Fears have the fact that they are often not easy to understand from the outside. You could also say that in fear, people become individual. Just as there is an instinctual fate, there are also fearful fates. Seldom, however, has this circumstance been seen taken to such extremes as in "Beau Is Afraid" by Ari Aster.
Because what spoils the whole life of a not-so-young man named Beau is a very specific fear, one that is exaggerated to the extreme. To put it bluntly: Beau is afraid of his first ejaculation because he is firmly convinced that he will die at that moment. That's how it was with his father and also with his father.
The fate of fear is also a family fate. Beau was implanted with this idea from his mother, who quickly realizes that she is the decisive fate for her son. He lives alone in a big city that looks like a New York gone wrong. But in his loneliness protrudes as the great absent authority, the omnipresent claim, the determining figure: Mona Wasserman, a successful entrepreneur. It is fittingly mentioned first in a therapeutic conversation. Beau prepares to visit his mother. He knows that he is expected, but he also knows that it will be a very complicated matter.
And everything: leave the apartment, cover a distance, get closer to the mother with every kilometer and finally actually face her. If ambivalence had to look for a route that leads at the same time towards the goal and an endless delay, then one would have something like the dramaturgy of "Beau Is Afraid" – a three-hour "weird trip", at the end of which one has to rethink the term catharsis. For those who are as distraught as Beau, even a "cleansing crisis" may not be enough.
A film like "Beau Is Afraid" shouldn't really exist anymore today. After all, cinema today knows so much about audience expectations and narrative logics, it has thousands of algorithms to find out what works with certainty. And now this. A monumentally idiosyncratic film, a single excess in strangeness. And you can reveal so much: None of this ends well either. Not bad either, not even anything in between. "Beau Is Afraid" also shatters all notions of a happy ending or redemption.
The director goes all out
Rarely has it been experienced that an artist has used a credit he has earned so ruthlessly for a gamble. Until a few weeks ago, Ari Aster was the acclaimed director of "Midsommar", a horror film he released in 2019 in which he very cleverly crossed Norse mythology with cult mischief and dangerous sexual initiation. "Midsommar" was a masterpiece of genre mixing, at the same time a very direct shocker. Half "Little Big Man", half "Cannibal Holocaust".
With this, his second film (after the already brilliant "Hereditary" from 2018), Ari Aster had established himself as an authoritative figure for recent American auteur cinema. He could probably insist on one or the other artistic license, because a fantasy that ventures very far out is worth a lot and should not be prematurely contained.
But "Beau Is Afraid" must have had something excessive about it even in the screenplay version, something that could only have a chance of being realized under very fortunate circumstances. However, there has been a company in America for several years that specializes in interesting border crossings. A24 makes popcorn cinema for a hip and intellectual audience, which is still sufficiently rooted in the old genre logics to be able to assert itself as innovative and not disruptive. An American critic spoke of the "blankest check A 24 ever ever cut": Never before had a studio written a check as unconditionally as for Ari Aster.