Heading into Ari Aster‘s new movie Beau Is Afraid I knew only one thing: the film was about a guy trying to get home to his mother. Little did I know the three-hour journey to get there would be filled with wild twists, disturbing visuals and some of the most accurate representations of life with anxiety put to screen.
One thing must be said about this film before I dive into it: it’s definitely not for everyone.
It’s one of those films which has a massive duration for a reason and uses its length as a vehicle to really dive into some uncomfortable themes — namely the pains of having an overbearing mother, the grief that shadows a childhood with a deceased family member, life with crippling anxiety and general feelings of guilt and shame towards your childhood that disturb adult living.
It’s also very confusing in parts, but thankfully never in a pretentious “artsy movie” kinda way.
Me at the start of Beau Is Afraid vs the end pic.twitter.com/0LQYGrMeT4
— Blake Garman (@FrostedBlakes34) April 24, 2023
There are multiple ways this complex film can be deciphered but I think the most important one is, ironically, the easiest to understand. Joaquin Pheonix‘s Beau is afraid.
He constantly asks if things will kill him, googles symptoms for his medication and hyper-fixates on words that don’t really matter. To add to the horrors of this heightened state of fear Beau knows as normalcy, all of his extreme fears and worries manifest into reality throughout the film, making for a tense and uneasy watch.
As someone who lives with medical anxiety, a form of anxiety that manifests in issues pertaining to my health (be they real or made-up in my little noggin), it was actually pretty cool seeing a character go through these things on screen and have them be exaggerated to fuel the movie’s dark comedy moments.
After all, anxiety is pretty funny and absurd. You create the worst situations for yourself in your head so much that they start to encroach upon your daily life. Symptoms you’ve imagined start to feel shockingly real. The most bizarre scenarios that definitely won’t ever happen drive you into a state of inaction, just in case they might.
This is basically the premise of Beau is Afraid. What if every uncomfortable thought and feeling you had played out exactly how you feared?
What if you were leaving home and left your keys in the door to go back inside and grab something real quick, but in the instant you left, someone snatched them? What if your therapist was telling all of your secret confessions about your upbringing to your incredibly controlling mother? What if you never had sex because you thought it would kill you?
#BeauIsAfraid is like negative therapy. Super trauma. Anti-happiness. I’m never going to be able to look at my mother again.
— Callum Crumlish (@CallumC_) April 26, 2023
I wouldn’t necessarily call Beau Is Afraid a horror movie, it’s more of an anxiety-ride in the same way Uncut Gems or Shiva Baby were. The “thrill” or “horror” comes from the fact that we’re witnessing a man live out his worst nightmares, but they feel real and plausible.
This isn’t the kind of movie where a man is afraid of spooky monsters and so they appear to attack him — this is about an anxiety-riddled and deeply traumatised person who fears the simple things. That man on the street. His mother. Theft. A life of loneliness. People he’s ever possibly wronged coming back for extreme vengeance over slight grievances.
That’s anxiety, baby!
I love the fact that there’s finally a film that explores anxiety in all its facets. Usually anxiety-laden thrillers make you uncomfortable for an extended period of time and say “there, that’s what it’s like to be irrationally tense all the time”.
Beau Is Afraid isn’t… afraid to poke fun at all of the weird things anxiety does to your brain. It’s a deeply funny movie, and a lot of the humour lends itself to the audience conceding that there may not be a solid explanation to anything that goes down. How could there be? Anyone with anxiety would know how frustrating it is when you try to explain how you’re feeling or thinking and people just don’t get it or suggest concrete solutions which you just don’t see as helpful in that moment.
That feeling is exactly what Beau Is Afraid imitates. It would be mind-numbingly annoying trying to make sense of everything that happens to Beau, but that’s the point. These things don’t make sense to the average person.
Beau, as someone with extreme anxiety, lives in his head and not his body. His unruly thoughts dictate everything we see on the screen. He’s the most unreliable narrator in existence.
But who can blame him, really? Anxiety never tries to make sense, and neither does this film. And that’s why I fucking love it.
Beau Is Afraid is available to watch now at a cinema near you.
If you need mental health support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online.
Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.
If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.