Beau is Afraid - Ari Aster's next journey


Looks different than both his other films, not strictly a horror film? I guess that could just be the trailer, but this is set up more as a traditional adventure sort of story, but I guess who knows. Going to be there in the theater first weekend.

It’s the horror/Walter Mitty mashup I didn’t know I needed. Looks amazing!

Looks pretty trippy. I’m in!

I don’t need to or want to watch the trailer. Ari Aster has earned my trust, even if this does have Joaquin Phoenix in it.

Between The Master, Inherent Vice, and You Were Never Really Here, I’m fully onboard to see what he does here. (Though I’m also avoiding the trailer).

Same. I like not watching trailers, my wife loves it. So I sent her the link, she came back excited wanting to tell me all about it (which she did not, because descriptions of trailers are ALSO spoilers), and now she’s gonna make sure we see this. Mission accomplished.

So… anyone else see this?

I can’t judge whether it was good or bad, but oh man was it ever a wild swing, and I’m glad he took it.

I’m not sure if I loved it exactly (not sure “love” or “hate” even apply to something like this), but I was really impressed that he took his shot to make something this personal and ambitious when his shot was available to take. Doubt it’ll be a massive hit, but I think we’ll still be talking about it in 10 or 15 years time.

I can’t wait to see it again when it hits digital because I’m sure I’ll have more coherent thoughts about it on second view, but I’m really glad I saw it on the big screen while I had the chance.

Saw this last night. And I have some thoughts.

To begin, you should probably hear my viewing partner’s impressions. He was bewildered. He loves Midsommar and Hereditary, which is why we went, but he had no idea what to think. Sure, he laughed a few times. Sure, he gasped once or twice. But when we stood up after the credits, he immediately said, “So the moral is to live a better life?” Which misses the point by a country mile. By a score of country miles.

I’m sure Beau Is Afraid is wide-open to interpretation, but it was impossible for me to not key into it almost right away. For many years, I suffered from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. Anyone who’s suffered from the same will probably find the movie familiar. In a sense, it was like slipping into warm water. I never felt anxious or apprehensive watching it; a sharp contrast to my partner, who found the entire thing as jarring and uncomfortable (but less gripping and comprehensible) as Uncut Gems.

The difference is that, well, I’ve done the exact thing the protagonist has done. One of the hallmarks of an anxiety disorder is catastrophizing. Every human brain does this to some degree. In the film’s first act, most of Beau’s misfortunes are relatable, if blown out of proportion. They’re commonplace urban anxieties: guns out in the open, scary homeless people, fatal run-ins with the cops, hostile neighbors, serial killers. Under normal circumstances, the causality-assessing portion of our brains run interference for our apprehensions. When you leave your keys in the lock to run back inside, for a split second you think, “What if somebody takes my keys?” Then your well-regulated brain reminds you that you’ll only be gone for a few seconds, there’s nobody in the hall or on the street, and your keys will be fine.

Of course, our brains aren’t actually as good at this process as we like to think. That’s why casinos make money. That’s why we see faces in tangles of branches. That’s why we assign authorship to the universe and believe an invisible being is watching our every move.

It’s also why sometimes that process goes wonky. When an imbalance or trauma intrudes into that causality-assessing process, it clutters the brain’s ability to evaluate how realistic any of these apprehensions really are. Now your keys will be stolen. That will lead you to cancel your trip to see your mother. You’re going to feel guilty about that. But how much more guilty would you feel if she then died before you could get out to see her again? The next thing you know, you’re crying over the guilt of an action you haven’t taken.

This is the essence of anxious catastrophizing. Rather than evaluating causality one logical step at a time, you’re thrown into a spiral of worst-case scenarios. These scenarios become more fictional with each step, more dangerous, more guilt-laden. You come to believe that everybody is watching and judging you. You assign cosmic significance to benign events. One classic example shared by a therapist friend of mine is when somebody comes in with an apprehension about parenthood. They want to have children, but they’re worried that the pressures of a newborn will leave them sleep deprived, which will cause them to become physically abusive, which will years later grow into sexual abusive. There’s nothing to indicate that the patient is abusive or would become abusive, but they’re feeling intense guilt over an action that’s a theoretical response to theoretical fatigue over theoretical offspring. The catastrophe scenario would be laughable if it weren’t so obviously distressing.

In Beau Is Afraid, we follow the thread of Beau’s anxiety disorder. Every event builds to the next in a fashion that could be called logical. Beau’s stolen keys and canceled trip become a mother’s death and a personal odyssey of misfortune. Where does it lead him? To a sexual experience gone horribly wrong, a mother who’s faked her own death, a penis monster, and final judgment itself. Each step of this odyssey reflects relatively common apprehensions gone horribly wrong. Beau is spinning out. The only “true” thing we see is Beau visiting his therapist and getting new meds. Everything afterward is catastrophic thinking.

For years, I did the same thing as Beau. I would lie in bed and think through all the ways something could go wrong. It might be as mundane as having to make a phone call. It might be a death in the family. After a few hours, I’d halfway persuaded myself that I had somehow caused that death, or the phone call had resulted in losing my career, family, and friends. These days, after significant treatment, that never happens anymore. Which is why Beau Is Afraid produced such different reactions. My viewing partner found it terrifying and unsettling; he couldn’t find his footing. I knew its steps from the get-go. While I couldn’t have guessed the particulars in any given scene, I can’t say I found anything especially surprising, because this is what a brain does when it’s suffering from an anxiety disorder. Everything goes wrong according to strict logic that’s nonetheless entirely improbable.

TL;DR: I loved it.

Interesting read. Partner with severe anxiety who’s a huge fan of the director’s work found it to be nearly interminable before finally ending in laughable (dick monster). Her disappointment upon getting home and telling me about it was palpable. Never seen her so upset to have hated a movie.

And “funnily” enough, I’ve seen her follow all the same steps you described there, time and again. Guess the familiarity in her case didn’t make it relatable so much as just relentlessly miserable.

As someone with anxiety and mom-trauma (If there isn’t a horror movie called “Mauma”, someone needs to get on that), I’m in the “relatable and funny” camp.

While anxiety is part of it, it’s definitely not all of it.

This is Shitty First Draft: The Movie.

And I say that as its biggest fan.

Congratulations on the $35 million, Ari Aster. You’ll be lucky to see a tenth of that ever again.

And that’s a compliment.

You will start watching Beau Is Afraid and you will soon come to the O’loha gag. Ari Aster shows you an Irish/Hawaiian TV dinner crossover. O’loha. This will be your first chance to jump ship. You will be provided with many more such chances. You will decide not to take them because of how much you liked Midsommar and especially Hereditary. You will look at your watch. You will be astonished at how much time is left. Later, you will look at your watch again. You will again be astonished. The experience will have the slightest hint of Terry Gilliam for it’s self-awareness as comedy, but it will consist mostly of the excesses of Darren Arronofsky’s Mother!, the tedium of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, and the sophomoric unpredictability of Robert Eggers’ Lighthouse. Eventually, after three hours, you will have seen Beau Is Afraid.

I’ll admit, I laughed at the O’loha box.

I still have no idea whether this was a good movie or not, but I had fun watching it, and I’m very glad Ari Aster had the opportunity to make it.

Well, he’s a fantastically talented filmmaker, so I’m pretty sure it’s a good movie. But beyond that, I don’t have many nice things to say. :)