Beau Is Afraid: Ari Aster's Good-Looking Yet Empty Opus

The problem with Beau Is Afraid is that it doesn't get into specifics. It is content to be "aesthetically pleasing"
Beau Is Afraid: Ari Aster's Good-Looking Yet Empty Opus

What will you find inside Ari Aster's head if you crack it open? Film critic Anupama Chopra asked the director of Hereditary this question, and he replied by saying his brain is normal like any other person's. Based on various shorts and three feature films, I think Aster's brain consists of one single idea: Family is twisted and bad. In The Strange Thing About the Johnsons, a son grows too fond of his father. In Munchausen, a mother deliberately makes his son sick, so he cannot leave her and go to college. A mother casually mentions to her son that she never wanted him in the excellent horror-drama Hereditary. And as a daughter kills her parents through a toxic gas, her sister finds comfort in the arms of a cult in Midsommar. All these movies have a nightmarish vision, which Aster uses to deeply distress the audience (in a good way, of course). 

In Beau Is Afraid, Aster not only recycles his familial theme but also his 2011 short film Beau. Furthermore, if in Hereditary, Annie severed her own head, then in Beau Is Afraid, we initially find out that a mother's head is missing. The new movie opens with the delivery of a baby, though this act is shown to us through the infant's perspective. This is not the only unusual thing in the film. When Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) talks to his therapist, we actually get to see what the latter writes in his book. If Aster's other works are nightmares, Beau Is Afraid can be labeled a dream. The world is more demented this time, but everything flows smoothly. The images have a beautiful, entrancing effect on us, even when someone is stabbed with a knife. The director isn't interested in dispensing scares. He wants to put you in a trance-like state. 

Beau Is Afraid: Ari Aster's Good-Looking Yet Empty Opus
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Since Aster is a proficient craftsman, he creates sleek sequences that effortlessly move the movie forward. He also has fun mixing horror and comedy elements, giving rise to moments like the one where Beau funnily exclaims, "What?" after finding out he has been assaulted. I also chuckled when a girl urgently knocked on doors, announced someone's death, and then posed near the corpse for a picture. Is Beau afraid because the people around him are compassionless? The streets are filled with maniacs during the opening scenes. A crowd fascinatingly watches a man about to jump from a building, and a naked guy goes around stabbing other people. 

Forget Beau. As a viewer, I became afraid because, in the movie, we do not get Aster, the storyteller but Aster, the showman. Something like this is praised as "abstract" or "dreamy," which is just another way of saying that there is a lack of real substance. Beau's mother scares him into thinking that orgasms lead to death. Well, didn't he ever try masturbating? What about wet dreams? If Beau can use the Internet to search for side effects of a medicine, why didn't he use the web to see if sex is fatal? Is Beau so dim-witted? However, the most crucial question is this: Who is Beau? What life did he live? What was his profession? Does he have any friends? How is Beau's relationship with his mother? Isn't there anything else in this bond apart from "Mommy is horrible?"  

Beau Is Afraid: Ari Aster's Good-Looking Yet Empty Opus
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The problem with Beau Is Afraid is that it doesn't get into specifics. It is content to be more "aesthetically pleasing." (There comes a sequence in a forest rendered through animation, which looks stunning but remains emotionally hollow). This is why it turns the mother into a generic villain with generic parental troubles. Aster prioritizes scale over emotions and crafts a good-looking yet empty opus. Phoenix's performance comes dangerously close to being called one-note. He gets the mannerisms right but is only a little more than a puppet providing reaction shots. Beau Is Afraid suggests that love, when doled out in excess, can end up choking someone. Well, someone should tell Aster that too much flamboyance can also leave the audience feeling suffocated.

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