“Beau Is Afraid”: A Chaotic and Bewildering Odyssey

A failed man's journey to return home turns into a sprawling, surreal nightmare in Ari Aster's new film. This is our review of "Beau Is Afraid."

Frame from the movie 'Beau is afraid'

Photo: Diamond Films

LatinAmerican Post | Juan Andrés Rodríguez

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Leer en español: “Beau tiene miedo”: Una odisea caótica y desconcertante

After an astonishing debut with "Hereditary" (2018), followed by equally terrifying work with "Midsommar" (2019), Ari Aster has quickly established himself as one of the most important contemporary horror directors. This gave him the privilege that his third film is a work of authorship in which he can explore and play to subvert expectations about his work.

In "Beau Is Afraid," Aster sets up a surreal epic that's as hypnotic as it is bewildering. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Beau Wasserman, a childish and paranoid man who has a complex relationship with his successful mother. After missing his flight to his annual reunion, an extraordinary circumstance forces Beau to embark on a journey to return home. Thus, you will find peculiar characters in extraordinary situations, which blur the boundaries between reality and a horrible fantasy.

It is not possible to go into details of the plot, not only to avoid spoilers, but also because it is very difficult to explain the direction the film is taking without seeming to lose meaning. The director elaborates each circumstance in detail over the course of three hours with sequences that stand out for the variety of technical resources and the excellent performances, but which in the end lose weight in the commitment to a deliberately confusing narrative.

An Amazing Trip

The concept of the epic on the tape is very well-used for the development of cinematographic moments, influenced by a surreal style. Visually, it is interesting how the transit is marked by the contrast of completely different scenarios. Beginning with the chaos of a decadent city, whose inhabitants limit in the monstrous, which increases the anguish of the protagonist. This feeling is effectively conveyed by long sequence shots set to the spooky soundtrack by Bobby Krilk, ghostly melodies that seem to come from the depths of an abyss. At times, the camera recreates the perspective of a character in a video game for immersive viewing.

From this starting point, the places change radically. Aseptic houses that seem to be taken from furniture catalogs, with such millimeter symmetry that the smallest change is already uncomfortable. These sequences are ideal for challenging the audience and discerning between what is real and the product of the protagonist's tormented psyche.

A sequence encapsulates the best and worst of the movie at the same time. This is a 12-minute animated montage, directed by the Chilean duo of Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña ("The Wolf House") in which Beau imagines his life with a heroic personality. Visually it is amazing, full of colors and textures (Aster's nod to Bergman's "The Magic Flute") and it completely changes the tone of the film. But in terms of the narrative structure, it doesn't completely fit and extends to that long duration of three hours. Thus, the film stands out more for these sequences individually than for the cohesion of the narrative structure.

Also read: 6 Recommended Youth Movie Sagas for Harry Potter Lovers

The Influence of Greek Tragedy

Several critics have used the phrase "an Oedipal odyssey" to describe the film, highlighting and paying homage to the influence of Greek tragedies. The founding myths of the western canon are used to play with the audience's intuition about the fate of the story, but they are also used as an excuse for not elaborating on the logic of the narrative universe. This is frustrating because Aster insists on accommodating the surreal style with conventional Hollywood movie plot twists, styles that don't quite match.

Even so, this aspect is fundamental to give substance to the arcs of the characters, which gives good material to the entire cast. Phoenix plays a fearful hero who resists the call of fate, a journey into memory and past guilt. He is a modern, failed Oedipus, whose innocence provides comic relief that transitions from tender to frustrating, but without detracting from the actor's total commitment, which at times avoids the transition from the extravagant to the ridiculous.

The story also has its island of Aeaea, in which Circe is transformed into a mysterious surgeon, played by the always charming Nathan Lane. This space is also inhabited by a fury in the skin of Toni (Kylie Rogers) a selfish teenager ignored by her parents, the veteran soldier Jeeves (Denis Ménochet) as a terrifying Polyphemus, blinded by rage, and a mysterious Amy Ryan as the oracle in the form of a loving mother, bereaved by her son's bereavement.

But who really makes the most of these parallels is Patti LuPone as Mona Wasserman, Beau's mother, who renounces the doom of Jocasta for the role of a tyrannical Medea. It's a character that takes time to take center stage, but it's worth the wait thanks to the acting strength of LuPone, who appropriates the myth of the bad mother with such conviction that she deserves recognition from the Academy.

"Beau Is Afraid" is the experimental work of a director who jumped at the chance to have a studio blindly trust his vision. The result is a work that has great moments and memorable sequences, but that fails to consolidate such a memorable story at the same time. It is an experience that, if it is of interest, you should take the opportunity to see it on the big screen, because outside of it, it is difficult to appreciate its value sustained by the spectacular images. With that said, it shouldn't be surprising if in a few years, it becomes one of those cult classics that moviegoers cherish for being an amalgamation of ridiculous moments. Cases have been seen, and only time will have the last word.

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