Beau Is Afraid - (2023)
Directors: Ari Aster.
The much-anticipated new film by Ari Aster did not disappoint. I watched it last night, and I base this review on my first impression only. Thus, I might miss many important points at this moment of writing.
"Beau Is Afraid" is a beautiful journey into a man's deepest dreads. Through a cinematic stream of consciousness, Ari Aster explores the innermost conflicts and motivations of his protagonist as a parable on manhood as a whole.
The movie is part of a contemporary movement in cinema I'd like to call "Post Maximalist Cinema." Examples of this movement include "Everything Everywhere All At Once," "Babylon," "RRR," "Mother!," and "Inception," among others.
The film doesn't make a lot of sense if you choose to watch it like a standard movie. There are many "plot holes" and moments that cannot happen in the real world. The film doesn't explain the rules of its universe, and as such, viewers are expected to trust Aster to lead them in darkness. If you haven't seen his previous two films or if you don't like them, you will probably hate every moment of "Beau Is Afraid." This approach to filmmaking reminds me of a few hard sci-fi books I've read, where nothing makes sense, and you only have the protagonist's belief that it makes sense to rely on. And on that note, Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the protagonist Beau, deserves full credit.
The role Joaquin Phoenix had to step into is probably the hardest one in his entire career. With his masterful control over his body and emotions, he delivers a performance that deserves ten Oscars. I was amazed by his ability to maintain emotional continuity throughout the very complicated story, how he understands the world, and truly believes in everything that is happening to him. The fact that he can pull it off without making the movie look and feel like unrealistic trash or comedic camp is a triumph of an artist who has fully mastered his craft.
Most notably, the moment when he delves into the theatre play and constructs a parallel story to himself, having children, losing them, and reuniting after decades of back in the forest where it all began, actually brought me to tears, even though I knew this is just a made-up story. And when he wakes up from this fantasy back into the "real" movie world, he does so in such a subtle and accurate way that one can only freeze in awe in front of the spectacle. His performance throughout the film is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Another well-crafted element in the film is the score and sound design, with long sequences of meditative low drones and harmony that force the viewer into a state of hypnosis. I’d guess many people would feel very vulnerable when watching this film—not a pleasant feeling, but a deep and human one, nonetheless.
A few extra things I liked:
- The homage to "Palindromes" (2004) by Todd Solondz—the part with the gold star family.
- The animation sequence—although I recently stated that I don't like mixed animation, the one in this film is bloody brilliant.
- Stephen McKinley's character in the third act, becoming a horrific character from a David Lynch movie.
- The symbolism around manhood and male sexuality as a destructive force that can act like a double-edged sword: if one releases his sexuality, he can kill himself or a loved one, and if he holds it in and suppresses it, his entire life will be an endless pain and fear.
Verdict: 5 / 5 ★ - Masterpiece.