I don’t think I’m giving anything away in saying that Jodie Foster’s “The Beaver” is a tale of a man with “issues”. This is the sort of film that inherently interests me (Maynard), assuming it’s done well.
Say what you will about his real-life problems; Mel Gibson is a genius, and he’s the perfect actor for this role because he understands the character inside and out. And Jodie Foster, too, has an eye for misfits; she’s sympathetic but not overly sentimental, and has a deft sense of the irony and quirky humor of this situation. If you’ve got a soft spot for offbeat drama, you might want to catch this one. It’s quite good, although I’d say it falls short of greatness.
I’ll take this excuse to step away from the movie and comment on life itself. The time I’ve spent on this unusual planet has taught me that life is not to be regarded as a rational pursuit. When you get right down to it, there’s no reason to be alive, or to stay alive. Life is fundamentally a spiritual adventure, and the goals we pursue are entirely spiritual. None of them make any sense under rational examination. Ask yourself what you want and why you want it (a blonde? a Maserati? a gallon of ice cream? a Word from our Creator?) and you’ll see what I mean.
Nevertheless, I believe in the model of Rational Man as a framework. That is to say, the burden is on our shoulders to act rationally and righteously, in order that the world may be structured such that we can exist in health and reasonable comfort. We owe this to each other, so we can keep body and soul together, and thus pursue our own quest for meaning. This is a very personal quest, and we can learn from each other and guide each other; to blindly reject the wisdom of the ages is stubborn stupidity. But ultimately the answers must be acknowledged from within, rather than imposed from without.
So I believe in the imposition of a cultural framework only to the extent that it’s necessary to keep us going. Without that framework, we descend into anarchy, and the law of the jungle prevails. The “natural” state of Man is low indeed; nothing is more “natural” than murder and theft. But we must take care not to be smothered by our structures. Our society must stop us from being murderers and thieves, but leave us freedom to define the broad arc of our personal lives. Somewhere between anarchy and micromanagement, a sweet spot is to be found.
Some may find in a film like “The Beaver” a condemnation of society, or a validation of those who slide off the tracks. I don’t see it that way. We have a cautionary tale, a sympathetic tale. Isn’t life stressful for all of us? Is there anyone who does not, at some point, feel he can take no more?
We must carry on. I think we owe it to our fellows not to be the one that falls, not if we can help it. Thus we must aspire to show a little more good cheer than we feel, and to act a little nicer than we are inclined. Because our unhappiness, which is the burden we all carry, is no excuse to mistreat our fellows.
“The Beaver” is rated PG-13, but it’s not kid stuff, and is probably best appreciated by people who have a few years under their belt, and a few scars to prove it.