Behind the Acid Trip That Is Ari Aster’s ‘Beau Is Afraid’

in Culture

I made the poor decision of hitting my friend’s bong before watching Ari Aster’s last film, Midsommar, in which a young woman who tragically lost her parents and sister travels to Scandinavia to attend a village’s midsummer festival that takes a turn for the worse when said village is revealed to be a murderous cult.

Midsommar has often been praised for being a horror movie that takes place entirely in broad daylight. A great description, but what really impressed me about the movie was the extent to which its setting – the murderous cult – could be interpreted as a reflection of the main character’s troubled psyche. 

This concept is placed front and center in Aster’s latest film, Beau is Afraid, in which a neurotic man-child played by Joaquin Phoenix sets out on an unpredictably long-winded journey to visit the bane of, as well as reason for, his entire existence: his overbearing mother.

Aster has only directed three feature films so far, each more experimental than the last. Where Hereditary was a straightforward albeit meticulously produced horror story, Beau is Afraid is idiosyncratic to the point of defying any and all classification. 

Instead of pulling from other directors, Aster draws from the writings of Homer, Dante, Kafka, and Borges. The only filmmaker he is in any way indebted to is Charlie Kaufman, who’s equally upsetting psychological horror film Synecdoche, New York permeates almost every aspect of Aster’s film. 

This includes the interior lives of the film’s self-destructive protagonists, as well as the excellent production design and visual effects that mirror those lives – the dread, fear, confusion, revulsion, despair, and longing – in the wider world around them. 

The clinically depressed protagonists of Beau is Afraid and Synecdoche, New York both live in societies that are …

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Author: Tim Brinkhof / High Times

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