Beau Is Afraid and the perpetual power of confusion


The movie poster for Beau is Afraid; the title character played by Juaquin Pheonix is pictured at a number of different ages.

Releasing on April 14th, Ari Aster’s 2023 film Beau Is Afraid has left most critics and audiences rather confused. Reviews of the film seem to be rather split, between those who absolutely loved and adored the film and those who simply didn’t get it. For my own two cents, I land somewhere in between.

As a director, Aster is mostly known for a surreal kind of horror, in fact, his two previous films Hereditary and Midsommer have quickly become classics of the genre. This made it at least somewhat surprising when the primary genre of Beau is Afraid was revealed to be a black comedy. That said, Aster’s previously known pension for surrealist storylines and visuals has remained intact. In fact, this most recent film is certainly bound to be his strangest yet. It centers around the Odyssey of a simple man named Beau trying to get to his mother’s house. Along the way, he ends up in a number of nightmare scenarios which each start and end rather abruptly. Here the film hits its groove and spends most of its runtime, bouncing Beau between forest cults, absurdly unsafe slums, chaotic suburban families, and eventually his mother’s house. While each
of these situations are interesting and engaging, it’s hard to escape the feeling that they often feel like they are going on for too long, a fact which leaves the larger film feeling over-extended and exhausting. The film is just under 3 hours long, and by the end, I could feel every second of it. In its surrealism, much of the film tempts the viewer to interpret the events going on as some kind of allegory or metaphorical tale. Unfortunately, despite the fact the entire film seems conducive to something, there is nothing within it that actually suggests anything deeper. The entire time I was watching the movie I felt compelled to try and understand it deeper, but even after spending a lot of energy attempting to do so, nothing ever came of this. Here the film is
reminiscent of something like Charlie Kaughman’s 2020 film I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

That said, where I’m Thinking of Ending Things focuses on a single cohesive theme, and had a coherent explanation behind the absurdity, Beua Is Afraid ultimately feels rather directionless and unexplained. This fact leaves the film feeling rather frustrating and underwhelming above all else.

Ultimately though, I would give this film a light recommendation. If one is a fan of Aster’s previous work, they may find some enjoyment but don’t go in expecting anything withall that much depth.