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A Magazine for Sheffield

Beau Is Afraid: A mixed bag in extreme ways

Ari Aster’s latest film takes the form of an odyssey through a man’s neuroses – with varying results. 


Still from 'Beau Is Afraid'

Courtesy of A24

The theme of familial dysfunction is not new to director Ari Aster. In the harrowing Hereditary it's explored through a coven, while in folk horror Midsommar Florence Pugh’s family die in a murder-suicide before the title screen even appears. In Beau Is Afraid, the relationship between mother and child forms the foundation to build an anxiety-inducing three hours upon.

Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix) is the mild mannered and paranoid son of the head of a conglomerate empire, Mona Wasserman, played by Zoe Lister-Jones and Patti LuPone. When Beau is told that his mother has died in a gruesome accident, he sets off on a Kafkaesque odyssey to be there for her funeral.

The film's title is explored very literally, as every scenario that Beau finds himself in reaches the most negative outcome possible. This is illustrated early on when a task as simple as leaving for the airport leads to his apartment being torn apart by the deranged vagrants of the crime-ridden neighbourhood he lives in.

It's Beau’s brief interactions with his mother as a child which explain this state of mind. Smothered and poisoned by her with stories of his father dying while conceiving him, it's no wonder he is an anxious, whimpering mess in every situation.

The film’s sense of reality is stretched almost to the point of non-existence. With fantastical sequences involving tsunamis, wolves and naked stabbing sprees, it feels like a nightmare that thrusts you from situation to situation without the chance for resolution. The result feels like a twisted sketch show. After exercising relative narrative structure to hold up the surreal fantasy, the film loses its way and leaves you feeling like the majority of the three-hour runtime has been inconsequential.

Beau Is Afraid proves to be a mixed bag in extreme ways. It is over-long, muddled, ambitious and fascinating. And while its flaws are clear, Beau Is Afraid is a testament to the experiences that can come from allowing a filmmaker to execute their singular vision.

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