“Beau Is Afraid” ending explained
Filmmaker Ari Aster offers a simple explanation for his costly and mysterious climax.
(Editor’s note: This story contains More significant spoilers for “Beau Is Afraid”.)
The title character of “Beau Is Afraid” goes through a lot of trauma. Played by Joaquin Phoenix, he is in a constant state of shock and terror, and the character lives in an apartment surrounded by hooligans and street urchins, and is all too eager to catch up with his apartment, which is infested with deadly spiders. Moments later, he learns that his mother (Patti LuPone) has died after being crushed in the head by a falling chandelier — and shortly after that, she’s hit by a truck and attacked on the street by a knife-wielding naked man.
And that’s just the first act.
As poor Beau stumbles through an Oedipal maze of unsettling twists and turns, he just can’t seem to break away. She’s been kidnapped, chased through the woods, lost in a dreamscape, late for her mother’s funeral, and faked when it’s revealed that she faked her death just to see if she really cared. Perhaps worst of all, you barely have time to process this information before your therapist reveals it to you.
Beau’s nightmarish journey navigates a tricky line between utter discomfort and hilarity until the last leg, which is the strangest twist of all: he stumbles out of his mother’s home, boards a speedboat and rides into the shadowy night, finally arriving at a stadium surrounded by water. There, he finds himself on trial for his mother’s apparent mistreatment, with his lawyer (Richard Kind) standing by and reading his crimes. The arena is packed with spectators who seem mesmerized by Beau’s misdeeds in the water.
Convinced of his guilt, Beau looks down at a spark on the boat’s engine and it explodes – overturning and presumably killing him. While floating in the murky waves, the audience impersonates and the credits roll.
On the surface, the bizarre sequence works as a twisted homage to Albert Brooks’ 1991 comedy “Defending Your Life,” in which the writer-director-star plays a recently deceased man who is forced to review the moments of his life and initiate a departure. to heaven. But there’s more to it than that: Aster makes an explicit statement about the nature of spectatorship and the way audiences derive pleasure from the pain of others. The basis for this argument is established early in the film, moments after Beau leaves his therapist’s office to find a crowd of giddy people watching a suicidal man on the ledge of a building. As one of the onlookers picks up the man on his phone, he tells Beau, “We’re trying to get him to jump!”
As Beau continues his unsettling journey, Aster allows the audience to similarly derive entertainment value from the dark process. It’s a sly, meta-critique of the entire filmmaking endeavor. “Hopefully it’s like a mirror in some ways,” Aster told IndieWire in an interview earlier this month. He added that the final showdown, shot entirely on green screen, resulted in the costliest part of the $35 million shoot. “It was a very long, arduous process,” he said.
But he almost didn’t turn there at all. Kind recently said The Daily Beast that another actor was originally cast in the part that called for a five-page monologue at the end of the film. He added that the original ending found Beau’s mother sobbing and being dragged out of the room. Instead, he leaves quietly, probably because Aster would rather turn the knife away for a more sympathetic conclusion.
However, Aster originally led his lamentable anti-hero to a very different fate. The writer-director originally pitched the script for “Beau Is Afraid” nearly a decade ago, well before his 2018 debut “Hereditary.” In the earlier draft (which was about an hour shorter on the page than the final version), Beau sails out into the open sea and is surrounded by pure calm. For a moment, it seems that he has escaped his problems once and for all. Then he notices a cruise ship headed his way, with a fictional version of Michelle Obama (who is “Michelle Obama”) on board leading a drill, heading in his direction. Yes really.
In contrast to that ending, the final climax of “Beau Is Afraid” is downright literal—or at least a reasonable goal for a film that seems to take place entirely inside the guilt-ridden mind of its very anxious protagonist.
The A24 release ‘Beau Is Afraid’ is now in theaters everywhere.
Register: Stay up to date with the latest movie and TV news! Subscribe to our email newsletter here.