I’ll be blunt. I hated Beau is Afraid. I absolutely despised it. It is my least favorite film I’ve seen so far this year, and it will be difficult for any other movie to knock it out of that spot. Beau Is Afraid enraged me throughout nearly its entire 3-hour runtime. Not because the content is particularly offensive or because I can’t handle big S, big C “Surrealist Cinema,” or whatever. The movie made me angry because somewhere around the 45-minute mark, I realized I had so badly miscalculated the cost/benefit analysis of my life that it had led to me watching this utterly dreadful film in an otherwise empty theater on a Wednesday night instead of doing something else more useful or fun. Like attempting to overthrow a government or kissing a girl or something. But noooo.
Instead, I was watching Joaquin Phoenix be sad about his mom and make dick jokes for 3 hours so I could write a review.
Well, here we go.
What is Beau Is Afraid?
For those of you unfamiliar, Beau Is Afraid is the new “surrealist black tragicomedy horror film” from Hereditary and Midsommar director Ari Aster starring Joaquin Phoenix. The synopsis reads:
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.Beau Is Afraid’s Synopsis via IMDB
It’s impossible to tell you any more about the “plot” of the movie without spoiling it. If you do find yourself watching Beau Is Afraid, you need to do so knowing as little as possible about the plot so that you, too, can
suffer through this monstrosity properly appreciate the film!
Why I Hated It
I’m a simple man. When I watch a movie, I like to be told a story and for what may seem like disparate elements of that story at the beginning to later combine themselves into an enlightening, motivating, thought-provoking, or otherwise interesting statement on the human condition.
That statement can be something happy and positive, like “good can triumph over evil if we don’t give up!” Or it can be something negative, like “absolute power corrupts absolutely!” It doesn’t really matter. It’s not even necessary that I agree with the statement. But that’s what I’m here for. A story and a statement.
Beau Is Afraid makes very little attempt at either.
What Beau Is Afraid has instead is just a bunch of weird shit happening just for the sake of weird shit happening. Every time you think you may be finally starting to pull the pieces together, to finally connect the story you currently see to other things you’ve seen previously, to fashion something sort of resembling rhyme or reason in all of this onscreen chaos, to create a statement that justifies why this movie exists, you’re interrupted by a loud noise and then some other, even weirder shit happens to remind you that none of this matters.
And then you look at your watch and realize there are 2 fucking hours left in Beau Is Afraid’s utterly absurd runtime. I’m not a person who hates 3-hour movies on principle. I gushed about Tár in my review of that movie and ranked it as my best movie of 2022. So trust me when I say I can handle a long, deliberately paced movie. Adderall is the wind beneath my wings. But holy shit man Beau Is Afraid felt like it took years off my life.
But Maybe Beau Is Afraid Is Just Too Smart For Me
Look, I love movies and I love writing reviews but, at the end of the day, I’m just some guy. I didn’t go to film school or anything. I like a lot of objectively bad rom coms starring Jennifer Lopez. It’s very possible that, to borrow a phrase from J. Cole stans, you have to have a certain intellectual level to enjoy Beau Is Afraid and I’m just a big dumb idiot.
So I’ve decided to give Beau Is Afraid a fair shake and see if there are smarter movie people than me out there who can explain it to me.
Alissa Wilkinson in her “Beau Is Afraid, explained“ article for Vox said, “…it’s important to remember that Beau Is Afraid, which is out now, is not a puzzle to be solved or a mystery to be unlocked. That’s by design. Sink into it and don’t try to pick it apart, and you’ll get it. Get stuck on the details and you’ll lose the plot. So to speak.”
Neat! So just watch it and vibe. I can do that.
Richard Lawson, my favorite critic, wrote in his review for Vanity Fair, “Read one way, this is a remarkably frank and revelatory film: Aster making manifest his dreadfully active psyche so that we may better understand him. (And, I guess, ourselves.) There’s satire embedded within, a grand hyperbole about Jewish boys and their moms, about the embarrassments of moving through the world as a nebbish frightened by their shadow and everyone else’s.”
Okay cool so there’s a statement about Ari Aster’s mommy issues in Beau Is Afraid. I can respect that. It’s good for artists to use their art to work through their internal issues and traumas. Gotcha.
Beau Is Afraid’s Surrealism
Earlier, I mentioned that Beau Is Afraid is a surreal film. I went and read up some more on the history of surrealism because I’ve heard that word vaguely tossed around forever without ever really knowing what it meant. Here’s a place you can start if you, too, need some help understanding what surrealism actually means. But, in brief, surrealism today is an artistic technique that takes our understanding of reality and flips it on its head using complex, otherworldly imagery and symbolism to express the artist’s inner consciousness.
It doesn’t have to make sense or be logical. In fact, it probably shouldn’t.
So, one could say that Beau Is Afraid did it’s job as a surrealist expression of Ari Aster’s consciousness and that it is an exciting and humorous exploration of his still unresolved mommy issues. You could say that the frustration Beau Is Afraid causes by not making any sense and taking too long to make its point (or not make a point at all) is the intended effect and that Ari Aster is a genius who may fly over the heads of common moviegoers who are too dumb to understand these things while they wait on their next helping of cynically produced slop from the MCU.
Or one could be like me and say screw all that hippie art school bullshit, Beau Is Afraid just sucks.
Recommendation: Go do literally anything else with your time. Anything.
Be sure to check out our other Movie and TV reviews here on the site including:
The Super Mario Bros Movie Review | Power Ups & Downs by Dex Hinton
“John Wick: Chapter 4” Movie Review – Kinda Crazy This Is 3 Hours Long, But It’s A Masterpiece by Garrett Harrelson
The Last Of Us Season 1 Review: Make Every Shot Count by Royden Ogeltree
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Thanks for reading all that and, as always, #SupportFlorencePugh
April 30, 2023 at 2:08 am
YESSS!!! Thank you for this validating review!!!!
May 2, 2023 at 6:33 pm
Agreed 100% I walked out after 2h50m I just couldn’t take it anymore
May 2, 2023 at 9:13 pm
I’m with you man. I’m even angrier to notice so many people “admiring” or “wondering what’s the meaning”. F*** the meaning, and f*** them for making this s*** movie clearly trying to sound way smarter than what it actually is!!
May 23, 2023 at 1:22 pm
With it’s mishmash style, bad rhythm, picking up not at all matched form and content from here and there I was wondering why such an idiotic movie should come to existence.
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