Written by: Mikayla Coleman
“Beau Is Afraid” — Ari Aster’s third full length feature film running just under three hours — has a beast of a storyline. Attempting to explain anything about this film can be an enormous challenge and those who have seen it will understand.
The film follows the tumultuous relationship between Beau, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and his mother, Mona Wassermann, played by Patti LuPone.
After a visit with his therapist, Beau is set to leave for a trip to see his mother. However, a set of unfortunate circumstances prevents Beau from leaving on time. As his home and neighborhood evolve into a terrifying hellscape filled with odd characters with a tendency toward stabbing strangers on the street, Beau learns of the death of his beloved mother he was just meant to visit. In a hurried struggle to go lay her to rest immediately, Beau is struck by a car.
This movie does a wonderful job at simulating what it can be like to have anxiety. The soundscape, visuals and symbolism are absolutely saturated with paranoia. Through exploring Beau’s warped world, one is able to understand and empathize with his fear that everyone in his life is playing a fixed part in the journey to unveiling his guiltiness and his ultimate demise.
The film has a unique way of pulling the rug from underneath its viewers — every time that one thinks to themselves that they could possibly have a grip on what is actually going on or what may be coming next, it takes a massive turn into the unexpected.
Along with the film’s long run time comes multiple different acts, differing from one another greatly in all aspects. It takes a multimedia approach, with animated portions, flashback scenes, another entirely constructed timeline in which Beau has a family and is separated from them and many, many more twists and turns.
This movie was beautiful, heartbreaking, cathartic and terrifying. It may have been how long the movie was, or simply the subject matter, but I felt disoriented for days after watching “Beau is Afraid” — trying to piece together what it was supposed to mean and debating what parts could have been tangible or dramatized by the unreliable narration of Beau.
The only way to know how one will feel about this film is for them to experience it themselves. It is something no one can prepare one for.
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