Writer/Director Ari Aster has an accurate way of defining his very own film, Beau is Afraid (2023). He says, “I wanted to make a movie that was like a video game but where your character can’t do anything, and none of the buttons work.” The 3-hour-long odyssey is about a son trying to get to his mother’s house, but the detours form a comprehensive collection of what it wants to say. If you, like me, were bowled out by Aster’s bonkers Beau is Afraid – hated or loved it to the core but failed to completely grasps its salient thematic inclinations, especially that ending, I’ve tried to break down the entire film as simply as I can. 

Please make sure you read further only if you have seen Beau is Afraid because this is going to be full of spoilers. So, strap your jittery heart into your silky bathrobe, digest some paint, and hit the accelerator to the grocery store, because this is going to be a long one.

Beau is Afraid (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis: 

Beau is Afraid opens with a bizarre POV shot of Beau’s birth. It is almost as if he can see himself struggling to breathe and come out of his mother’s utero. The sequence almost instantly establishes the personality that an adult Beau Wassermann (Joaquin Phoenix), who is presently in a therapy session, would have. He is afraid (the title, of course, says it) and always in a state of perpetual panic. 

His therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and he have a one-off relationship where this person is very straightforward about Beau. The two of them discuss his forthcoming visit to his mother’s place and how he feels about it. Even sitting there, Beau is fidgety about his phone, which keeps ringing as his mother’s calls drop in. We can also see that it is incredibly tough for him to express his feelings. Before leaving, he is given a new drug for his condition and is warned not to take it without water. 

When Beau is out of therapy, we are introduced to the cityscape that he lives in. This, possibly some alternate version of New York named Corrina (named after the 1994 Ray Liotta film), feels like the streets in Joaquin Pheonix’s very own Joker as violence and inhumane acts are all on the full blaze. Even walking around on these roads is difficult without having the idea of your neck getting slit by a random person. 

The set design is detailed, with the streets and the city covered in anarchic graffiti and odd, out-of-place advertisements. It is unclear if the city’s hellscape of an environment is real, a manifestation of Beau’s mind, or just a brilliant form of catharsis for director Aster, who wants to lay down his most hellish fears on the cinematic canvas. After we are introduced to the street, we also see the hallway that leads to Beau’s lift that eventually takes him to his apartment floor. However, it’s not an easy task for Beau to reach there. 

For starters, Beau has to make sure that he runs the last few meters to his apartment’s main gate; possibly to escape from the Birthday Boy Stab man (Bradley Fisher), an anarchist who has Beau as his target at all times, and then run all the way to the lift, while avoiding getting killed or stabbed or both. 

If the way to the apartment is dangerous, it’s not like his apartment or his floor is some kind of heaven, either. When we reach his floor, we see a notice stuck near his apartment that says that a giant, venomous spider is on the loose and residents should be careful. His fears right now include getting a good night’s sleep so that he is not late for his flight to his mother’s.

However, due to the constant intrusion of a really nosy neighbor who claims him to be noisy instead, Beau gets fashionably late. To add to that, when he tries to leave his apartment in a state of panic, he loses his keys that were in the keyhole, and there’s no way for him to go now since his landlord is not as responsive and leaving his apartment unlocked in such a neighborhood would mean bringing the house down upon himself. 

He then sits down, alerting his mom that he won’t make it to her place. He tries to reason with her about why he can’t come, but his mother instead blames him. For the first time, we see Beau’s complete cluelessness and hear his mother’s manipulative and controlling nature. As his mother hangs up the call, putting all the reasons for not making it to the flight on time, Beau’s fear of someone breaking in manifests. He panics again and takes the new medication prescribed by his therapist, but since the apartment is all out of the water, he realizes that it was a bad idea to take it like this – especially when he was warned about it. 

He looks at the superstore in front of his apartment building, but going there means – going down the lift, rushing past the hallways, opening the building’s main gate; putting something as a stopper so that the door doesn’t close, rushing to the store without getting attacked, buying the bottle of water, paying for it and rushing back inside. 

However, things don’t go as planned when he stops at the store’s counter, and his credit card doesn’t work. While he is standing there, trying to pay the bill with the change he has, he looks across the building to see that all the homeless and anarchist people on the street realize the stopper on the apartment gate and have started going in. By the time he pays for the water and reaches the building, the door closes, and he is locked out. He looks at his apartment from the street to see that all the people have taken over his apartment. 

Unable to decide what to do, he takes the alternate construction stairs and gets to the other side of his apartment window, witnessing the complete annihilation of his place by the mob that has gotten inside. He sleeps out there and wakes up in the morning (notice the trademark Aster style of making the night into day, but also notice the nice cheeky way he does it this time; complementing the comedic chops that have gone into this one). 

He walks back to the apartment, which is in complete shreds now. He slowly sets up his computer system, somehow making it work in order to book another flight to reach his mother’s place.

What happens to Beau’s mother? 

A still from Beau is Afraid (2023).

Unable to reach the credit card company, Beau calls his mother to know about why his credit card has been disabled, but some guy picks up the call. This guy – named UPS Guy (voiced by Bill Hader), is unsure whose phone he has in his hand and tells Beau that he has alerted the police. He then asks Beau to describe his mother and tells him that he was here to deliver a package, but since the door was unlocked, he came in because of the smell and saw a lady’s body lying on the floor with her head amputated by the chandelier. The information is a little too much for Beau, so he shrugs and thinks that it might be a nightmare he is having. 

However, when he hangs up and calls again, the voice tells him that his mother is dead. Beau drops the phone and goes into a state of shock, only to come back to reality when the bathtub gets overflowed. Unable to process his feelings, Beau gets into the bath and tries calling his therapist but reaches the voicemail. We reach back to the opening moment where he had questioned Beau if he wished his mother was dead. Co-relating both sequences, we can understand that he is now surrounded by the guilt of not making it to his mother’s place, which might have eventually led to her death. With the gift he had bought for his mother in one of his hands, he looks regretfully at the picture of his mother and him when she had given birth to him. 

Before he can wrap his head around the tragedy, a drop of sweat drops into the bathtub as he notices a man hanging by the ceiling above the bathtub. This man – named Celiing Man (Peter Seaborne) in the credits, must have gotten inside in the ambush the previous day, and hanging in there is now very difficult. So, he drops right onto Beau, who, completely naked and exposed, runs out to the road and tries to reach the cop – who is more afraid of Beau than he is of him. 

Before the cop – who now has a gun pointed at him – could shoot, a freaked-out Beau runs at full speed and gets in an accident with a fast-moving truck. 

What do the people driving the truck do with Beau? 

Before waking up, we see a much younger Beau being forced to get into the bathtub by his mother. We then see him in a young girl’s room, with his bruises bandaged and him being treated by some kind of professional. A woman then comes in a tells him that after being hit by their truck, he was also stabbed by the same man we saw earlier and that he has been sleeping for two days. She then introduces herself as Grace (Amy Ryan) and tells him about her husband Roger (Nathan Lane), who happens to be a ‘respect surgeon.’ We also see that Beau has a tracking monitor on his knees. 

The couple, which lives in a wealthy suburban home, feels too nice to be true. The three of them have dinner, and Roger gives everyone some pills. They then discuss Roger and Grace’s dead son, who was in the army before their younger one named Toni (Kylie Rogers), comes home.

It is clear that Beau was resting in his room, but the resentment in him comes from a much deeper trauma. He also takes two bottles of pills from the counter and rushes away. Then there’s also Jeeves (played with over-the-top menace by Denis Ménochet), who lives in an RV parked on their front lawn and is deeply disturbed due to serving with Grace and Rogers’s son – leading to his PTSD.  He is also under one of Roger’s pills; we can smell something fishy about all this. 

Beau then calls Dr. Cohen (voiced by Richard King) – his mother’s lawyer and rechecks if his mother’s death was this big dream that he saw. Cohen is angry at Beau’s lack of motivation to know of his mother’s passing. He also tells him that the funeral is postponed because his mother wished that her son is there at her final rites. So, he asks him to get there as soon as possible and respect her mother’s last wish, as that’s the least he can do.

What does Roger want out of Beau? 

Beau then requests Roger to book him a flight so that he can attend his mother’s funeral. But Roger doesn’t seem to pay heed to any of his requests and instead tells him that his wounds will get messed up if he travels now. He asks him to take a rest for the day and promises to drive him himself the next morning. 

However, the next morning, we see that Roger receives a call and says that he can’t drive him today because he has to do some unexpected surgeries that have come up. He again postpones driving Beau the next morning before heading out. Before leaving, Roger emphasizes the decision of not going to Beau’s mother’s place to be Beau’s, despite the fact that it’s the other way around. Before going out for the day, Grace leaves a note for him that says, “Stop incriminating yourself.” 

Beau, left alone in the house, feels the presence of a strange man (Julian Richings) looking at him from outside the house. He then goes into Toni’s room and checks the internet for the news of his mother’s death; realizing that it is, in fact, true. 

He then, possibly due to the pills and his condition, throws up on Toni’s computer and then gets out for a drive with one of her friends after Toni says that she will be driving him to his mother’s place.

This is where Toni refers to him as her ‘new brother,’ which makes us understand that Roger doesn’t want to let go of Beau as he wants to tame him and keep him as his son, a replacement for his son Nathan who they lost to the war. 

Who is Elaine? 

Toni gets Beau high in the car, and he hallucinates about his cruise vacation with his mother when he was young. He also dreams about the time when he met Elaine. Quite like Beau, she has a tumultuous relationship with her controlling mother, and was Beau’s first kiss.

Knowing that young Elaine had kissed Beau, her mother decided to take her away from the vacation in haste. Before leaving, Elaine literally begged Beau to ‘Wait for her’ because ‘she loves him,’ making us aware of one of the reasons why he always remained single. 

What does Beau find out about Roger’s doing? 

The next morning, Roger is again not interested in driving Beau anywhere and instead sets up a barbeque. Grace, who has had it with the lying, tells Beau to switch on the television and go to channel ‘67.’ The channel shows Beau CCTV footage of the entire house, hinting that Roger has been secretly keeping an eye on him. However, the footage also somehow moves forward in time – all in sync with the weirdness of the film, showing us a brief glimpse of Beau’s journey forward. 

However, before Beau can piece it all together, Toni appears with two canisters of paint and takes him to Nathan’s room to paint the sad walls there. We clearly see a disturbed young Toni who hasn’t processed the grief of losing her brother – possibly because of keeping up with millennial trends or because her parents, who are living in denial, have only pills to offer in exchange. In anger and panic, she tells Beau how he is being tested to be his brother and that he has failed that too. 

She then proceeds to drink the paint that she has brought. This kills her, and when Grace comes in to revive her, she does it all in vain. She then calls Beau a ‘demon’ who is trying to replace her son, making her take the sword from the room and go after him. Beau freaks out and runs out of the house and into the forest, where he hits and branch and passes out. 

Who does Beau meet in the forest?

On waking up, Beau wanders off into the forest lost, only to stumble onto a pregnant woman named Penelope (Hayley Squires), who offers her help in cleaning his wounds. So she takes him to her temporary place of residence – a forest theatre commune of sorts. Meanwhile, Grace, who thought that Beau is responsible for ruining her treasured son’s room and killing her daughter, puts Jeeves on Beau’s tail as he tries to track his location using the tracker that Roger had put on his knees. 

The people of the commune are welcoming of Beau’s presence. Maybe, for the first time in his journey after leaving his home, he feels a sense of ease. They are also very gentle towards him upon learning that he has recently lost his mother, especially because most of them are also orphans and/or were abandoned by their parents. 

Armen Nahapetian as Teen Beau & Zoe Lister-Jones as Young Mona in Beau is Afraid.

Beau settles down into the commune’s happy environment as they are practicing a play. The play feels very close to Beau’s life, and he is captivated by the art on display. Ari Aster, who must have made this bizarre odyssey of a movie drawing things from his own life, uses this section to establish the act of moving pictures and art, replicating and moving us for how relatable they are. 

The play, however, ends with the protagonist’s three sons. The old version of Beau, who has been in the crowd, reaches out to the actors in the play, and there is some kind of unison. The play and real life intermingle at this point; it’s like a big metaphor that the ones in the film are in an alternate version of the story too. The story of the older Beau makes Beau question if his life would have taken a different path if he wasn’t so vehemently told what to do by everyone – including his mother.

What fear did Beau’s mother instill in him? 

All through the film, we notice Beau being fearful of everything. This kind of fear often stems from overprotective and controlling parents. Beau offers the gift that he had been carrying for his mother to Penelope, thanking her for the kindness she had offered him. Just then, The Strange Man, who we saw earlier, comes to Beau and tells him that he knew his father after he was born. Telling him that he used to work for his mother and that his father is alive. 

Beau’s mother had told him that his father died after having sex with her for the first time, and since his father’s father and his forefathers also died the same way, she had instilled this fear in Beau that if he had sex with anyone, he would die too.

Now that the strange man said that his father is alive and that he and his family looked after him because they were indebted to Mona (Beau’s Mother), Beau’s fear and illusion are shattered simultaneously. 

However, before the stranger can tell him anything, he sees the tracker on Beau’s knees and runs away, leaving him with more questions. The beeping on his tracker becomes louder as a really mad Jeeves arrives at the play’s orchestration and starts killing people. Beau runs, but Jeeves, in a hasty act, busts Beau’s tracker, and he goes unconscious yet again. 

What does the bathtub scene signify? 

When Beau is unconscious, he again goes back to the place where his mother is asking him to get into the bathtub. However, this time, we see that the young Beau (or another version of a younger Beau) is not afraid and asks his mother about the whereabouts of his dad, as the POV Beau is still afraid.

It is clear from this dream sequence that it was about this time when Beau’s fear really started taking over him. We see that this younger version of Beau is taken and locked in the attic by his very angry mother as the POV Beau looks at the entire thing. 

By locking this version of Beau, who asks questions, Beau’s mother, Mona, essentially asks him to bury the idea of ever asking or talking about his father when it is very important for a young child to know these things in all honesty. Since Mona chose to do this, it made Beau afraid of asking big questions or ever realizing his wishes. 

Beau is Afraid (2023) Movie Ending, Explained?

Is Mona really dead? 

When Beau finally wakes up, he finds himself near the road and manages to get a lift to his mother’s place to a town called Wesserton (named after Beau’s mother, Mona Wesserton), who possibly owns everyone and everything in the town.

Since Beau is already late for his mother’s last rite, he gets into the house as everything is being cleared. He then goes into his mother’s office in the basement, which clues us into the MW brand that Mona Wesserton created and how big it really was. There is big, announcing info on the walls about Mona’s journey by creating something this monumental. 

This is the first time we realize that the MW empire was responsible for producing drugs and moved to other essentials like shaving products, housing, and so on and so forth. In fact, we get a brief glimpse of the apartment building that Beau used to live in on one of the many posters in Mona’s office. The first clue of something twisted at play is when Beau reaches the final poster on the wall, and it has pictures of both Roger and Elaine (who we briefly saw in the news bulletin that Beau was watching on Toni’s computer). This tells us that Roger was, in fact, an employee of his mother’s. 

However, Beau, who is too indulged in listening to the eulogies that are playing for his mother, gets a little emotional and passes out on the couch. When he wakes up, he finds a woman has come late to pay her respects to Mona. When Beau looks at her, he instantly recognizes her and goes up to her. It’s Elaine. 

After Beau tells Elaine that he has waited for her all her life, the two of them have a nice little moment together before Elaine asks if they can go inside. It is finally Beau’s time to check for himself if what his mother told him was true. However, that would mean him climaxing and possibly dying.

With that in his mind, Beau conjures up all his courage and gets in bed with Elaine. With all his fears amped up, the two of them have sex, but when Beau climaxes, he doesn’t die. Elaine tries to power through his hard-on and orgasms too. Beau laughs in disbelief that he did not die. However, Elaine dies instead. 

This is when Mona, who was supposed to be dead, appears. As Mona’s employee takes away Elaine’s frozen, lifeless body, Beau puts on his clothes and goes into the living room to confront his mother. He questions his mother if she knew Elaine, but instead of giving him a straightforward answer, she goes ahead and guilt-trips him about what he did.

For the first time in his life, though, Beau tries to stand up for himself. He tells her that he knew that she wasn’t dead, even though she tried to orchestrate it that way. He knew that the body in the casket was that of Martha (their housekeeper) and that she paid them to plan all this to see his reaction. 

The argument gets heated up as Mona constantly gaslights Beau for acting the way he did his entire life. In the argument, we also learn that Mona’s manipulative, controlling nature also comes down from her own mother, who was really distant towards her. 

She tells him that she gave him all her love, but he never reciprocated it. Mona then confesses the biggest twisted thing about his relationship with Beau. She plays the recording of his therapy sessions with his therapist. Beau realizes that all his sessions with him were listened to by his mother, a breach of not only his personal space but his entire existence being a lie. This really shakes him from the core. 

Who is the monster in the attic? 

After listening to the recording of his session where he talks about the attic, Beau confronts her about knowing that his father is alive. When he asks for the truth, Mona takes him to the attic and locks him inside with his fear again before saying that his dreams are actually a memory

In the attic, Beau finds a version of himself chained and a monster which is a literal representation of a penis there in the corner as well. People viewing the movie for the first time will be confused by what this all means. From where I see it, it couldn’t be simpler. 

All his life, Beau, due to his mother’s repressive nature and lies, has been afraid of having sex or even masturbating just because his mother claimed that his father died just after he had sex with her.

Patti LuPone as Mona Wassermann in Ari Aster’s Beau is Afraid (2023).

Now, I am making an assumption here but looking at Mona, I can assume that she does have an aversion to men. In fact, she hates them. So, she only needed a man so that she can have sex with him and have a child who would be what she wants him to be. 

Since she has, from the start, always told Beau to be away from sex and be her sweet little boy, Beau strayed away from his sexual urges for so long that he literally closed himself off from having that experience. The monster or the cock monster can be a representation of Beau’s anxiety and fear that he was forced to lock behind by his mother. 

The following scene shows us that Jeeves, who has been in pursuit of Beau, arrives there but is killed by the cock monster. Now the way I see it, everything post the first theatre commune or, to an extent, all of Beau is Afraid is one big nightmare inside Beau’s head. The entire Odyssey is a big long metaphor for a sexually repressed man not being allowed to be the man he could have been. 

Does Beau kill his mother? 

As you would be aware by now, most of Beau is Afraid is about this man’s anxiety that stems from his mother’s overbearing, manipulative, and controlling nature. When Beau comes down from the attic, he apologizes to his mother for doubting her and going against her will, but when she again tries to put him to shame by guilt-tripping him, Beau can’t take it anymore and chokes his mother before realizing what he is doing.

However, Mona, who is surprised to see her son take the dangerous way out, is bewildered and falls head-on into a glass table and presumably dies. I say presumably because one can’t really pinpoint how much of the film is true.

Beau then walks out of the house and goes to the lake, and rows the boat across the water, reaching a place where he is positioned at the center of an arena which is filled with a lot of people, along with his mother, who are all trying to prove that Beau is guilty.

This ending of Beau is Afraid is again a metaphorical representation of a person’s biggest fear – the fear of being judged. 

We all know that Beau has been a recluse all his life and hardly meets anyone. The kind of loneliness doesn’t just leave you with crippling anxiety but with the idea that all of mankind is up against you and will judge you for all things you have done or even the things that you haven’t. 

As Beau tries to present his point in front of Mona and her lawyer, we see that the weight of their judging faces and actions from his past outweigh his side. This manifests in Beau’s final fear as his boat topples and he dies.

Read More: Beau is Afraid (2023) Review: Fear and Loathing in the Psyche

Beau is Afraid (2023) Movie Trailer

Beau Is Afraid (2023) Links: IMDbRotten TomatoesWikipedia
Beau Is Afraid (2023) Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Patti LuPone, Amy Ryan
Rating: R (Graphic Nudity | Drug Use | Language | Sexual Content |Strong Violent Content)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Horror
Original Language: English
Director: Ari Aster
Producer: Lars Knudsen, Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Release Date (Theaters): Apr 21, 2023  Wide
Release Date (Streaming): Jun 13, 2023
Box Office (Gross USA): $8.1M
Runtime: 2h 59m
Distributor: A24
Where to watch Beau is Afraid

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