Beau is Afraid is a surrealistic, absurdist, tragicomedy horror film written and directed by Ari Aster. Joaquin Phoenix plays the role of Beau, the lead character. The movie’s plot follows the mild-mannered but paranoia-ridden Beau as he embarks on a surreal odyssey to get home to attend his mother’s funeral, confronting his greatest fears along the way.
S P O I L E R S
It is almost impossible to apply standard story analysis techniques to Beau is Afraid. Mainly because, in many instances, it is difficult to ascertain whether the events depicted in the movie are real or a product of Beau’s fevered & nightmarish imagination. The latter would make more sense as the disjointed manner in which the narrative is laid out would suggest that none of what is seen is ‘real’.
The extremely violent inner city characters that threaten Beau, the disturbing family that ‘adopts’ Beau, the travelling cultish troupe that provides Beau with temporary shelter, the unreal sexual encounter with Elaine at Beau’s mother’s funeral and finally the judgement of Beau in the arena definitely marks the plot as a surrealist and absurdist work of art.
Beau is Afraid is a masterful examination of the paranoia and fears that are dominant in an anxiety-disordered mind like Beau’s. Clearly, his mother is responsible for much of the psychological damage that Beau has suffered, and he is helpless to escape from her influence. It is utterly disturbing to witness the trauma that Beau experiences at every turn, and particularly triggering for anyone with a similar mental disposition.
Phoenix delivers a powerful performance as Beau navigates the horror of his existence, with his summary execution at the end highly emblematic of the abuse he has suffered at the hands of his neurotic mother. Definitely not easy to watch how Beau suffers throughout and if Aster’s intent was to visualise how much anxiety damages a person’s soul, then Beau is Afraid is a masterpiece!
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