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Mel's "Beaver" Is No Mad Man

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He spewed an anti-Semitic tirade at an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy. He left racist and misogynistic messages for Oksana Grigorieva, his ex-girlfriend, whom he allegedly beat. He pleaded no contest to domestic battery charges and is now serving three years probation.

Yet Mel Gibson would have us believe that he is mentally ill, instead of a violent thug.

The Aussie bad boy is now starring as a depressed and suicidal man in The Beaver, a Summit Entertainment film directed by his friend, Jodie Foster, that opened in limited markets this past Friday.

This is not the first time Gibson has tried to manipulate us. Before the release of Edge of Darkness, his last film, in which he played the aptly named Thomas Craven, a story managed to reach the wires about how Gibson suffers from bipolar disorder.

That story referenced an interview in which Gibson was quoted as saying, "I had really good highs, but some very low lows."

As I have written before, Gibson "made it sound as if manic-depression is hip, like taking uppers and downers. This must cause much frustration and embarrassment for those who actually do experience the debilitating swings of this illness."

I stand by those comments. I also question whether Gibson is, in fact, bipolar.

Why should we believe a man who lied about his anti-Semitic tirade to KTLA's Sam Rubin, claiming that he may not have uttered such a rant? And why should we believe a man who, as the L.A. Times reported, "has made no public statement of remorse about the threatening voice mails or domestic battery case," and who, through his attorney, has never maintained that he was anything other than innocent of beating Grigorieva?

The answer to these questions is that we should not believe such a man. Rather, we should call Mel Gibson what he is: a liar as well as a hatemonger.

Which brings me to his performance as the depressed Walter Black, a toy manufacturer who has fallen upon hard times, in The Beaver. In this role, Gibson trots out an Aussified Cockney accent when he talks through the beaver, a hand puppet.

It reminds me of the time I saw a stage production of Hamlet in which a callow lead lowered his voice for the part of the Ghost, his father, then raised his voice for his own lines. (It was even more ridiculous than Mel Gibson's film, Hamlet, in which he played a violent Prince of Denmark, who kicks a chair out from under Rosencrantz or Guildenstern in a relatively early scene in the film, unthinkable for a character who is supposed to be brooding and introspective at that point in the tale.)

Just as the legit production reduced Hamlet to an over-the-top and antiquated version of a schizophrenic, Gibson's portrayal of Walter Black, a psychotic man who possesses two voices and two personalities, is reductive and trite.

Clearly, some of the blame for that rests with Kyle Killen, the screenwriter, who must think that schizophrenia still means split-personality. It does not.

By now, we should all know that schizophrenia and psychosis, disorders with which I have been diagnosed over the years, mean only that the person in question is not tethered to reality.

Some schizophrenics and deeply depressed people do mutter to themselves. Others have trouble speaking at all. So, I can understand the temptation to create a crutch for a mentally ill person who is seeking his voice. The problem is that this film literalizes a long-ago discounted metaphor about schizophrenics (a word that is never used in the film; instead, there is an allusion to the relatively benign diagnosis of "mania"), a metaphor that is meant to remain simply that.

To have Gibson's character brawl with and then mutilate the beaver may seem to ring true in the context of this film. While Van Gogh did indeed chop off his ear, the painter's life story did not come leavened with a comical tone from the flippant voice-over at the beginning and end of this film, to the Pink Panther-like soundtrack, to the beaver and its baroque voice.

No, Van Gogh's life was freighted with very real tragedy, not the kind that can be fixed in a 90-minute cinematic experience.

Sure, I know, this is Hollywood. But this kind of hope or redemption, as portrayed by Mel Gibson, is nothing but a lie.