Beau is Afraid
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After learning about his mother’s death, a troubled middle-aged man embarks on a surreal trip home as he faces his demons in this darkly comedic psychological mystery starring Joaquin Phoenix.
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker) stars as Beau. Patti LuPone (Penny Dreadful) is his mom, And Nathan Lane (Only Murders in the Building) and Amy Ryan (Worth) are his surrogate family. The film is directed by Ari Aster (Hereditary and Midsommar). Look for Bill Hader’s cameo.
As a three-hour theatrical release that is as trippy and unpredictable as they come, Beau is Afraid might not be worth everyone’s time. But the A24 film is a wildly imaginative psychoanalysis of childhood trauma, mental illness, and our complex relationship with grief.
The disorienting opening of the film lets you know that something is not right with Beau. His world is inhabited by crazy neighbors, random acts of violence, and, somehow, dancing. I spent the majority of the film laughing at some of his misfortunes, which spurred some guilt; the guy has some bad luck.
As the story peels back the layers of his past, we feel his struggle to understand his troubled relationship with his mom and why he faced so many challenges with her. There’s an element of Norman Bates in his story, but with a twist. As Beau’s mother, Patti LuPone doesn’t make it easy to like her, and the more we see of her, the more we understand why her son’s mind is so fractured.
As he tries to get home for her funeral, Beau faces a Murphy’s Law of mishaps, the kinds of encounters that will leave you wondering if he will have any shreds of sanity left by the end. Balancing it all out is the alternate world inside Beau’s imagination, depicted in gorgeous animation during a theater performance, a revelation of his innocence and the fantasies he carries of a life unlived, as director Ari Aster has explained.
There are a lot of small details to pay attention to throughout, like the (literal) writing on the walls, ads you might not notice, and the settings. There are so many, in fact, that you might want to watch it again, as it offers clues to the mindstate of Beau.
As the Daily Beast describes it, Beau is “A mind-bending acid trip of epic proportions as original as filmmaking gets.”
lt will leave you to ponder what the film is really about.
A film that has divided critics and theater goers, Beau is Afraid is undeniably a true original, a genre and mind-bending movie that will leave you trying to decipher fantasy from reality — much like our protagonist. With Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and the richly detailed provocative story, it might just become a cult classic.
Anyone willing to conduct a case study of poor Beau. (Partly kidding.) A great film to watch with a group of friends to break down the film, diagnose Beau, and talk about all the Easter eggs dropped throughout.
Warning. This film has nudity, violence, and disturbing imagery.