January 22, 2012

The Beaver

"This is an ongoing debate that boils up around people like Phil Spector, Roman Polanski, and Michael Jackson: Can we—and should we—enjoy the art of people who are personally morally reprehensible? If they make amends and try to redeem themselves, I would say yes. But Mel Gibson doesn't seem interested in doing any of that. "  
The preceding quote is from an article in The Atlantic magazine explaining why the reviewer did not bother to watch the movie The Beaver.  Hi review of the movie became the three reasons he chose not to watch it.  He had already made up his mind  and could not separate the actions of the Mel Gibson, the actor off camera with Mel Gibson, the actor playing a role on camera.  
There is a strong wave of judgement in our world today.  From the fundamentalists in the Middle East to the fundamentalists in our own backyard, some people just like to judge.  In fact, they feel it is their duty to judge.  And anyone deemed to be morally reprehensible is simply not eligible for any kind of review, attention or evaluation of their art- if their personal actions are so unacceptable.   
So we condemn Mel Gibson because his actions have ben described as "sexist, racist, anti-semitic, verbally abusive and perhaps even physically violent toward women."  And we condemn him because he is an admitted alcoholic.  This we do  even though we encourage him to come forward and admit his issues, and deal with them.  Just because alcoholics or drug addicts admit they have a problem, and may even be getting help, there are those who say we should still boycott their work, and shun them publically for their private lives, what little we know of them.
Are we setting up our celebrities to a higher standard of conduct just because we consume their art in a pubic forum?  Should any alcoholic deserve a free pass for their harmful actions, or  ill behaviors that may have resulted because of their alcoholism or because they could be mentally ill, or because they may claim that  they suffer from depression?  
 Because Pete Rose gambled on his own sport, ( and we know gambling can be a form of mental illness) should he be banned from the sport he loves, and shunned from the Hall of Fame, even though he clearly belongs there based on his record as a baseball player?  Is this question complicated if the individual is generally not a nice person to be around?   
What about the genius of Phil Spector or OJ Simpson or Michael Jackson?  Should we devalue their accomplishments in music, football and entertainment because of actions that proved to be criminally actionable, or    a form of suicide by celebrity?  Who do you despise more- OJ "The Juice" Simpson, who set countless records as a running back in college and the NFL, but who later may have murdered his wife, among others or someone like Barry Bonds, who broke Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth's home run records, but who allegedly cheated by Juicing himself with steroids to assist him in achieving those results?
Is it possible for someone like George Bush or Stephen Harper to actually do something that may have been good for something?   Or should we blanket hate them for all the other nefarious actions that so offend our good consciences?
I happen to like the skinhead art of Attilla Richard Lukacs, even though the subject matter makes me uncomfortable.  I respect his vision, and his sophisticated talents, even though his work seems to celebrate this violent, racist sub-culture that I abhor.  I think the music that Burzum created in prison, serving his sentence for murdering another heavy metal singer, is beautiful.   Does that mean I support his Nazi views?  
Getting back to the Beaver, I was moved by Mel Gibson's portrayal of a middle aged man who suffers from depression and anxiety.  The movie premise seemed to be silly at best, but he makes it all seem possible.   Some critics have said that his change of personality is too sudden when he "adopts" the Beaver persona.  Have they never seen someone who is in a manic phase of their depression?  
I have a friend who lives with this, and he would often come around and say, I'm much better now. He would say I"m better now so many times, that you knew he was not better, but just in a different phase of a complicated illness. 
Can someone who is mentally ill appear to be inspiring to a young child- yes.  They can also scare the living daylights out of them, causing the child to wonder if they would someday also fall victim to this illness.
Is it believable that a wife would try to do anything to keep her family together, even having sex with a hand puppet?
People do much worse all the time.   The sub-plot with the son who writes term papers for other students for money, who falls in love with the young girl who became a graffiti artist to deal with the trauma of an older sibling's death all seem very plausible to me.   
In the hands of less talented actors, or director, this story would have been a failure, but instead, it is an allegory of families dealing with mental illness, and families dealing with grief, and families dealing with a loss of their own voice or art.   And it is a movie in which a deeply troubled celebrity gets to show the world that he is still an actor of immense talent capable of creating a performance that goes far beyond expectations to reach redemption. 
Here is a review of The Beaver that pretty well nails it in my book. 

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