirty years and also set up Mental Health TV (, a resource producing educational programmes for students, junior doctors, health workers and the general public.

The ventriloquist’s dummy can be a bizarre psychological creation. The general theme in films and television is of the dummy gradually taking over the life of the ventriloquist, who is portrayed as a flawed character. It is also a device that allows the expression of hostile or controversial views, which would otherwise be totally inappropriate. More extreme psychological dysfunction occurs when the ventriloquist’s dummy has his own radio show as in the case of Archie Andrews in the UK or Charlie McCarthy in America, both of whom almost appeared to have lives of their own. So it is with The Beaver, which is said to be a dark comedy. The main character Walter Black, played by Mel Gibson, loses his way in life and begins to fail at work and at home. He is seen to be suicidal. He discovers a beaver hand puppet who talks sense into him. As a result he becomes the beaver, fantastically successful at work, and at home re-engages with his wife and family. His wife, played by Jodie Foster who also directed the film, becomes increasingly concerned by this turn of events in which her husband is unable to re-integrate aspects of his personality.

As the story progresses Walter is taken over by his alter ego. There comes a moment of crisis when he attempts to dispense with the services of the beaver in a rather dramatic style better suited to a different film genre. As a consequence Walter ends up in hospital and we see the gradual re-integration of his personality and recognition of the complexities of life.

This film is a bit about depression, unhappiness and bereavement, but it fails to distinguish between them.

Throughout the film there are a number of parallels, in particular concerning his eldest school age son, who is portrayed as a rather geeky, socially awkward individual estranged from the family. As a consequence of his excellent writing skills he develops a relationship with a school girl who has her own troubles and secrets.

This film is a bit about depression, unhappiness and bereavement, but it fails to distinguish between them. This film squanders the opportunity of a good story. You may recall recent films such as The Sixth Sense (1999) or Shutter Island (2010), which I think were more successful in addressing similar themes in an innovative fashion.

Mel Gibson chooses to use a mock cockney accent for the voice of the beaver. I don’t think this will play well with UK audiences and it does seem rather a strange choice. In the early parts of the film for me he did not look depressed or distressed. His wife only has a peripheral role in the film holding the family together. We could have done with more of her.


Of course it is good to have films that explore mental health issues, unfortunately there is often great tension between how to handle this appropriately and at the same time make a successful mainstream feature. I did not feel this was a good film; we were never given to understand why the main character became so angst ridden. It could have been entertaining and thought provoking but for me it was neither. I expect most with a professional interest in mental health are likely to have a similar reaction. Those who are undemanding fans of Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster might like it, but I would not recommend it as a film about a study of depression. The best lines and take-home message of the film were given to the school girl who, at the school speech day, explains that sometimes bad things just happen and this is when you discover that your family is important and can help to see you through it. At least that’s true.

Dr A J Macaulay MD, MSc, MRCPsych Consultant Psychiatrist at Mental Health TV / Homepage: