Story

The Beaver is an unusual and intense movie about Walter Black (Mel Gibson). Walter is a successful business executive and father of two, who is struggling to live with severe mental illness. Walter’s wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), is fed up with Walter’s emotional distance from her and their two children, Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Stewart). She asks Walter to move out of the family home. Alone and desperately depressed, Walter hits rock bottom and tries to end his own life.

Walter’s turning point comes when he finds a beaver hand puppet in a rubbish bin. He discovers that he can better relate to and communicate with the people he loves while using the puppet. The beaver becomes Walter’s life support, and his life seems to be almost miraculously cured. But when Walter tries to separate himself from the beaver puppet and find his own voice again, things get complicated.

Themes

Suicide; mental illness; family breakdown

Violence

This movie has some violence. For example:

  • There is a theme of self-harm throughout this movie. Characters talk about Walter’s father killing himself and also about Norah’s brother, who dies from an overdose.
  • Walter is severely depressed at the beginning of the movie, and there are scenes showing him overmedicating with prescription medicines. He drinks too much, then collapses and a television falls on top of him. He also attempts suicide twice, once by hanging himself and another time by jumping off a building.
  • When Walter tries to separate himself from the beaver puppet, the beaver is angry and abusive towards Walter. When he tries to take the puppet off his hand, the puppet becomes physically abusive. It hits Walter, punches him, smashes a lamp over his head and throws him to the ground. This is a distressing scene, because Walter is basically harming himself using the puppet.
  • Porter is caught tagging (spraying graffiti). He’s taken to the police station, where Walter and Meredith pick him up. Porter and the beaver puppet have an argument, and Walter hits Porter using the beaver. Porter falls into the wall. He’s not hurt, but he’s upset.
  • When Walter regains consciousness after his fight with the beaver, he takes the beaver down to his tool room and builds the puppet a tomb. He puts his arm through a rotating saw to cut off the puppet (and therefore his arm). His son Porter finds him. Although the scene doesn’t actually show this incident, we hear it. The scene is very intense. The next scene shows Porter and Walter covered with blood, in the hospital.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

Children under five are likely to be confused and scared by scenes involving the beaver puppet, which they might see as a separate character.

From 5-8

Children in this age group might also be confused and disturbed by the relationship between Walter and the puppet, and also by the scenes of family distress. For example:

  • Henry talks about a boy in his class calling him a ‘ball-licker’. Henry seems to have no friends and is often ignored by his family.
  • Walter and Meredith separate at the beginning of the movie. When Walter leaves the family home, Meredith is visibly upset and Henry struggles with the separation.
  • Porter has emotional difficulties. In several scenes, he hits his head on his bedroom wall as a way of coping. In one scene, Porter hits his head completely through his wall.

From 8-13

Children in this age group are also likely to be disturbed by the scenes noted above.

Over 13

Younger children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes described above.

Sexual references

None of concern

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

This movie includes some use of substances. For example:

  • Walter buys a case of alcohol and drinks too much.
  • Meredith drinks a glass of wine with her dinner, but she doesn’t drink too much.
  • Walter takes medications for his depression. In many scenes, it’s obvious that he’s taking too much medication.
  • There’s a reference to Porter buying ‘weed’.

Nudity and sexual activity

This movie has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:

  • Several brief scenes show the husband and wife having sex in bed and in the shower. The scenes aren’t very graphic and don’t show very much nudity.
  • Porter kisses a girl he goes to school with.

Product placement

There is some product placement in this movie. Products featured include Apple Computers, Volkswagen cars, Toys R Us and GQ Magazine.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie.

Ideas to discuss with your children

The Beaver is an intense exploration of one man’s struggle to deal with his severe mental illness and the way his illness affects his family. Despite the animal in the title and a puppet and child actors in the cast, this is definitely not a movie for children or younger teenagers.

If you have older adolescent children who see this movie, you could talk with them about how the movie presents mental illness, its management and its impact on family functioning, parent–child relationships and marital relationships.