“Beau is Afraid”

 “Beau is Afraid”

By Lucas Battista

(2023) Streaming on Prime, Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires and Denis Ménochet.

I like to imagine that directors like David Lynch (“Eraserhead,” “Mulholand Drive”), Alejandro Jodorowsky (“El Topo,” “The Holy Mountain”), or Charlie Kaufman (“Synecdoche New York,” “Being John Malkovich”) have very, very mundane dreams. Maybe they consist of taking a dog for a walk, eating from a halal truck, or going to the gym and using only the rowing machine. There is no way, on God’s green Earth, that they derive inspiration from dreams, or waking-life, or Jungian thought, or even schizophrenic ramblings. No, these movies are simply too deranged and outlandish for any of those things.

Ari Aster has really taken the cake in that regard, setting a new spin on film-surrealism in ways unprecedented, with “Beau is Afraid.” His repertoire up until now has been composed of horror movies, (“Hereditary” and “Midsommar” both deserve a review) and “Beau if Afraid” is definitely a departure from his past work, although in many ways, it still has all the stylistic elements and tricks Ari Aster likes to pull from his deck. The whole movie is one long fever-dream with Joaquin Phoenix swinging from scenario to scenario each predicated on his various insecurities, all with the cohesion and continuity one might expect of a dream…or nightmare. There are weird lapses of peaceful moments that are then splattered by a return to sudden anxiety and terror. All the characters operate by dream logic, though the dialogue isn’t necessarily incoherent or nonsensical. It’s definitely got some kind of psychoanalytic organs to it. Beau is afraid of his proximity to people in an agoraphobic way, his mom’s death, offending strangers or breaking social customs, living life without fulfillment or catharsis, losing a childhood crush, and sagging testicles, which tend to accompany old age. All these insecurities and fears manifest themselves in the movie in some really ridiculous ways, generally the worst imaginable to Beau, that are so out-there I cannot even begin to describe them in a serviceable way. Nonetheless, it’s fun to pick apart, and has outstanding visuals, really outside the box set-design, weird animated sequences, and hilariously crazy performances.

If you’re expecting much of a coherent, linear story, or really a narrative, this is definitely opposite to both those things. The real appeal to “Beau is Afraid” comes from being a fly on the wall in someone else’s nightmare, and the real analysis you can attach to it is simply figuring out what is going on inside this guy’s head and what on the outside conjured all these weird sequences and moments. If that has some appeal to you, go ahead and watch it. I couldn’t spoil it if I tried (but be advised it is really, really bizarre).

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