Film Journal 2023: Beau Is Afraid

Film Journal 2023: Beau Is Afraid
Directed by Ari Aster

There will be lots of people, I’m sure who will hate this film. And I get it. It’s the sort of film you have to vibe with or it’s going to end up feeling like a bit of a bludgeon.

To get on the wave length of this film, if you even desire to, one of the things you will need to do is accept that whatever story this film is telling won’t become relevant until after you’ve experienced the entirety of the film, sat with it, and let it sink in. If you spend your time trying to locate plot points it will drive you to madness. Not because they aren’t there, but because the film, by design, is meant to experience first and then piece back together.

The film is structured around the hero’s journey, simply flipped upside down, which positions it as an epic. It’s also, aesthetically and tonally, very much in the vein of a dark fairy tale. This isn’t outright horror, so be prepared for that. But it could be said to be the stuff of nightmares.

One of the initial scenes in the movie has an adult Beau, cast as he is in the light of a once secure baby being thrust out into a cruel and unforgiving world, sitting across from his therapist. It is established that he deals with anxiety, giving the movies title its blunt force. This anxiety is rooted in some past family trauma relating specifically to his mother. As the film moves forward from this sequence we are brought in on this journey which takes us deeper and deeper inside of his head. It might be fair to say that the film is balancing a kind of unreliable narrator to this end, but for as much as it might seem that way, I think there is actually something far more aware and intentional at play. Rather than playing around with what’s real and what’s not, what it is doing is bringing us into the world Beau understands. This is the primary place, I think, where viewers will either attach or detach from his character, and the film will have varying mileage depending on which direction you go.

The film is not afraid to leave a good deal of this as well open to interpretation. There are key plot points that are able to reshape the story in slightly different ways, all of which I think hold legitimacy. Without giving anything too much away, let me just say that for me personally, the aspect of this film that I connected with was the weight it imagines in the simple thought, what if the way I think the world perceives me in my own head proves true.

This becomes part of a patterned narrative in Beau’s journey, where moments of positivity and motivation are confronted with the sources of anxiety, leading him to fold in and to run, giving way to the next sequence and the next in what is a uniquely episodic vision by Aster. This pattern is established in a visual sense through an incredible sense of control over the differnt set pieces and set design. There is a ton of creative flourishes here that really work to break open this world, adding to it as it goes. Even if you don’t appreciate the character and the film, I imagine one would have to respect the craft.

I have diagnosed anxiety rooted in the past. This is likely one of the big reasons this film resonated for me even with all of its out there imagination and artistic ambition. It’s not the kind of film that binds a strong emotional resonance to its characters, to be sure. What it wants to do is unsettle by exploring what’s inside the head. And in true Aster style he finds some rather shocking ways to do that. So at the very least be aware of what you are getting into, because there is a lot of crazy packed into a 3 hour run time. Befitting the film itself though, the whole thing is incredibly disorienting, so any sense of time while I was watching really became a non factor. To be honest, the primary challenge was simply figuring out where I was at different points, as its easy to get lost in.

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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