“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” - Epictetus
I have a feeling that if I write this review having seen Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid it would be wholly different than if in five years I watched it again and wrote a second review after that viewing. And then after a third viewing five years after that and writing yet another review it would be different all over again. This is one of the most obscure, bizarre and seemingly nonsensical films I’ve ever seen in my thirty-four years on this planet. There are scenes, moments, entire thirty, forty minute sequences that feel as if they were crafted to be as weird and deranged as possible and for no other reason. To clarify, there is a point to it all, it’s just damn near impossible to fully understand everything he’s trying to say beyond the broad strokes of anxiety and overbearing parental figures. If I’m honest, I’m kind of stalling writing this. Mainly because I’m not really sure what to say.
I suppose I could start this off by saying I don’t think this is my kind of movie. I wanted to like it. Hereditary is my favorite horror film of all-time. Midsommar is phenomenal folk horror and further proof that Ari Aster is a filmmaker to his very core. He demonstrates the skill of a seasoned veteran storyteller with a camera. You would assume he’s been doing this for thirty years and yet here I am writing about only his third feature length film ever. His first two films feel unique and yet act as homages to the classics that came before it like Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining and Don’t Look Now. With Beau Is Afraid it’s as if he was fully let off a leash; a leash holding him to something even remotely resembling normality. I would say what I appreciate the most about this film is the conviction to tell it how he wanted.
Well what’s it about? Right… yeah…
Beau Is Afraid is about a man named Beau. Beau has anxiety. As we learn early on much of his anxiety is due to the trauma he experienced as a child inflicted on him by his parents, particularly his mother. His normal, everyday life is plagued by imagined worry that life in general is out to get him. From the people outside of his apartment to the people of his past he fears or just generally finds discomfort from a world he clearly misunderstands and thinks way too much about. On top of this normal worry he now must face the idea of going on a trip to see his mother, a relationship built on, among other things, conflict. As he learns of a tragic turn of events he must face a journey to his mother’s home that will be filled with mind-altering experiences that could only originate within the mind of an anxiety riddled human being. If Beau is scared in the beginning of his journey, I can’t begin to imagine what he’s feeling at the end as he stares down his harshest critics in life. Beau Is Afraid isn’t a film about facing your anxiety so much as it’s about your anxieties controlling you and your very reality. There is no intention of solving this man’s issues on this journey. It’s merely a portrait of how fucked up mental illness can be. (This is my best guess about what this movie is. Ask me again in five years.)
I spoke of Ari Aster’s conviction earlier. Well he isn’t the only one. Joaquin Phoenix fully commits as Beau and it’s borderline panic inducing to watch him go through these truly bizarre scenes. At any given moment he is in some state of horror or confusion or physical pain. He’s always running from something to another thing only to inevitably start running from that thing as well. He is rarely relaxed and level headed demonstrating just how much anxiousness he basically experiences at all times.
After seeing three of his films I’m starting to wonder if Ari Aster is really okay. Underneath that calm, sort of shy demeanor must be someone holding onto some exceedingly dark thoughts. And I’m thinking they involve his mother, or someone’s mother if not his. Hereditary is about the fucked up things we inherit from our parents such as murderous, religious nutcase cults hellbent on unleashing literal hell upon the earth. And it all stems from the matriarch of the family passed down to the mother of an innocent and unsuspecting family doomed to pay for her family’s shared traits. And then Midsommar I think has something in there about inherited familial trauma too.
Beyond the bizarreness of the whole movie, it’s entirely too long, bloated and contrived to be anything but headache inducing. I laughed quite a bit, I was horrified a whole lot but by the three hour mark when it mercifully decided to end this nightmare fuel I felt violated. I think the mark of a good movie is if I would watch it again. Even some of the darkest themed, most horrific movies that I’ve seen can still garner multiple viewings. Would I ever want to watch Beau Is Afraid again? Probably not. At least not all at once. If ever there was a need for an intermission, this is it. I think what I dislike most is that by the end I was exhausted with very little payoff.
Beau’s mother is a human in constant resentment of her own child. This is despite the very obvious fact that he never asked to be here. But still, her insecurities and fears will be downloaded and mirrored by her child and will inhibit every aspect of his life. Did I mention this is part comedy? Sounds hilarious doesn’t it? If this is a dark comedy, which it genuinely is, it is about as extreme and in the deep end as it gets. This is a go for broke, burn everything in sight kind of storytelling. Throw whatever you have against a wall and see if it sticks. Even if it doesn’t stick, we’re putting it in the movie. Beau’s afraid? Now I am too. Thanks a lot Ari.
Rated R For: strong violent content, sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Runtime: 179 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Horror
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane
Directed By: Ari Aster
Out of 10
Story: 8/ Acting: 9/ Directing: 9/ Visuals: 9
(I realize the overall is a contradiction to the 4 scores above it but that’s this movie. Much to appreciate, much to be desired. I’m not pretending to fully understand this movie. I want that to be clear. Maybe I’ll revisit it in five years like I said.)
Buy to Own: No
Check out the trailer below: