OPINION: ‘Beau is Afraid’ misses target in telling the tale of a man’s long journey home


Photo courtesy of A24

“Beau is Afraid” was marked by director Ari Aster as a dark comedy but the movie’s surrealist hellscape says otherwise.

The movie shows Beau, an unstable, highly volatile man, as he navigates his way back home after his mother’s unexpected, supposed death.

If something can be visually impairing in a good way, this is it. The landscapes, characters and camerawork pop hard. It does a great job of splitting up the different worlds and places in time that Beau travels through to make them their own.

About two hours in, Beau imagines a life where he settles down in a village to live a simple life and this entire sequence puts Joaquin Phoenix in front of an animated landscape that looks like a storybook.

This visual breakup in styles was a relief, and the movie is technically solid and interesting during its three-hour run time.

But, the story doesn’t work. The story and characters are ultimately what is so enticing about Aster’s previous two films, “Hereditary” and “Midsommar.” “Midsommar” still crosses my mind about once a week and I haven’t seen it for over a year and a half.

I initially blamed this on the run time, but as a recent New Yorker article pointed out, some of the most successful and celebrated films ever have run times that aren’t far off of “Beau is Afraid.” It has to be something else.

“Beau is Afraid” doesn’t have that kind of sticking power that lights my imagination ablaze. Instead, it pulls its feet through tar to get to an unsatisfying ending.

There is some guilt around this for me. I want to be in love with a director’s big ambitions and originality, but the movie feels static and oddly plain, given the visual spectacle.

Beau is an extremely unlikeable guy. The movie wants you to feel sorry for him but he refuses to change. Maybe some filial fear plays into this but he goes through a long, perilous journey back to his mother for what? To get swallowed whole by his own guilt for little grievances throughout his life?

When Beau confronts his mother twice in the last act of the film, a comedy would have him be triumphant. Instead, he falls to her feet and tries to plead to her good senses like a peasant pleading to a god.

The comedy must have been about the sex disease he gets from his mother that gives him a killer cock or from his gigantic genitalia father but rarely does this kind of humor work for me, especially under the circumstances of the rest of the movie.

Maybe I had the wrong expectations going into “Beau is Afraid,” but I was disappointed with how it turned out. If you’re a big fan of Aster’s previous movies, expect to search far and wide for his familiar style and to find something entirely different.