Beau Is Afraid – Review

Worth seeing: as an arch individual odyssey that rattles on for three hours, flitting between quirkiness, realism and drug-induced allegory
Director:Ari Aster
Featuring:Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Parker Posey, Patti LuPone, Richard Kind, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Amy Ryan, Armen Nahapetian, Bill Hader, Denis Ménochet, Hayley Squires, Julia Antonelli, Julian Richings, Kylie Rogers, Zoe Lister-Jones
Length:178 minutes
Released:19th May 2023


A traumatic childhood relationship with his mother has left Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) with severe anxiety problems.

Now middle-aged, he lives alone in the red light district of a crime-ridden city and is gearing up for his annual visit to see his mother, to mark the anniversary of his father’s untimely death.

But as he’s leaving his apartment, his keys get stolen and his misses his flight. When he calls his mother to update her, a delivery guy answers her phone and tells him she’s dead.

Beau sets off on an odyssey to find out what happened and how it will affect him – having to deal with a string of disturbing characters along the way, from a couple who run him over with their minibus and a deranged war veteran to a tree-hugging theatre troupe and his mother’s megalomaniacal lawyer.


It’s not just Beau who will be afraid, with a running time just two minutes short of three hours to commit to, feeling at times like as much of an odyssey as Beau’s own journey home.

This film breaks down neatly into literary chapters or theatrical acts – the first in the criminal hell-hole where Beau lives, the second at the home of a family that takes him nurses him to health in his hour of need, the third a journey through the woods and next his arrival at his mother’s home – before a coda, bringing the narrative to a close.

The first two acts – or chapters – feel very much like a typical quirky American independent film, with a hapless protagonist doing his best to surmount the unexpected obstacles that get in the way of his perfectly normal, or at least understandable goals.

Some of those obstacles feel like they could be real – at least in Beau’s world – others verge a little on the surreal. But given that Beau is on medication for his anxiety, the extent to which the events are real or imagined is open to debate.

By the time we reach the woods, the narrative drifts towards the allegorical, while the revelations from Beau’s mother’s home are likely to leave you feeling part shell-shocked, part horrified and part confused.

The film – Beau’s journey of self-discovery – is interesting but infuriating, as you try to work out whether he is lucid, dreaming or suffering the effects of his medication. Then one scene that will shake you to your core will make you question the previous two and a half hours, before launching you towards a denouement that is more thought-provoking than it is satisfying.

At its heart, this is a film about family, relationships and expectations – although quite what it’s trying to say about them is anyone’s guess.

It’s accomplished – in terms of the performances, variously dead-pan, grotesque or simply arch – but the writing, while darkly comic, is more pretentious than enlightening. The directing and editing could have been much tighter; they shouldn’t have been afraid to leave a little more on the proverbial cutting room floor.