Beau Is Afraid: The BRWC Review. By Samhith Ankam.
Impressive, really, how little there is to Beau is Afraid but how it also, in turn, wants you to ponder on it like you’re paying to be Beau’s therapist for two hours, or indulge in its cruel pulling of the strings that only seems to result in a joke with no clear construction of character to guide it anywhere else. After Beau’s first phone call with his mom, one of the two phone calls that set his journey of returning to the source of his current situation— a rundown apartment in a poor, thus anarchic, neighborhood with seemingly no job and no passions beyond heating frozen meals —, this always stays at a stasis point, where Beau’s eyes are sans a glimmer of thought beyond wanting to move forward.
There’s a rigidity to Beau is Afraid, a series of episodes that seemingly hit at random to Beau, but in a way that creates cycles of him always hoping for the best but ending in the worst, that it finds its creator as the reason behind all its impulses. Not Beau, but Ari Aster. I’m finding it really interesting even placing the movie in perspective this way because, behind the satire, there is something genuinely affecting here that captures helplessness when someone starts to feel so overwhelmed by blame they start accepting reality through degradation – one that’s maybe as cruel as what Aster is presenting. The problem is that there’s no interrogation of this reality; instead, it plays everything as fact. Even the most unrealistic situations continue to embed themselves into the movie feeling like it would make the morning paper as there’s no discernable cracks in the seams to play to subjectivity nor is it propelled by character to play to surrealism.
A world perfectly constructed to be as cruel as possible, a script structured to push Beau perfectly to the next cruel attraction, and a perfect protagonist to take its wrath because he’ll never think about what’s happening. It’s impossible not to take a step back and find it gleefully writing Beau with hatred, *not* empathy, that it starts to propagate the viewpoint of the world around Beau instead of suggesting it it as a tragic showcase of how he *feels* the world is being to him; after all, does he even perceive? Joaquin Pheonix’s performance is particularly boring here, so obviously what you expect from him that it starts to feel like a parody at this point.
Ari Aster isn’t Beau but Beau as a vessel of his worst nightmare; that’s the distinction – at its core, this is missing humanity and only starts finding it when dealing explicitly with its mommy issues two-thirds through. At that point, it just starts backfiring. Especially when it starts framing Beau’s existence from those in his life older than him, asking if he’s guilty of what transposed across this 3-hour epic of the mundane. If he’s guilty of not helping those who are homeless; If he’s guilty of his mother’s traumatic incident with his birth or his dismissal of her constant care. Ari Aster won’t allow Beau to say no, so the answer to all of these may as well be yes. The movie is constructed to say Beau is guilty of it all, to turn him into the scapegoat for systemic issues so it won’t have to truly deal with what’s its rambuctiously depicting.
This deals with modern anxieties through each of its episodes, but playing it all over the top. The best of them manage to topple successive events on top of each other to reach the tension of the world being against you, as in the scene where Beau takes medication that is lethal in the absence of water and immediately finds his apartment’s water supply is cut off. The worst of them, being the majority of the three-hour running time, plays out a ridiculous event ad nauseam to reach a punchline (or conclusion, if you’re not as sadistic as this movie is). So it’s an endless barrage of sights such as a teenager popping pills like candy culminating in her drinking paint or using a PTSD-ridden veteran as an attack dog (satirizing Gen-z’s vanity oddly through their anti-war sentiments).
Amidst it all, there’s an animated sequence, impeccably putting Joaquin Phoenix into artificial environments, that reminisces about the simplicity of the past where hunting and gathering was the only concern. It’s arguably Beau is Afraid’s only moment that doesn’t deal with cynicism but is rather serene, and the contrast with all the vapid hyperbole places its anger in naivety – like an old man yelling at the clouds. Nothing to say about why the way things are in the present but romanticizing the past without the baggage it comes with. It’s obtuse.
The way Beau is Afraid indulges in itself as capital-A art reaches an inane point, turning whatever enjoyment you could get from its random developments into tedium, if not outright annoying. The visual style never quite breaks free into camp after its first hour which is the most playful. A giant penis becomes a significant development in the plot, but all it does within the confines of the movie is claim Beau’s dad was a dick. We can’t keep reducing relationships to one word; A short film’s level of detail is blown out into 3 hours, and it’s excruciating to get through. There’s a way one can put this together as to vibe with its sense of paranoia, but it’s hard not to find this distasteful.
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