Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Ari Aster’s Third Feature Film

In his disarray, Beau Wasserman embodies a weak man with slumped shoulders, resembling a child. Portrayed by the overweight and confused Joaquin Phoenix, he utters his words in a whining and strangled tone. Every sentence seems like an apology, ending with an imaginary question mark. We meet Beau for the first time in his therapist’s office. He is a smiling confessor with a stocky build, writing a single word in his guilt book and posing suggestive questions. Beau’s guilt marks him, but gripping anxiety also leaves its trace. Concerning his mother, Mona Wasserman, who runs the business, a piercing discontent is almost palpable over the phone. Hesitatingly, he explains that he cannot make the planned visit. He stammers, coos, and apologizes repeatedly. Phoenix masterfully depicts how decades of burdensome guilt manipulation have reduced the man to dust.

True to its name, Beau Is Afraid is messy. In his third feature film, Ari Aster creates his rawest, funniest, yet most confusing masterpiece. The art horror sensation from Hereditary and Midsommar delves into an open-ended Oedipal journey. For three tense hours, it undergoes a breakdown, with three notable changes in tone throughout the film, excluding flashbacks and lengthy animated fantasy sequences.

Many harrowing things have befallen Beau in a meaningful sense, but the film is not merely a horror film. Neat genre labels do not help much with this surreal saga. The film is shaped by tragicomic elements while not excessively relying on inspirations such as the Coen brothers or Terry Gilliam. Beau Is Afraid is a unique film—a chaotic, sticky, and often tiresome journey. It is rife with forks and dead ends, almost entirely made up of ramifications. With Beau grappling through moods, styles, and genres, the film resembles the fluid logic of a dream. Aster fills it with wacky gags, odd cameo appearances, and quick but hard-to-watch visual quips. The film intentionally evokes confusing emotions and extraordinary views of apocalyptic absurdity. It will surely confound and possibly disturb audiences expecting another merciless horror trap from Aster. He is both excited and worried about how the film will be received. In a Lynchian fashion, it is a film with a bold approach. Not all aspects work, but we cannot deny that it is exhilarating to witness an extraordinary filmmaker present such a strange yet daring work.

Demented Structure of Beau Is Afraid

Beau is likely annoying; however, we can at least understand his neuroses. Apart from the damage caused by his mother’s oppressive parenting, he lives in a bizarre world. A random daylight stabbing in the street garners almost no attention in a horrifyingly dark and absurd city reminiscent of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films. Discerning people might notice a corporate logo emblazoned on every object around Beau’s dingy neighborhood. From his apartment manager displaying announcements to the joyless ready-to-eat food he consumes, all the misery in Beau’s life is somehow linked to Mona. The void left by his father, who died of a congenital heart defect right around the time of Beau’s conception, and the fact that Mona once recounted incidents and terrifying ghost stories to Beau when she was a teenager, speaks volumes about Beau’s sexual repression and perpetual fearfulness. Aster constructed Beau Is Afraid with a demented structure. With the highest level of imaginable anxiety, Beau yearns to visit his mother. However, the world and his stupidity conspire against him at every turn. Consequently, he barely makes it out of the front door for the first 45 minutes of the film.

Terrifying Depiction of Anxiety Disorder

The film’s initial segment might be the most entertaining and terrifying depiction of an anxiety disorder that any director has ever captured. As a sweaty, disheveled Beau navigates through a series of escalating disasters, Aster gleefully amplifies the sensations of a nightmare spiraling out of control. After the wild and dizzying heights of the first part, the rest of the film cannot help but feel somewhat sluggish. It is almost certain that Aster did this deliberately; however, the intention does not alleviate its discomforting sensations. Like a prolonged, heavy sigh, the intensity of agony punctuates Beau’s journey. In the second segment, an injured Beau finds himself under the care of a fertile, cheerful couple, Grace and Roger, who care for our hero with unsettling intensity. Later, Beau stumbles upon a free-spirited theater group encampment in the woods, where he becomes involved in producing a fantastic folk epic. This segment interjects a painting-style interlude that twists itself into a narrative loop. From the city to the suburbs, to the wild alarm, to the proverbial dragon’s lair, Beau’s episodic journey of characters provides the satisfying thrill of a heroic quest, furnishing the structure we desperately need amidst the horrifying chaos of our hero’s struggles.

Subjective Protagonist Experience

Aster’s plentiful references feel more like an acknowledgment that the human mind cannot contain itself, drawing us into such structures. However, Beau Is Afraid is firmly entrenched in the subjective experience of the protagonist, showcasing Beau’s struggle with neuroses that were dismantling him and instilling primitive templates into his battle. Therefore, it does not seem coincidental that Beau Is Afraid frequently resonates with modernist opuses throughout its duration. Unfortunately, Aster’s unchecked intellectual and creative ambitions can feel overwhelming. While the film meanders without the frenzied energy of its opening act, unexpected violent outbursts and sporadic, fantastic, grotesque moments interrupt the thrill. Beau Is Afraid struggles to maintain the narrative excitement necessary for its lengthy and eventful three-hour runtime. In a film that’s an over-the-top amalgamation of ideas, emotion, and tone, maintaining momentum becomes crucial, given its enthusiastic gusto.

Finally, Beau arrives at his mother’s quaint modern home to confront accountability for all his failures. The precise circumstances of Beau’s arrival complicate the mother-daughter reunion in gruesome ways, as does the unexpected appearance of a childhood love who has haunted Beau for 50 years through a fading holiday polaroid.

Aster’s Least Successful Film

The last half-hour of the main film acts as a dazzling stage. Aster develops a thematic focus on guilt, grief, and the parent-child relationship. Hereditary tells the story of what befalls a family after the tragic loss of their daughter. In Midsommar, it relates the tale of the sole survivor of a family massacre. Beau spends most of the film believing his mother has died after being unable to visit her. By delving into the manifestations of genetic, mental illness, and demonic culture, Aster explores the concept of inheriting traits from parents in Hereditary. In Midsommar, the film zeroes in on how Dani’s parents shape her and emphasizes the void left after their loss. In search of a parental figure elsewhere, the film delves into Dani’s vulnerability, symbolizing her assimilation into the Hårga people.

Similarly, Beau Is Afraid takes a different approach. In contrast to the inherited mental illness influencing his perspective, Beau’s mother’s conditional love and belief that his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather suffered from the fatal condition of orgasm shape his entire identity. These influences have hindered his growth, leading to passivity, self-doubt, and paranoia.

Beau fails to comprehend the meaning of freedom because the fear of pleasure and the repercussions of orgasm dominate his perception of his own body. Moreover, his reactive yet punitive mother has trained him to doubt himself and prioritize others over himself continually. In its conclusion, Beau Is Afraid incorporates various conflicting elements, including peculiar psychosexual nuances reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s films, unsettling plot twists akin to those in many Asian films, and subtle visual references to Aster’s earlier works. The abundance of mismatched materials causes the film to veer off course. In reality, the film loses its way after Beau leaves his therapist’s room. It relies on Phoenix’s captivating portrayal and Aster’s twisted imagination. Frustratingly, it is a piece of art simultaneously ambiguous yet unmistakable. While it manages to evade being dull, the film becomes increasingly vexing. Undoubtedly, it stands as Aster’s least successful film to date.


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