Ari Aster’s Latest Film Expained

Apr 29, 2023

Spoiler Alert: Spoilers Ahead for Beau Is Afraid

Director Ari Aster’s work has always created division amongst audiences. Breaking onto the scene with Hereditary helped to completely disarm viewers. The film relished a story of grief and pain with horrific results. Midsommar took those themes and ideas a step further and turned them into a twisted romance. Each film left audiences chewing on different ideas that Aster wanted us to take away.

Beau is Afraid takes further pushes the limits once again with a finished product that audiences will ponder for years to come.

Beau is Afraid has a premise that seems simple and relatively disarming on its surface. The film follows a man named Beau (Joaquin Phoenix), who embarks on an epic odyssey to visit his mother (Patti LuPone). That simplified description does not even begin to divulge the mysteries of the story.

Beau is a man riddled with anxiety, which drives every decision he makes in the film. His fear can best be analyzed as two separate fear’s he is plagued with. Beau’s biggest and most obvious fear is the mere idea of his mother.

Related: Beau Is Afraid Review: Ari Aster’s New Head-Scratcher Is a Doozy

Beau is Afraid of His Mother


From the beginning of the film, Beau has severe anxiety over visiting his mother. The first third follows the character trying to leave to visit his mother. As he attempts to leave his apartment, he is stopped by a variety of threatening obstacles. Each obstacle forces Beau to reevaluate why he is scared of her in the first place. His anxiety about her stems from severe forms of trauma. The first of those deals with the tone that the film establishes within the first act.

Beau is Afraid is not-at-all a typical horror film from Aster. The first act follows Beau as he attempts to leave his apartment. Numerous obstacles are thrown his way as he is simply trying to leave. These obstacles include things like needing water to take his high-dosage medication.

As he navigates the horrific people on his block, Beau is determined to visit his mother. However, when faced with the obstacle of crossing the street to get water, his anxiety absolutely cripples him. That motivation to visit his mother takes a massive turn in the second act.

Like his transformation into a criminal mastermind in Joker, Joaquin Phoenix changes Beau in the second act. His stop in the house of Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane gives him the chance of a family he never had. Beau wants to visit his mother but enjoys the cozy life that Lane and Ryan gave him.

He becomes so comfortable with this idyllic life that he is scared he might forget his purpose. When Beau unwillingly watches their daughter (Kylie Rogers) commit suicide, it sends him into a tailspin. The second part of this analysis explains why Beau is truly afraid in this 179-minute movie.

Related: Why Beau is Afraid Is Worth Your Time

Beau is Afraid of Himself


Ari Aster allows his filmmaking originality to shine in the second half. Beau is a character that is uncomfortable in his own skin. His escape from the house shows his true fear of his life. Including the flashback to a cruise with his mother, Beau has never been comfortable making decisions for himself.

His mother has made him uncertain of what he deserved as a child, making him insecure as an adult. Beau traverses into the forest and runs into villagers who let him have an epiphany.

Beau is finally allowed to see the life and family that he deserves. Unfortunately, his realization is cut short, forcing him to reach his destination. Once Beau reaches his mother’s house, things take a dark turn. As he is able to have a moment of intimacy with Elaine (Parker Posey), the presence of his mother takes over.

Delivered by Patti LuPone, she shows the cruelty he had always suffered. This act forced Beau to try and stand up to his mother’s wrath delivered through his choking of her. It’s a rare and empowering moment once again cut short by those around Beau.

The third act gives Beau a sense of agency, especially when he sees his family (twin brother and monster father) in the attic. However, his agency is cut short when he realizes what is happening and that he didn’t kill his mother. This moment contextualizes why Beau is so fearful in the first place. He is scared of what he is capable of once he realizes where he came from.

Why he is so afraid becomes boiled down to something relatively simple. Beau fears the power others have over his life and decisions.

Beau was never given a chance to be an independent man. His life was based entirely on being cared for. Being patient in his life has made him subservient to everyone around him. Once he finally leaves his mom’s house, his face is struck with a more shocked expression.

When he escapes and is once again trapped by his Mom and therapist, Beau realizes he never had agency in the first place. That realization of his why takes on a look of serenity when the boat kills him. His fear over the entire film was a deep understanding that he would never have control of his life.

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