Beau Is Afraid

April 21st, 2023




Where to begin with Beau Is Afraid? The newest film from director Ari Aster is an overwhelming epic. A journey through the mind of an artist, crawling out the other end, and absorbing all his anxieties. At the beginning with Hereditary, audiences were hoping to pin down Astor as the next great master of horror. That title can still be given, but Beau Is Afraid will have viewers thinking of different auteurs, such as Ingmar Bergman or Lars Von Trier. It is the work of an artist that wants his films to speak for themselves, to change the landscape of what a narrative feature can be, and challenge the viewer through storytelling. Beau Is Afraid is a brilliantly strange movie to be viewed over and over again.

Describing the plot is incredibly difficult. At every turn there is something to look at, an action to draw our focus, or something to dissect. Our hero is Beau Wassermann (Joaquin Phoenix). He’s an anxiety ridden man, his hair falling out, disheveled, living in the downtown area of a major city, in a small apartment complex, surrounded by absolute chaos. He meets with his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and the major topic is his upcoming visit with his mother- Mona Wassermann (Patti LuPone). There is great fear with the trek and as he walks out the door, he looks away, and now his keys are missing. In his rush to find them, he misses his flight, and now Beau must find a way to his mother or else he will be served a truck full of guilt. But what lies ahead is so much more that any audience could imagine. This is an odyssey for Beau and it is a manifestation of Aster’s dreams and nightmares becoming a reality.

Sitting at a magnificent runtime of two-hours and fifty-nine minutes, Beau Is Afraid will be the most divisive film of 2023 and the most complex for viewers. Aster is channeling something truly deep within his psyche. Phoenix is once again his fully committed self. If the role of Beau is a conduit of Aster, he is working through a lot of stuff, from his relationship with his mother, a lack of a fraternal figure, and his general outlook on the world. In the background of every scene there is madness at hand, from a naked man stabbing people, guns being sold on the street, or a woman holding a sign that says, “I will cut my own hand off.” This is not a depiction of reality but a vision of a chaotic universe.

Around every corner is a new and eccentric character. Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane are a family that bring Beau in after hitting him with their car. They become surrogate parents, caring for him, possibly in a way he never saw. It’s an alternate life Beau might have wanted or would be better without. In between are flashbacks that reveal Beau’s childhood, talking to his younger mother (Zoe Lister-Jones) or interacting with his onetime love Elaine (Parker Posey). Each revelation shows where his neurosis comes from. Beau then follows a pregnant woman (Hayley Squires) into the woods, meeting a group of people living off the grid, and a man who might be his father. While there, Beau watches a play being performed by the community. It morphs into the telling of a man’s walk through life. It is here where Beau Is Afraid becomes completely surreal. Visually it looks like a diorama of Beau walking through fields of cardboard trees. It’s a story within a story. It resembles something biblical and could be deciphered differently with many viewings. It could be an alternate reality for Beau. It could just be a story. That’s the point.

Where Beau’s journey ends is to be discovered but it’s about the cinematic experience to get there. Aster has made something that is entirely his own. The craft follows the style of films such as Dogville or Fanny and Alexander in the Aster universe. When he followed Hereditary with Midsommar there were connected threads of horror. This is a combination of awkward humor, sinister interpretations of humanity, and a dark moment of therapeutic expression. I was in awe of the sheer inventive mind of an artist. Beau Is Afraid is a daring piece of cinema. Aster is courageous in his expression. Don’t be afraid to step inside.



Written by: Leo Brady

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