Beau Is Afraid


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Beau Is Afraid
"There is no key to unlock it. Doors are held open to interpret, wedged with countless other stories."

An audience may ask very basic questions like "What is real?" and the answer is "Nothing, it is a movie." That doesn't make any of it any less real, not even the stuff that is markedly false. If that sounds hedged then know the boundaries of wilderness and the labyrinths of bocage are part and parcel of landscapes and interiors inflected by psychogeography. Where these selves travel these selves are their travails. As Buckaroo Banzai observed, "wherever you go, there you are."

While the picaresques and pilgrims' progresses of Harold Fry, Captain Willard, or Howard Ratner share similarities better analogue travelogues might be found in dreams. Midsummer Night's by big Bill of course, but other tales with playes within plays: Your Mulholland Drive, your Synecdoche, New York.

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With any quest there is a temptation to try to map it to another hero's journey, even that ur-story of Campbell's that's been duplicated more than Warhol and the soup. Apocalypse Now (and especially Redux) has the rhythm of Dante, the crew of PBR Street Gang ever closer to the Heart Of Darkness where evil lies. Along the way the hoarders and wasters, the traitors, the lost, the variously damned. Considering Satan stands with his three faces mid-breast in ice, only one end of that journey is in aluminium-clad conditioned-air.

What for Beau? We learn of histories and loves and genesis. His Mother perhaps no Alcmire, though strong in wrath. There are flows redirected and places to clean, even reclusive beasts to slay, but Hercules doesn't seem apt. What of Rostam? The lion might be lying, a lie-in. Thirst, often, and the continued use of water as motif in a film two minutes shy of three hours is a further unkindness. A dragon, a temptress? Demons and, perhaps in parallel, rescue of the holey? White and the demon lust spurt forth finally. That epic, that myth. No welcome as warm as Heorot's, to arm outstretched. Nothing but mysteries, opportunities to interpret.

Reality (such as it is) heightened in its artificialities. Hints of the deep constructedness of Roy Andersson, a perspective forced. Made more vibrant by animated sequence, rude mechanical art concealing deep slumbering certainties. An odyssey that ends in a theatre, all Greece for the wheels of fate.

There is no key to unlock it. Doors are held open to interpret, wedged with countless other stories. I've mentioned several but there are other ones as important to seeing what's going on.

Ari Aster writes, directs, has a short, Beau, from 2011, that in one 25th the space still carries many of the same beats and beatings. Beau variously and sometimes simultaneously James Cvetkovski and Armen Nahapetian and, mumbling, stumbling, Joaquin Phoenix. Wasserman the surname, everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Always with water though. Always.

A cast with several comedians (Bill Hader, Nathan Lane, Richard Kind), that guys (Julian Richings, Denis Ménochet, Stephen McKinley Henderson), building to something that isn't a punchline, isn't recognition. As part of that all sorts of craft. A score by Bobby Krlic who drops his Haxan Cloak to compose again for Aster. Production design that includes production design, that play within a play referenced earlier, waiting to catch conscience.

There's an Irish Hawaiian ready meal, a sweep of colonial impacts in that span away from mother-lands. One of several details caught by frequent Aster collaborator Pawel Pogorzelski's camera. I fell down a rabbit hole trying to determine if any cruise ship's doors could be secured from within by a hotel latch until I realised that obsessing about a security detail from Beau's childhood was a trap of their making.

There is no key to unlock it. There is no band. That alone would seem to divide audiences, bound up in uncertainties. No relationship is solid, even mother Mona (Patti LuPone, Zoe Lister-Jones) is not the same at the same time. Phoenix (and variously others) opposite various others a wreck. Part of a continuum of consequence, The Master's Freddie Quell, You Were Never Really Here's Joe. Put upon by the world, put in the world, A Serious Man himself.

I'll standoffishly and oddly admit to lightly imparting velocity to the word Lynchian, but hyper-specific here, endless recursion around that moment approaching the diner's dumpster. What is real? Beau is afraid it might be.

Reviewed on: 02 Jun 2023
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Following the sudden death of his mother, a mild-mannered but anxiety-ridden man confronts his darkest fears as he embarks on an epic, Kafkaesque odyssey back home.
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Director: Ari Aster

Writer: Ari Aster

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Kylie Rogers, Denis Ménochet, Parker Posey, Zoe Lister-Jones

Year: 2023

Runtime: 219 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, UK, Finland, Canada


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