‘Beau is Afraid’ Falls Short in its Ambition

Andrew Phillips, News Editor

Beau is Afraid will not be understood, or even liked, by all. When I watched the movie, the first thing that came to mind was the atmosphere. It’s oppressive, it’s suffocating, and it’s unsatisfying. The near three-hour film feels more like a slog, as a combination of bland visuals and stunning imagery battle for dominance. The center of the entire experience is the anxiety-riddled Beau and his perilous journey to attend his mother’s funeral, all the while going through harrowing events and life-threatening situations. Murphy’s law frames the picture, with the protagonist’s greatest fears becoming manifest in the form of a violent PTSD-plagued veteran, a father faking death, and the unfortunate conclusion of a rekindled romance.
The extraordinarily unconventional movie is the brainchild of Ari Aster, and his fervent push for the film’s creation was truly admirable. However, audiences did not see the vision as clearly as Ari did, with Beau is Afraid grossing a mere $9.4 million on a budget of $35 million. I completely understand why this did so poorly, as I personally wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except the most avid enjoyers of Aster’s previous works. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Beau is certainly worth the cost of entry alone, however, as it doesn’t feel like acting; it genuinely makes you imagine that he’s suffering through this horror in real life and you feel every emotion he does. Ari’s casting decisions were completely spot-on as well, feeling like each and every actor was born for the role they played. Although the movie’s plot and length made it unenjoyable, the pure dedication and heart the cast put into the experience almost made it worth the cost of entry.
This section contains massive spoilers for the movie Beau is Afraid. The real reason for my dislike of the film stems directly from the incredibly disappointing ending. After hours and hours (literally) of building up this conflict between Beau, his mother, and his own internal fears, the film culminates in a courtroom-esque scene in which….Beau dies. That’s it. The payoff for three hours of watching is seeing our protagonist, the one we’ve felt pity for since minute one, quietly drown beneath murky waters. I remember leaving the theater feeling almost betrayed; the way movies are, the outcome I expected involved the unfortunate star of the show having something, anything go his way. To finish a brutal movie with an even more macabre ending is as unconventional as it gets, but didn’t result in my enjoyment.
If artsy films with unique story beats are your forte, then Beau is Afraid is the movie for you, but for all other casual movie-goers, I can’t recommend this in good faith. The laborious run time combined with the often sluggish story culminating in a disappointing ending left me bored and confused. I’m sure others will appreciate the subtle messages of fear and parental trauma, but these didn’t resonate with me in the slightest, and with the abysmal box office earnings, it appears my feelings are shared by the moviegoers.