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Mel Gibson's Therapeutic Beaver

Mel Gibson portrays a depressed man healed by a puppet.

Does art imitate life? Mel Gibson is in legal trouble regarding his relationship with the mother of his child. His new movie, The Beaver, which premiered last night at Austin's SXSW Film Festival, is about a clinically depressed man who lets a beaver-shaped hand-puppet do his talking for him.

It's also about a man tackling mental illness while facing a breakup with the mother of his children.

The trailer shows co-star (and director) Jodie Foster explaining to her sad young son that she and his dad have separated. Over images of Gibson floating glumly in a swimming pool, a voiceover says:

"This is the story of Walter Black, a hopelessly depressed individual. The successful and loving family man he used to be has gone missing, and no matter what he's tried, Walter can't seem to bring him back."

The trailer then shows Walter's son proffering a papier-mache object he has made. When Walter asks what it is, the boy says:

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"It's a brain. Mom says yours got broken."

"So you can see," the voiceover continues, "that Walter is a man who's lost all hope. But he's about to find his voice."

At that point, we watch Walter retrieving a furry brown puppet from a Dumpster. Then we watch him at home, wearing the puppet, which says in a growly, Cockney-accented version of Walter's own voice:

"Bloody 'ell. Look at you.

"I'm sick," Walter tells him.

"Do you want to get better?" the puppet asks.

"Who are you?" Walter inquires.

"I'm the beaver, Walter, and I'm 'ere to save your damn life."

Then we see Walter, wearing his puppet, in his wife's suburban driveway.

"The person who handed you this card is under the care of a prescription puppet," Foster reads from the card that Walter has just handed her, "designed to help create a psychological distance between himself and the negative aspects of his personality."

In later scenes, we see that Walter has ceased speaking in his own voice as his own persona, but now addresses everyone through the beaver.

"As of now," he tells his assembled workmates in what looks like a corporate meeting room, "Walter is resigning and putting me in charge."

He even uses the beaver to address his sons. The young one laments, "I want Dad back." The teenage son is outraged.

"I'm not talking to you, nutjob," he blares at Walter, who stands in the hallway, bucktoothed puppet on his hand. "I'm talking to Mom."

The trailer implies that this story has a happy ending.

It's not a comedy, as Foster explained to a SXSW crowd after last night's premiere:

"Life is full of half-comedy and half-tragedy," she said. "And the only way to get through it is to know that you're not alone, that there's someone there for you."

That someone might be flesh and blood. Or it might be made of synthetic fur.

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.

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