In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Beau is Afraid, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
- Beau Wassermann – Joaquin Phoenix
- Mona Wassermann – Patti LuPone
- Therapist – Stephen McKinley Henderson
- Roger – Nathan Lane
- Grace – Amy Ryan
- Toni – Kylie Rogers
- Jeeves – Denis Ménochet
- Elaine – Parker Posey
- Penelope – Hayley Squires
- Dr. Cohen – Richard Kind
- Written by – Ari Aster
- Directed by – Ari Aster
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.
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