Beau is afraid rating review There should be more three-hour surrealist horror odyssey comedies from American studios that are drenched in regret and guilt. Or at least, more of them ought to be as cinematically daring as Beau Is Afraid, director Ari Aster’s third film after Hereditary and Midsommar. Few films this star-studded or expansive in scope arrive so fully formed, or draw from familial fears and psychosexual musings in ways that yield this many laughs per minute. This A24 production has an abstract story anchored by ponderous themes that make it difficult to describe. It’s the kind of work that takes a while to process, but it’s well worth it to watch as it progresses from strange and silly to strange and silly and moving.
Beau Wasserman, portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is a lonely 50-something who lives in a run-down apartment in what seems to be a contemporary American city created satirically from conservative propaganda. In this borderline offensive vision of urban life, which immediately evokes Beau’s most vivid fears, crime and mental instability run rampant (a potent mix of hypochondria and agoraphobia). Phoenix is wholly dedicated to the role, perfectly capturing Beau’s wide-eyed terror as he navigates streets crowded with gangsters, naked old people, and violent criminals who are all out to kill him for no apparent reason.
It’s all a little ironic, from his antagonistic neighbors to those who won’t help him, and it illustrates how his persona is made to seem both invisible and hyper-visible at inconvenient times. However, Beau Is Afraid explores some of the concerns about aging (and aging bodies) that Aster has depicted in his earlier films in less subtle ways. It now accentuates Beau’s perspective on himself and on what is revealed to be a fairly unpleasant physical abnormality, which furthers his stifling anxieties of sexual intimacy. Previously, this was merely window-dressing for shock value.
Beau Is Afraid Leans into some of the concerns about becoming older that Aster depicted in his earlier movies significantly less subtly.
All of this serves as a background for the film’s main plot, which isn’t really a plot in the conventional sense as Beau discovers his domineering, incredibly wealthy mother, Mona, has suddenly passed away in bleakly humorous circumstances. This begins a tortuous journey that is narrated in four separate chapters as he makes the long trip home. Although the first chapter sets up his living condition, the second finds him practically adopted by Grace (Amy Ryan) and Roger (Nathan Lane), a lovely, wealthy suburban couple, whose demeanor borders on being unsettlingly cheery thanks to a pair of finely honed performances.
Ryan and Lane, both veterans of screen comedies, successfully imbue their characters with a distinct sitcom cheer, but they also seem to harbor a darkness Beau can’t quite shake, as if he’s used to every helping hand turning into a fist, making him all the more pitiful. They show Beau the kind of affection he lacked and yearned for growing up in Mona’s shadow. A ticking clock that becomes subtly exciting is also promised by Grace and Roger to help him return home in time for Mona’s funeral, but some rather convenient inconveniences keep him at home. This creates a space for comedic absurdism laced with paranoia, a potent mixture that is made all the funnier by Phoenix’s wide-eyed innocence.
In the third chapter, Beau is adopted by a troupe of esoteric actors who perform in a forest. Through their esoteric stage performances, which are presented as Old Testament stories reflected in a funhouse mirror, the troupe’s esoteric stage work serves as a language guide for the film’s religious musings (as a distinctively Jewish tale of suffering). Aster depicts these divisions between consciousness and reality as semi-animated segments, producing expressions of personal longing that are surprisingly lively and emotionally lucid and set against jaw-droppingly vast vistas.
It’s best to keep the details of the fourth and final segment a complete secret.
The fourth and final section, whose details are best left entirely unspoiled, is a much more direct confrontation of the themes Aster subtly develops over the course of the first three chapters. Beau is given fragments of dreams and flashbacks to his early years to help him process his complex emotions in the wake of Mona’s passing. The story of Beau Is Scared, which was inspired by the convoluted and even paradoxical ways the past may materialize in the present, is about the loss of a parent as well as the guilt that might follow such a traumatic experience.
Beau Is Afraid Pictures
Due to era-specific details that feel out of place and never quite integrate with the character’s clothing and makeup designs, the exact period of the movie is frequently unclear. Flashbacks are driven more by sensation than by the need to tell a story; they seem to switch between memories and current events at random. With its apparent time leaps frequently related spatially to Beau himself, as if he were wandering between “now” and “then” with each turn of his head, Beau Is Scared effectively represents a split consciousness where these could have read as a random compilation of sequences in a worse film.
He is portrayed by Armen Nahapetian in flashback scenes from his youth, and he suits the role so perfectly that he almost seems like a digitally aged Phoenix.
Beau is typically portrayed as balding, grey, and frumpy (unless in childhood flashbacks, where he is played by Armen Nahapetian, who suits the part so perfectly that he comes off as a digitally de-aged Phoenix), which aids in this temporal fudging. But regardless of how the film portrays his mother—who is portrayed with stern fury by a magnificent Patti LuPone when Beau is older and with intimidating brusqueness by Zoe Lister-Jones when he is younger—she always seems younger and more vivacious than him. This is due in large part to her bright red hair and her equally fiery demeanor. She might as well have been locked in amber in his recollections at two distinct times, occasions connected to memories of harsh rejection and disappointment, never growing older than him and never allowing him to mature. She continues to be so pervasive and all-encompassing in his life that she is the only lens through which he can see his own fears.
The absurdist tone is mostly due to Phoenix’s performance. His response shots, on which the perspective lingers for protracted durations without cutting away, essentially justify Beau is Afraid’s colossal three-hour runtime. It seems as though the camera is waiting for Beau to make a comment about or protest the numerous abnormalities surrounding him or the insults directed at him personally (the result is a razor-wire intensity that tickles as much as it slashes). Instead, he provides a resigned acceptance of his circumstances, which are becoming more and more surreal. Beau Is Scared rarely makes clear distinctions between what is real and what isn’t, but it consistently mirrors Beau’s mental jumble of birth, sex, aging, and death. The repetition of dreams loaded with Oedipal overtones practically teaches us to anticipate how each one subtly predicts the next. (Sigmund Freud, may you rest in peace. You would have adored this film.)
Beau Is Scared is a compelling movie because it’s humorous and horrifying in equal measure, frequently at the same time. It does what the startling tone of Joker, which included Phoenix in an Oscar-winning performance, failed to do by essentially turning Aster’s famous close-ups of dead people frozen in moments of dread and agony into Greek comedy masks.
Overall, the filmmaking is excellent. Aster and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski’s visual framing surpasses most straightforward American comedies in its mischievous approach, and the use of sound is particularly startling—the clever way it mixes human voices enhances Beau’s paranoia—making this a must-watch in the loudest possible theater. A lot of the caustic humor is generated by the peculiar events that happen right in Beau’s close area, whether they be minute changes in space or the peculiar actions of supporting characters, all of whom are played by unexpected and recognizable actors.
His physical interaction with these plot points serves as a running joke throughout, whether it is through Phoenix’s unsettling silences, Beau’s courteous listlessness in contrast to other characters’ enthusiasm, or simply Phoenix’s uncomplaining acceptance of emotional punishment. He maintains his composure as the film depicts the chaos that is occurring all around him. Beau is always the punchline, but the preparation always seems to be some really intimate confession from Aster, who seems to understand that his own nagging neuroses are the joke’s real punchline. The experience of watching it is likely to be at least confrontational, if not therapeutic; one can only hope that making a horror film this self-deprecating was useful in some way.
Even when it makes protracted diversions into fanciful visions of love and happiness just out of Beau’s reach, Beau Is Scared never stops ticking, snapping back to its peculiar un-reality like a rubber band. Joaquin Phoenix’s absurdist portrayal as a neurotic guy traveling home to see his mother serves as its focal point. From there, it grows in terms of physical size and overlapping allusions that quickly loop back on themselves, as if subtly dissecting its own narrative structure. These eventually culminate in an overt, evident, and entirely concentrated metaphor for how making movies is a vulnerable act with little benefit other than making the most embarrassing and frightful aspects of oneself visible to the public. In that sense, it’s the kind of film that deserves to be recommended just for its ambition, to see the bold outcome of anxious self-loathing displayed in all its unbridled glory on the silver screen. The icing on top is that it’s also a really well-made horror-comedy.