A Breakdown of “Beau Is Afraid”s Confusing Ending

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A Breakdown of “Beau Is Afraid”s Confusing Ending


BEAU IS AFRAID, Joaquin Phoenix, 2023. ph: Takashi Seida /  A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

Fresh off his directorial hits “Midsommar” and “Hereditary,” Ari Aster returns with a surreal horror-comedy in A24’s “Beau is Afraid,” which hit theaters on April 21. The reality-bending film follows the titular Beau Wasserman (Joaquin Phoenix), a paranoid, long-suffering, and intensely anxious man afraid of nearly everything. Beau wants to visit his judgmental mother, Mona (Patti LuPone and Zoe Lister-Jones), but every step of the journey is an endless series of disturbing encounters that confirm and fuel Beau’s fears.

At the start of the film, Beau’s therapist has given him an experimental anxiety medication he must take with water, but the city is experiencing a water outage. As Beau attempts to leave his apartment in a bizarre, pseudo-post-apocalyptic city to visit his mother, his luggage and keys are stolen from his doorway, and homeless people lock him out of his home and trash it. The following day, he learns his mother has been killed, but he must now make the trip for her funeral. While Beau’s taking a bath to ease his grief, a man falls out of his ceiling and lands on him. Beau runs into the street naked, and a truck hits him.

Beau wakes up days later, wearing an ankle monitor in the home of the woman who hit him. This seemingly ideal American suburban family consists of the woman, her husband, their daughter, and a man who served in the army with their son, who was killed in action. When the daughter intentionally kills herself in front of Beau, the mother blames Beau, and he flees to the woods with the army veteran giving chase.

In the woods, Beau encounters an acting troupe, which kicks off a 20-minute animated segment of the film as Beau reimagines his life. He imagines he would’ve raised children if his mother had not made him paranoid and isolated. The veteran catches up to the troupe, murdering several of the actors, but Beau escapes and hitchhikes to his mother’s estate.

There, he reconnects with his childhood love, Elaine, and decides to sleep with her in his mother’s bed. Beau had always believed he would die when he ejaculates because that’s how his mother claimed his father died when Beau was conceived. Instead, Elaine dies, and Mona reveals she’s been watching the entire time. She tells Beau he has a twin brother and his father is a phallic monster.

How Does “Beau Is Afraid” End?

Overwhelmed, Beau tries to strangle Mona, then flees to the beach, where he steals a motorboat. He steers into a cave, but once the boat dies, it’s revealed to be a lake in the middle of a crowded stadium. Mona and her attorney put Beau on trial for all of the times Beau has hurt her, using video evidence secretly obtained throughout his entire life. Mona has Beau’s defense attorney killed, and Beau loses the trial. The boat explodes, killing Beau. Mona and her attorney fall in with the exciting crowd.

What Does “Beau Is Afraid”‘s Ending Mean?

Director Aster told IndieWire that the arena’s resemblance to a cinema “feels in some ways like a mirror.” The viewer, also watching Beau’s trial in a crowded movie theater, has been observing and judging Beau’s actions without his knowledge since the beginning of the film, just as his mother has been.

How Much of “Beau Is Afraid” Is in Beau’s Head?

It is never revealed how much of Beau’s journey is real. It’s likely many events are the product of his paranoia, injury, or side effects of the medication he took without water. Unfortunately, for those who like clear-cut endings, it seems “Beau is Afraid” is not intended to have a single definitive narrative that viewers can find by watching closer or searching for clues.

What Is the Meaning Behind “Beau Is Afraid?”

There is no one moral or lesson in “Beau is Afraid.” However, several themes are explored throughout the film, including the side effects of medication, the darkness underlying urban and suburban life, how judgment and isolation create fear, the spectrum between anxiety and reality, and more.





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