Welcome to our Colossus Movie Guide for Beau is Afraid. This guide contains everything you need to understand the film. Dive into our detailed library of content, covering key aspects of the movie. We encourage your comments to help us create the best possible guide. Thank you!
What is Beau is Afraid about?
Beau is Afraid extends an exploration of guilt and grief that Ari Aster began in Hereditary then elaborated on in Midsommar. While the previous films were a microcosm of pain, Beau is Afraid looks beyond the immediate personal experience and emphasizes the relationship between an individual and the world at large, in what amounts to a prolonged panic attack. It’s a magnum opus work that elevates Aster from an enlightened genre-centric filmmaker to an heir of David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Jean-Luc Godard, and Luis Buñuel.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Beau Wassermann – Joaquin Phoenix
- Young Beau – Arman Nahapetian
- Mona Wassermann – Patti LuPone
- Young Mona – Zoe Lister-Jones
- Therapist – Stephen McKinley Henderson
- Roger – Nathan Lane
- Grace – Amy Ryan
- Toni – Kylie Rogers
- Jeeves – Denis Ménochet
- Elaine – Parker Posey
- Young Elaine – Julia Antonelli
- Penelope – Hayley Squires
- Dr. Cohen – Richard Kind
- Written by – Ari Aster
- Directed by – Ari Aster
The ending of Beau is Afraid explained
The end of Beau is Afraid begins after a confrontation with Beau’s mom. She locks him in an attic, where he discovers a long lost twin brother and a father that is a giant penis monster. Jeeves, the troubled soldier living with Grace and Roger, breaks into the attic, having tracked Beau, with the intent to kill. Beau’s father, using a sickle-like arm, impales Jeeves through the head.
Escaping the attic, Beau re-confronts his mother. The back and forth results in him strangling Mona. When he lets go, she stumbles, then collapses through a glass cabinet. Beau, horrified, flees the mansion, finds a boat upon a lake, then ships out. It’s night. Stars dominate the sky. He approaches a rocky cove and enters a cave. The cave suddenly reveals itself to be a Sea World like arena where you’d expect to see Shamu, the whale. Instead, it’s Beau, still in the boat. A large audience looks on. On a balcony, Beau sees his mother and Dr. Cohen. Dr. Cohen serves as the prosecuting lawyer, arguing that Beau has committed crimes against his mother.
Beau has a low-level, court-appointed defense attorney that struggles to counter anything Dr. Cohen says. It isn’t long before a goon employed by Mona removes the defense attorney. Without an advocate, Beau’s overwhelmed. His mother won’t hear anything he has to say. In fact, she’s angry at Beau for arguing back. So Beau stops fighting. His boat explodes. It and Beau flip. For a few seconds, we hear Beau. Then it’s quiet.
Mona and Dr. Cohen leave. The arena slowly clears out. The upside down boat floats on.
There’s a lot to unpack.
First and foremost, people might wonder if Beau dies. Probably. Whether he’s actually killed in or by the explosion doesn’t really matter. The fact is, he gave up. His mother broke him. So even if he survived and is in the water, he will, at some point, accept sinking.
There’s also the argument of whether or not the trial even happened. Even though Beau is Afraid had a lot of surreal aspects, they were almost always hyperbolic rather than fantastic. Like the entire city section is absurd and likely would never happen but it’s not impossible people would act that way. Same with Grace, Roger, Toni, and Jeeves. Absurd but not impossible. Same with Elaine dying after orgasm. But Beau’s father being an enormous humanoid monster penis is both absurd and impossible. Same with the cave transforming from a cave to an arena with an audience and Mona somehow already there.
Practically, it doesn’t change much if these things are real or not. Because the result is the same: Beau feels such guilt and grief at the final events with his mother that he loses the will to live. The trial can be literal or metaphoric, something Beau’s going through internally. Either way, he ends up “in the water”. If we’re looking at it realistically, then it’s likely Beau strangled Mona, rowed out on the sea, judged himself for what happened, and decided to abandon ship, so to speak.
Then with his father’s identity. Maybe it’s the giant monster. Or, you can view it as a metaphor for negative things Mona may have revealed about his father, rather than the mythology she had used for so long. Beau, despite the negatives, still imagines that his dad could have protected him from dangers (like Jeeves). Either way, he understands he can never have a relationship with his father.
So don’t concern yourself too much with what’s real or what isn’t. It doesn’t affect Beau’s outcome. What’s important is what these events represent for the character.
In Hereditary, Ari Aster looked at how parents affect the mental health of their children. Whether that’s genetic impact, like passing along bipolar disorder, or the situational impact of causing stress, grief, and other mental and emotional anguish.
In Midsommar, Aster dives into how someone copes with losing their parents. The void that opens and what fills it.
Beau is Afraid is a bit of a combination of and extension beyond these earlier concepts. Beau is the byproduct of his mom’s conditional love. It rendered him self-limiting in many ways. He second-guesses every action because he’s constantly afraid of disappointing. It’s very clear that if his mom hadn’t been around, or had been a better person, that Beau may have been a better person.
The brief confirmation of this comes in the form of Elaine. When Beau was a teenager, on a cruise with his mother, he met Elaine. It was a time where he still had his future ahead of him, where he was still a bit molten and not yet set in his personality. Elaine was his first kiss. His first love. And was supposed to be his first sexual partner. All these years later, he meets Elaine, once again. She’s been an employee at Mona’s company and came late for the funeral. She and Beau pick up where they left off and sleep together.
If intercourse is a rite of passage to adulthood, then it’s meaningful that Beau had been, up to that point, a virgin. It solidified his arrested development. Something Mona had ensured when she told Beau that his father’s side of the family had a genetic defect where they die upon orgasm. That means Beau has spent his entire life without once experiencing an orgasm, much less intercourse. To finally do that is a huge deal. But by sleeping with Elaine, Beau realizes his mom lied to him. And how much that lie robbed him of. Not just the superficial joy of physical pleasure. But the quality of relationship with his own body. For decades, Beau believed his body was a timebomb, ready to betray him if he ever experienced physical pleasure. So he’s been in this constant state of self-denial and self-rejection and self-limitation that’s left him so at odds with not just himself but the world around him. It all starts to feel like a threat.
The tragedy of Beau is Afraid is that Beau didn’t have to be how he is. And, for a moment, it seems like maybe, with his mom’s demise and Elaine’s return, that Beau could have, at this late stage, something resembling a life. Only for Elaine to die upon orgasm and his mother to appear and admit she faked her own death. All that sense of potential goes right out the window.
What’s interesting is that Aster goes beyond this first dimension of parents and children. To a lesser extent, he did this in Midsommar. He moved the main character from her normal world somewhere in the United States to a cult in Sweden that emphasized the collective over the individual. That choice created an important theme about culture and the way in which culture can heal and harm. But the dynamic was explored more through exposition than the actual events in Midsommar, making it essentially a thesis statement rather than a full-on artistic survey.
In Beau is Afraid, Aster transitions Beau from city, to suburb, to Beau’s childhood home. Each setting is very different, with unique demands, pitfalls, and opportunities. But what they all have in common is they shape the people within them. What they can do. Who they can be. Their quality of life and the quality of people in their life.
In the city, it’s chaos and mayhem. Society has devolved. The ugliest aspects of human nature dominate. Anger, paranoia, violence, poor communication, stupidity, selfishness, etc. People are cruel to one another. And we see how isolated Beau is. How afraid he is. Everything is ugly. It’s all Beau can do to survive.
In the suburbs, Beau’s in the home of Roger and Grace. It’s a dramatic contrast to the city. Everything is clean. Quiet. Nice. Roger and Grace are caring, kind, compassionate. For a brief bit, it seems like Beau has caught a lucky break. Except we soon realize that Grace and Roger are more performative than truly good people. They’re plagued by grief over the loss of their son in the war. And paid by Mona to take care of Beau. Toni, Roger and Grace’s daughter, is the byproduct of this household. She’s furious that her parents put their deceased son on a pedestal and treat her as the lesser child. So she acts out. It’s far more disguised than the behavior of people in the city but it’s still brutal and dehumanizing. To get back at her parents, Toni drinks paint until she dies in her brother’s museum-like room.
At Beau’s childhood home, we learn more about the ways in which Mona raised Beau. Her manipulations and judgments. Her lies and abuses. He is a byproduct of that environment. Just like Toni was a byproduct of the ecosystem created by Roger and Grace. Just like the state of the city was an ecosystem created by the city’s government.
Through showing rather than telling, Aster relates parents and children to society and its citizens. And makes the statement that the same way parents affect the future of their children, society affects the future of its citizens. That’s why Beau is Afraid doesn’t end with the private confrontation between Beau and Mona, but, instead, the ultimate, Kafkaesque trial in an arena in front of an audience. It dovetails parents and society, the private and the public. It’s not just Mona judging Beau. It’s society, too. Which extends to the idea that Mona wasn’t alone in being responsible for Beau’s fate. Society was too. Both Mona and society failed him.
The only time Beau’s in a setting where he’s encouraged, empowered, treated well, and can imagine a better life is when he’s in the forest, with the traveling theater, away from “established” worlds like a city, the home of strangers, or his mother. That world comes to a terrible end when Jeeves, a representative of the established world, charges in and slaughters dozens of people.
When Beau’s in already defined worlds, he’s so busy worrying that he has no bandwidth to dream or hope or be creative. But in the woods, a location that’s undetermined, wild, free, full of potential—Beau experiences that long dream sequence where he lives this other life where he has a wife and kids, and it’s still full of struggles but there’s a joy he’s never been able to experience. It’s not a coincidence that the theater troupe is called The Orphans of the Forest. The idea of being an orphan, of being disconnected from your parents, of being disconnected from society, gets at the idea of being free from the potential negative influences of parents and society and allowed to be closer to your natural, unhindered self.
What’s it all mean
The implication of Beau is Afraid is how vulnerable and dependent people are on the greater influences of parents and society. When you’re a kid, it’s your parents and the microcosm they create. When you’re an adult, it’s where you exist and the microcosm of that community. If you have bad parents as a kid, it’s still possible to end up in a place that encourages and inspires and supports you. If you have great parents, it’s still possible to end up in a place that limits you or even destroys you. We can’t necessarily control who our parents are and how they raise us. But we do control where we are.
Beau is an example of someone who is so passive that he allows these influences to lead him to destruction. His fear limits both the duration and quality of his life. And to a certain extent, that’s true for every person. Some of us handle our fears better than others. But no one is without fear. Everyone has been limited by fear. Someone could have a billion dollars and never experience the joy of riding a roller coaster. Or they could have a billion dollars and no close friends, family, or a loving partner. Someone could have a loving partner, friends, and family but limited income because self-doubt has limited their career choices. Fear of the unknown might keep someone with all the capacity in the world from ever leaving their hometown.
Most of us fight our fear. Beau is Afraid shows us what happens when we don’t fight. When we let the fear win. So even though it’s a very, very negative movie, it’s also quite inspiring. The negative example reminds us of what we shouldn’t do. Of who we shouldn’t be. The less you are like Beau, the better. Even if that’s with small victories, one day at a time. Find a place that empowers you. Find people who empower you. Be that person for others. You can be afraid. But be brave, too.
The themes and meaning of Beau is Afraid
Guilt, Grief, and Parents
If you watch Steven Spielberg movies, you’ll see how much he explores parent-child relationships. Sometimes this is from the perspective of the child, like in E.T. and A.I. Other times it’s from the perspective of the parent—Lincoln, Hook. And every so often it’s found family or even the idea of a parent figure: the police chief protecting the town in Jaws, John Miller looking for Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan, or Schindler protecting, during the Holocaust, as many Jewish people as he could.
Ari Aster is developing a similar thematic focus, specifically around guilt, grief, and, like Spielberg, parent-child relationships. Hereditary is about what happens to a family after the tragic loss of their daughter. Midsommar is about the lone survivor of a family annihilation. And Beau spends much of Beau is Afraid thinking his mother has died after he couldn’t come visit her.
The influence of parents
In Hereditary, Aster explores what’s inherited from our parents. This takes the form of genetic mental illness and demonic cults. In Midsommar, we don’t really see how Dani’s parents shaped her so much as the emptiness that follows their loss and how susceptible she comes to adoption from other parent figures (in the form of the Harga cult).
Beau is Afraid is a different look at a similar topic. Beau hasn’t inherited a mental illness that affects his worldview. He isn’t trying to fill a void. Instead, his entire being is the consequence of the conditional love of his mother and the belief his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all suffered from a malady where if they orgasm they die.
These influences have stunted him, arrested his development in such a way that he is passive, second-guessing, stricken with paranoia. Physically, emotionally, and spiritual, Beau doesn’t know how to be free. The idea that if he orgasms, he dies, creates a sense that his body is something to fear, that pleasure is something to fear. Then because his mother was so reactive and punishing, Beau has been trained to second guess himself, to react rather than act, to put everyone else ahead of himself. His mother’s funeral embodies this gaslighting and inability to take the world at face value.
The influence of the world
Hereditary and Midsommar are small films about personal situations. Broader society doesn’t play a significant role. The cult in Hereditary isn’t positioned as a reaction to American culture. The Harga do highlight the differences between their community and the rest of the world, but Aster never explores the pros and cons of the rest of the world. It’s not a point of emphasis. What elevates Beau is Afraid from Aster’s other work is its inclusion of societal influence.
The societal influence is a direct extension of the parental influence. Children grow up in a microcosm curated by their parents. This limited universe is the foundation of who someone is. It’s not the end all be all. But it’s significant. As adults, our parents tend to have less influence. We move out. Create our own experience. But where we live is a microcosm, broader than our childhood experience, but a microcosm all the same. And it exerts a similar top-down force that defines our adultself.
Aster manages to have Beau’s relationship with his mother serve as an extended metaphor for the relationship an individual has with society. The same way that Mona limits Beau through her negativity, a society can limit its citizens. In the city, Beau can’t thrive because he’s so busy simply trying to survive. In the home of Grace and Roger, we see a place that’s ostensibly peaceful and lovely but is deeply broken due to grief, enablement, and gaslighting and ultimately unsafe. In the woods, with the traveling theater, there’s art and genuine goodwill and connection. Except it’s violently interrupted by an outsider. When Beau tries to flee, he ends up in a court of his peers, is judged, then executed. His mother brought him into the world, and society decides to take him out of it.
The inability to have a meaningful relationship is a huge part of Beau is Afraid. Not just for Beau, but for nearly every character in the film. The only exception seems to be the traveling theater. Penelope and the others seem genuine and caring. Maybe if we spent more time with them, we’d see they’re as trouble as Grace and Roger. But from what we actually get—they’re nice, content, happy. Everyone else, though? Outrageously damaged.
This is clearly hyperbole. In the real world, most people have a handful (hopefully more) of positive, genuine relationships with friends, family, and their partner. You’re more likely to have a nice interaction with a stranger than a terrible one. There is light. There is hope. There is love. But not really in Beau is Afraid. Aster amplifies the negativity and despair till it’s all-encompassing.
The glass-half-empty reason is that it’s a bleak reflection of and commentary on the 21st century. That Aster is emphasizing a crumbling of society. Prognosticating a bleaker tomorrow. And, yeah. Anyone who follows the news or spends too much time online bears witness to a lot of ugliness. Listen carefully, and you hear a trilling note of impending doom, like the rattling of a machine that’s been on for too long without maintenance. From this perspective, it’s as if Aster’s saying, “You think things are bad now? Well here’s what’s coming.”
But you could argue Aster’s actually making a case for the opposite. By showing a truly broken world that’s so devoid of positivity, love, and empowerment, he reminds us of how much of that still exists in real life. It’s possible to watch Beau is Afraid and come away thankful for what and who you have in your life. You might not be perfect, but at least you’re not living like Beau, lonely as Beau, and convinced, like Beau, not to orgasm.
Live your life
Ultimately, Beau lacks control of his life. Others have determined it, dictated it. His passivity makes him complicit. He allows his mom to govern him. He chooses to stay in a city that’s out to kill him. He lets fear rule. And it leads him to a trial where he’s tried and executed for not being completely beholden to his mother.
As silly as it is for Beau to think an orgasm will cause immediate death, it’s a dramatic representation of the fear that stops many people from pursuing pleasures. Whether that’s something small like picking up a hobby or something larger like visiting somewhere distant or, hell, moving somewhere distant. Each and every person has dreams and goals they don’t pursue because of some limiting belief. That can be healthy. Like quitting your job, selling your house, and moving to Los Angeles to become an actor when you’ve never acted before is a crazy thing to do. But why not join a local theater? Why not write? Why not find a small way to make this pleasure a part of your life?
Even though you’re not Beau, Beau is you. A worse version of you. The doomsday version of you. You have the ability to move ever further away from being that person. Just ask yourself, am I being afraid? If the answer is yes, find the first step in the opposite direction. Then take it. If not this time, then the next. Do that more often than not, and it’s amazing what happens.
We need movies that show us a positive model for growth and change. But it’s just as important to show the reverse. The crummiest outcome. The lowest behavior. To model what not to do. How not to be. Watch Groundhog Day. Watch Beau is Afraid. Live a better life. That’s the power of cinematic narrative.
Why is the movie called Beau is Afraid?
In 2011, Ari Aster made a short film called Beau. It had a premise where a man is supposed to go visit his mother but someone steals the keys to his apartment. It’s a surreal exploration of paranoia, perception, fear, and dependence on a parent.
Talking to Collider, Aster said: I don’t see this as a remake of that short, or even necessarily an expansion of that short. I know that that’s kind of an unsatisfying answer given that they have the same basic title, and the catalyst for the story is the same, but only to say that this story has been just kind of growing and growing for me, and that character has been both growing and almost turning more and more into this enigma.
Clearly, Aster had a fondness for Beau, the character, even as the character evolved. So it made sense that he’d want to keep the title. Beau also would have fit with the singular nature of Aster’s other titles: Hereditary and Midsommar.
But two things come up. First, the words hereditary and midsommar convey something. Hereditary, the idea of inheritance and family. Midsommar, Scandinavia and seasons and festivals. Beau doesn’t tell us much beyond that it’s about a person. It’s one thing if the name is known: Amadeus, Malcolm X, Lincoln. No one knows Beau.
The second thing is that if you repeat the title of the short film, then people will draw a much stronger connection to the original short. Something Aster clearly doesn’t want and didn’t intend. As he said, the story and character have both grown for him. By expanding the title, Aster reflects that growth and adds necessary tonal context. The movie is about someone named Beau, and Beau is afraid. That idea of fear primes the viewer for the outrageous, terrifying odyssey that is Beau’s journey.
Beau is Afraid is similar to Hereditary and Midsommar in that it explores grief, guilt, and parental relationship. In the previous films, the catalyzing events had to do with personal loss. The death of a child. The tragic loss of parents and a sister. In Beau is Afraid, Beau’s grief and guilt is a byproduct of his environment. When he was younger, it was the world curated by his mother. Now that he’s older, it’s the world itself. The overall impact of his upbringing and his place in society is a constant state of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety.
The title reflects this. It lets the viewer know that this is not just a character study but specifically about why this character is afraid. It informs but also implies the question: why is Beau afraid? Scene by scene by scene, we come to understand what has led to his broken spirit.
There’s also the idea of comparing yourself to Beau. Beau is afraid, for all these reasons. Are you? Are you similar to Beau or different? If you are afraid, what can you do to improve your life? Can you move? Can you cut out negative influences? Can you overcome deeply foundational fears? If you’re not afraid, what are you?
Important motifs in Beau is Afraid
Shifts in setting
The Odyssey is one of the most famous narratives ever told. It’s the story of Odysseus after the Trojan War, his attempt to return home, but a series of events derails him for 10 years. The “odyssey” has become a genre in and of itself, defined by a hero on a long journey that involves many unique encounters. Classic examples include Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy is an odyssey. James Joyce’s Ulysses. The movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Some less direct film examples are Big Fish, The Warriors, Cold Mountain, 1917, and The Green Knight.
Beau is Afraid is the latest entry into this club, being a very modern riff on the Odysseus story. The many shifts in setting are a necessary component to the archetype. That’s why we move from city, to suburbs, to forest, to an entire imaginary life, to Beau’s childhood home, then out to sea.
Beau is Afraid has a lot of violent moments. The city is full of crazy, dangerous people. When Beau thinks he’s safe in the home of Grace and Roger, Tori and Jeeves threaten him. When Beau thinks he’s safe with the Orphans of the Forest, Jeeves shows up and unleashes havoc. When Beau thinks he’s safe at his childhood home, his mother, who is supposed to be dead, shows up and causes just as much havoc as Jeeves, just existential rather than physical. Whereve Beau goes, he encounters physical and emotional violence.
The overall effect of this is an overwhelming sense of danger and dread. These are feelings Beau has lived with his entire life, whether they were valid or not. His worldview, a direct byproduct of his mother’s mothering, is that the world is out to get him. That he should be paranoid and fearful. It’s there in the title. There’s an interesting discussion to be had about how much his subjective view influences what we see in the movie. Is the city as awful as it seems? Or are we seeing it through Beau’s eyes? Just like the trial at the end of the movie couldn’t have been real but is an expression of Beau’s own internal debate with himself.
Questions & answers about Beau is Afraid
Why did Elaine die?
The running gag is that Beau has an inherited medical condition where he dies if he orgasms. In sleeping with Elaine, he discovers there never was a condition. He was fine. His Mona lied to him. It becomes symbolic of his arrested development.
It’s ironic, then, that Beau survives but Elaine doesn’t. The exact thing he feared happening to him, happened to her. So as ridiculous as it seemed, it wasn’t impossible. And is, in fact, still quite tragic. It’s a dark, dark moment of comic tragedy. As outrageous as Elaine was, she did seem truly into Beau. There was a chance, albeit slim, that they could have a life together. To have the high of that potential followed immediately by the low of its eradication is one of the many sad things that happens to Beau. It might be the saddest.
If you’re looking for a more literal answer, it could be the exact condition Mona had described. Or a coincidental hemorrhage or aneurysm or heart attack. Her spleen could have raptured. Pick whatever instant lights out medical condition you want. That’s your answer.
What did Grace mean with the note saying “Stop incriminating yourself.”
It’s very subtle, but it’s implied that Mona hired Grace and Roger. We know she hired Beau’s therapist. We know she faked her own death just to see how Beau would react. There was a photo in her home of Beau in his apartment at the beginning of the movie, so we know she had bugs in his place. This is similar to the camera in the home of Grace and Roger, the one Beau sees when he turns on channel 78.
It’s possible that Grace and Roger just had cameras in their home. But the big connection between the note and Beau’s mom is the trial we see at the end of the movie. Dr. Cohen makes direct references to things Beau said and did while in the care of Grace and Roger, and he uses those moments against Beau. That’s the incriminating evidence.
Who stole Beau’s keys?
In Aster’s short film, Beau, the plot is similar. A man named Beau lives in a dangerous city and is going to travel home to see his mother. But someone steals his keys. Then a series of outrageous and concerning events befall him. In that version of the story, the key thief is a demon that does this for fun. Beau happened to use a Ouija board, got the demon’s attention, and the bad things followed.
Aster has said Beau is Afraid is not a remake or extension of Beau. That they share similar inciting actions but the feature has an entirely different intent behind it. So the answer is not a demon. Of course, the simple answer is that some random person in the building did it. But. The idea that the key thieving was part of a powerful entity’s plan to toy with Beau is a valid theory. That powerful entity would be Mona.
It makes sense. By the end of the movie, we know Mona faked her own death to see how Beau would react. We know she was paying his therapist. We know she was spying on him. We know she hired others to test him in the aftermath of her “death”. It’s not a reach to assume that she hired someone to challenge Beau’s visit to see how he would react. To test his love. And he failed that initial test by calling and telling her he wouldn’t make it. So she took things a step further with the whole chandelier event.
Whose head did the chandelier crush?
It’s mentioned briefly, but Beau knew his mom was alive when he saw the body in the casket. He recognized the hands. They belonged to the family’s longtime housekeeper. Mona explains that the housekeeper was loyal enough to be part of this and that Mona paid the housekeeper’s entire family enough money that they all quit their jobs.
Was Bill Hader the UPS guy?
Did Beau kill his mom?
We see Mona at the trial that follows Beau strangling her. So she seems alive. Except the trial is arguably nothing more than a visualization of Beau’s inner-dialogue in the aftermath of physically hurting Mona. In other words, he’s upset, overcome with guilt, and debating whether or not to take his own life. The realistic version of events is he simply gets in the boat, rows out to sea, then, eventually, after ruminating on what he’s done, jumps into the water. But what the film shows us is the trial. Why? Because it’s a lot more surreal and befitting the hyperbole of the story.
Whether Mona’s alive or not doesn’t change how Beau felt about what he did to her and what ultimately happens to him. Either way, he ends up in the water. I would argue that she isn’t alive. As that’s much more Greek tragedy and aligns with some potentially minor references to Oedipus Rex.
Did the trial actually happen?
Realistically, can a cave transform into an arena? No. And the whole trial is so over the top and absurd. How did Mona know that Beau was going there? How did the audience get there? How did Beau get there?
The thing with movies is that audiences have been conditioned to read them objectively. That’s because the camera is external to the characters. In novels, we get interiority. The omniscient narrator tells us what a character is seeing or thinking. Or the character, speaking in first-person, tells us what they’re thinking, feeling, experiencing. Readers have been trained to understand the divide between subjective and objective in literature. That’s why the “unreliable narrator” is such a big concept.
In film, subjective moments tend to be confined to dream sequences or quick moments of daydream or drug-induced distortions. They’re usually obviously separate from the objective, external presentation of events that make up the majority of the runtime. The rare instances of more literary subjectivity tend to be byproducts of psychological-centric films. The more traditional of these show us events as the main character perceives them, only to re-show them, later, objectively. Fight Club is an example of this. The more challenging the film, the less they re-show. These are pretty rare. Examples: American Psycho and Tár.
Beau is Afraid is in the vein of American Psycho and Tár in that they blend the objective and subjective so well that it becomes hard to determine what has and hasn’t happened. And, unlike in Fight Club, we’re never shown the reality of events.
That’s a long way of saying that the trial probably didn’t happen. But it represents Beau’s subjective experience. Meaning that even if the events aren’t “real” they’re still representative of something that is. In American Psycho, it’s Patrick Bateman’s horrendous soul. In Tár, it’s how haunted Lydia Tár is by the death of her former mentee/lover. And in Beau is Afraid, it’s Beau’s fear and guilt.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Beau is Afraid? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!