Life & Culture

Film review: Beau Is Afraid - A middle-aged mummy’s boy

Ari Aster's alt-reality, distopian film is a wonderful take on Oedipal misery and the horror of drug abuse


This image released by A24 shows Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from "Beau is Afraid." DB_00661.ARW

Beau Is Afraid
Cert15 | Out Friday | ★★★★★

New York Jewish filmmaker Ari Aster shook the horror genre to its core with Hereditary in 2018 and Midsummer in 2019. Now he’s now back with the alt-reality, distopian Beau Is Afraid, a film that will baffle fans and critics alike.

Our protagonist Beau Wasserman, played by Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix, is a nebbishe 37 -year-old mummy’s boy plagued by an array of psychological ailments.

The son of wealthy Jewish pharmaceutical magnet Mona Wasserman (Patti LuPone), he finds himself living alone in a crumbling apartment surrounded by drug addicts and violent petty criminals.

Unsurprisingly, this makes him feel anxious and alienated. Also, unsurprisingly for a mummy’s boy, he has a therapist who prescribes him drugs to alleviate his discomfort.

When he hears that his mother has been killed in a freak accident, Beau must rush home to bury her, as Jewish custom requires.

But he keeps being prevented from reaching his childhood home by a number of increasingly outlandish and surreal obstacles.

He misses his plane and must travel overland — and travel in his head as he tries to make sense of what the overbearing woman has done to him.

In doing so, he finds himself in a forest where he meets a theatre troupe which performs a revelatory play.

In another scene, we see him a teenager with his mother aboard a cruise ship where he falls in love with a girl called Elaine (Julia Antonelli). They kiss and promise to remain virgins until they meet again as adults.

It is one of the rare times in this three-hour film could be said to deploy real drama.
For the rest, Aster is explores the Oedipal shame and paranoia of a man emasculated by a permanently disappointed Jewish mother.

In fact, it is Mona, a harsh and unforgiving matriarch who appeared to take deep pleasure in humiliating her own child, who is one most of Aster’s ire.

But he’s also coruscating on prescription drug addiction. The crazed and zombified characters that populate this film are surely a comment on the Fentanyl epidemic currently sweeping America. It’s also surely why the villain of the piece Mona made her money in Big Pharma.

This film is probably not what Aster’s fans were expecting after a hiatus of almost four years, but I think it’s a wonderful take on Oedipal misery and the misery of drug abuse.

I loved every single minute, and would gladly return for a second helping.

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