Beau is Afraid of its Origin, and You’ll Love to Know Why

Joaquin Phoenix is an anxiety-ridden man who confronts his darkest fears as he embarks on an epic, odyssey to his hometown for his mother's funeral in Beau is Afraid
Beau is Afraid

Joaquin Phoenix is an anxiety-ridden man who confronts his darkest fears as he embarks on an epic, odyssey to his hometown for his mother’s funeral in Beau is Afraid

To know why Beau is Afraid, you’ll need to know the origin of “Beau”. Beau, which was made in 2011 and starred Bill Mayo as the titular character, is the kernel of the idea that blossoms into Beau Is Afraid. Beau is a neurotic middle-aged man whose trip to visit his mother is delayed indefinitely when his keys are mysteriously taken from his door.

Beau confronts his fears

Fear sets in, and he becomes paranoid that whoever took his keys will return with murderous intent. So he decides to call his mother again asking if she can pick him up instead, revealing a furry monster who has taken the place of his mother at a desk with an answering machine and keys strewn about.

RELATED: The Super Mario Bros. Movie Review – A New Generation of Fun

The mother-replacing furry beast is Kolgaan (the collector of keys) who enters to make us question whether this man exists in our world or if we’ve entered his. Although it is not made apparent in the film, it should be said that Beau once played with an Ouija board before this entire situation took place.

Beau short film poster

Many of the lines of dialogue and interactions from Beau are identical to their counterparts in the feature film. Aster’s short is heightened as a way to reflect Beau’s paranoia, but it’s not nearly as intense as in Beau Is Afraid. The film vacillates between horror and comedy as the character devolves into psychological chaos, and the audience is unsure of what is real. The film explores the idea of our macabre desire to watch Beau suffer and whether our detachment from his reality influences that desire.


Beau knows more than he lets on

The feature-length successor; Beau Is Afraid revolves around the titular Beau, a middle-aged man played by a gray-haired, bald-pated, moderately obese Joaquin Phoenix who seems to live in an almost apocalyptically run-down hell hole of a city. Which, every evening after therapy he has to run home to avoid a veritable menagerie of madmen who prowl the streets searching for victims. To survive he must take refuge in his lower-middle-class, sad, depressingly dank apartment. Beau is the beloved son of a businesswoman/tycoon Monna Wasserman.

RELATED: Murder Mystery 2 Review: Comedy Adam Sandler Is Back, For Better and Worse

Monna obsesses over her boy’s every move but seemingly does nothing about it, when unfortunately his keys are stolen right out of his door, which causes him to miss a flight home to see his aforementioned mother, and he finds no other recourse but to tell his mother and admit this, (as she puts it); blatantly passive-aggressive transgression against her.

He calls her again to give her an update and learns that his mother has been killed in a freak accident. That kicks off a chain of events that can only be described as Ari Aster himself puts it:

Beau Is Afraid is a Jewish Lord of the Rings but he’s just going to his mom’s house”.

-Ari Aster


From left to right: Roger (Nathan Lane), Beau (Joaquin Phoenix), and Grace (Amy Adams) join hands for grace

This epic odyssey of self-discovery through trauma includes stopovers in the home of Roger, the doctor played by Nathan Lane, and his kind but neurotic wife Grace played by Amy Adams, and their psychotic daughter; Yellowstone’s Kylie Rogers, and their PTSD-ridden guard dog of a stray who served in a war with their now deceased son who they are subconsciously looking to replace or better yet fill the void that was left with his passing.

RELATED: Bholaa Movie Review: Ajay Devgn Melts Your Brain in 3D

This leads to an almost saccharin-sweet interlude with a traveling group of actors where art doesn’t just imitate life it influences it with a play where Beau and the audience is translated to a very Charlie Kaufman-like stage production; where things are happening that’s part of a stage production that is reflective of a person’s life who’s in the audience watching the stage production.

Only to be greeted by Chekhov’s proverbial gun in the second act (in the form of Rogers; replacement son) that reappears in the third, as a ticking clock of impending doom that just has to go off, but not until the final act. Resulting in fantastically fear-fueled fictitious fights that render Beau emotionally sabotaged into exhaustion and compliance making him the perfect victim for his chaotically climatic return home.


Beau venturing into the unknown

Although Aster doesn’t replicate every plot point from his short film Beau in Beau Is Afraid, the narrative parallels are obvious and consistent. For example, the presence of an individual in the hallway who tells Beau he’s “fucked, pal!” is a direct parallel. Additionally, some of the short film’s precise compositions and cuts make it into the feature-length counterpart, as does its overarching mood of hysterical panic generated by both external threats, like the creepy possum, and the fear of potentially disappointing one’s mother. Overall, Aster seems to have used his short film as a springboard for the larger, more intense narrative that unfolds in Beau Is Afraid.

RELATED: Air Review – Greatness Out of Thin Air

It seems that Ari Aster’s latest film, Beau Is Afraid, draws heavily from the short film and incorporates themes of codependency, guilt, and pain. The main character, Beau, goes through various states of consciousness and unconsciousness as he tries to come to terms with his mother’s internalized guilt, which has almost become a crippling ailment for him. Aster seems to have put himself through the same process as Beau, as he reworks his previous short films into an emotional culmination that reflects his own self-discovery.

It’s interesting to note that the ending of Beau sees the main character lost in delusion but in a place of comfort and happiness where his mother’s approval grounds him back to safety. This is in contrast to the ending of Beau Is Afraid, where Beau’s quest for self-discovery results in death and destruction. It’s fascinating that Aster chose to use this particular short film as the glue that holds together his ideas and as a mold that’s malleable enough to be prolonged into a three-hour waking nightmare trauma trip.

Beau is Afraid’ is now playing in limited theaters with a wide release on April 21.

About Beau is Afraid

Distribution: A24 Production companies: A24, Square Peg Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Kylie Rogers, Denis Ménochet, Parker Posey, Zoe Lister-Jones, Armen Nahapetian, Julia Antonelli, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Richard Kind, Hayley Squires Director-screenwriter: Ari Aster Producers: Lars Knudsen, Ari Aster Executive producers: Len Blavatnik, Danny Cohen, Timo Argillander, Elisa Alvares, Ann Ruark Director of Photography: Pawel Pogorzelski Production designer: Fiona Crombie Costume designer: Alice Babidge Music: Bobby Krlic Editor: Lucian Johnston Visual effects supervisor: Louis Morin Animation: Cristóbal León, Joaquín Cociña Casting: Jim Carnahan Rating: R Runtime: 2 hours 59 minutes

Synopsis: A decades-spanning surrealist horror film set in an alternate present, Joaquin Phoenix plays Beau, an “extremely anxious but pleasant-looking man who has a fraught relationship with his overbearing mother and never knew his father. When his mother dies, he makes a journey home that involves some wild supernatural threats

What did you think of Beau Is Afraid and our insight concerning the theories surrounding the film? Let us know in the comments and on social media!

KEEP READING: Suzume Review: Makoto Shinkai’s Latest is a Work of Pure Wonder


Picture of Daniel Jerome

Daniel Jerome

Freelance Journalist Content Producer, Onscreen Talent, Moderator, Host, and Resident Blovian (Black-Whovian) for the Illuminerdi. Carefully written fact-checked essay in the streets, and irresponsibly unmoderated comments section in the sheets. Tweet it, repeat it, you can delete it; don't give a flub, 'cause we will all see it.