‘Beau Is Afraid’ Ending, Explained: What Is The Meaning Of The Film? Does Beau Dies In The End?


Underneath the absurdities and impossibilities with which Ari Aster has adorned his latest film, Beau is Afraid, is the twisted and tragicomic journey of a hero’s return home. Beau, a middle-aged man who is spooked and scared by almost every scenario and possibility around him, learns of the accidental death of his mother and has to embark on a seemingly impossible journey back home. But on his way, the protagonist has to face all of his fears, and unlike conventional films of this kind, he is too scared to face and triumph over such fears. Instead, Beau is pulled further in by his insecurities and anxieties to finally come face to face with his most dreaded situation. Beau is Afraid is undoubtedly a divisive film, especially owing to its 3-hour duration, but simply because of its weird tale and visual aesthetic, it deserves at least one watch.

Spoilers Alert

How Is Beau Called Upon To Make This Difficult Journey Back Home?

There might be multiple ways to look at Beau is Afraid, but the one that comes to mind first is that it essentially shows the fears that Beau has to go through and how, very unusually, he fails to overcome most of them. We are introduced to our protagonist during his very birth—baby Beau is pulled out of his mother’s womb by the doctors amidst immense panic from the mother about her child’s silence. After questioning the doctors about whether her son was born mute or, worse, dead, the mother, Mona, is relieved to hear the baby cry. Many years have passed since then, and Beau is now a middle-aged man who regularly sees a therapist to keep his anxiety in check. It is hinted at this very point that most of Beau’s worries are linked to his relationship with his mother, and the man is not very happy to return to his ancestral house for the death anniversary of his father.

Once Beau returns to his own apartment in what is seemingly a violent New York neighborhood, his fears become very apparent. “Beau is Afraid” structures itself to have Beau’s initial insecurities be of external matters, about things in the outside world, and the world that the man lives in is terrifying, to say the least. People fight, quarrel, beg, and celebrate, all with an equally violent attitude, and Beau spends most of his time running into his apartment as fast as he can. Inside the building is not a safe space either, as is shown by the posters put up that warn about a deadly spider that is on the loose. Beau’s life soon starts to fall apart in a more devastating manner, as the man oversleeps and gets extremely late for the flight back home. With panic taking over, he then leaves the key to his apartment hanging at the door, and it is instantly stolen by someone. To leave the apartment unlocked in a neighborhood where people are dangerous and desperate enough to break in, as Beau perceives, is an impossible feat. The man calls up his mother and informs her that he won’t be able to come because of his ongoing issue, and the anger and disappointment in her voice are very apparent.

To add to the fear of the violent people and the poisonous spider, the water in the apartment runs out just at the exact moment when Beau takes his new antidepressants, which his therapist had told him to always take with water. The man has to run out frantically in search of water, and in the meantime the people on the street break into his house and Beau, too scared to go back, spends the night out on the scaffolding. When he finally gets to return, though, Beau receives the shocking news of the accidental death of his mother, who has apparently died after a chandelier fell and beheaded her. Despite all his difficulties, Beau now has to return home in order to bid adieu to Mona, but the start is obviously as messy as it could have been. Beau is spooked by the presence of another man who had been hiding in his apartment during this whole time, and he runs out onto the streets completely naked. Cornered between a panicking policeman and a homeless serial killer, Beau is struck down by a speeding van and loses consciousness.

What Does Beau’s Time At Grace And Roger’s House Result In?

Luckily for Beau, at least for the time being, the driver of the van decides to take him back to her house, where he is treated back to health. Grace, the driver, happens to be married to a renowned surgeon, Roger, who is more than happy to look after Beau’s injuries. The protagonist’s time at this couple’s house is initially warm and welcoming, but soon certain things about them look very odd. Grace and Roger’s son, Nathan, had been killed in some war as he was part of the military, but the parents still refer to their son as if alive, even keeping his room locked away from use. Nathan’s friend Jeeves, who was also in the military and had witnessed the man die, also lives around the house, but his PTSD has made him lose his mind completely. The couple also has a daughter named Toni, whose room Beau is kept in, and the woman is instead made to sleep on the couch in the living room.

Despite their good and helpful nature, Grace and Roger are evidently not over the death of their son and are quite biased against their daughter. The couple also seems very interested in adopting Beau almost as their own son, as if trying to replace Nathan with him, even though they still have another living child. This is what triggers and scares Toni—that a grown-up man, Beau, was now trying to take her brother’s place. Either way, Toni constantly keeps trying to get Beau out of the house and creates unfriendly situations for him, which all culminate in one devastating end. In an ultimate act of defiance against her parents, she breaks into Nathan’s locked room along with Beau and wants to repaint the walls. This is strictly against what Grace wants, for she wants to hold on to the memory of her son to its full extent. Seemingly out of her frustration and angst, Toni drinks the paint and kills herself with Beau still in the room, and when Grace enters, it appears as if Beau has made her kill herself. Out of rage, Grace orders tn Jeeves, who is more like an enraged soldier, to chase Beau and kill him. It seems that Grace’s anger is equally due to Beau spoiling her son’s room as it is for having seemingly killed her daughter.

This second section of Beau is Afraid seems to make it clear, for the first time, that along with external factors, there are also internal thoughts and situations that scare the life out of Beau. The man is afraid of the possibility that people will hold him responsible for something that he has not done, and this is exactly what happened with Toni’s death. But like in the previous section too, which was full of terrible reactions made by Beau, the man’s first reaction now is to flee instead of having any conversation. This results in the start of a devilish, and sometimes funny, chase as Jeeves steams around looking for Beau and trying to kill him.

What Does The Third Part Of The Play Inside The Forest Signify?

As part of his escape from Grace and Jeeves, Beau runs into a forest and almost magically meets a young pregnant woman who takes him to her camp. The woman belongs to a traveling theater group that moves from place to place, performing plays, and at present, they are camped inside this forest. The group is immediately very welcoming of Beau, especially after they hear that he is an orphan, as many of them have been abandoned by their own parents. There are obviously very few things, perhaps even none, in Beau is Afraid that can be explained with logic or real-world possibilities, and the film is one that does not want to adhere to reality either. Therefore, Beau running into this group, who then even tells the story of his own life, is as surreal as it seems. During the practice for one of their performances, the group acts out a play, which makes Beau feel as if it tells the story of his own life. But more than anything else, this section seems to be there for its visual splendor, which is truly spectacular, mixing live-action and animation into one.

The play, in which Beau becomes the father of three sons, makes him question how he could have done so, as he has been told otherwise throughout his life. This matter, in particular, and the section in the forest in general, establish the mystery or drama with regard to Beau’s father. From his childhood days, Beau had been told by his mother that his father had passed away on the very night that he had been conceived. Mona had also warned that her husband’s father and grandfather had also passed away in the same manner and that Beau would also die in the same manner, which is why the man had stayed away from any sexual activity throughout his life so far. But the play shows Beau fathering three sons, who then ask him how their existence was possible since Beau had never had any physical relation, and the man’s reverie breaks at this exact point.

During this section, Beau also dreams of a particular instance during his childhood when his mother was preparing to bathe him and another similar-aged boy, who seems to be his brother. It was the brother who constantly asked Mona where his father was, while Beau was too afraid to ask such a question, and out of anger, Mona sent the brother up into the attic and locked him there forever, resulting in him being forgotten. Who his father was and what had happened to him is clearly an important matter to Beau, even though he does not dare to directly express this thought. With regards to the man’s dreams, he also has another one a bit earlier in Beau is Afraid, about a certain girl he met aboard a cruise when he was a boy and took a fancy to. This girl, Elaine, had also shown interest in Beau, followed by a sweet kiss between them, but she was then forcibly taken away from the ship and from his life. Elaine had left Beau with a photograph of her and had asked him never to forget her, and the man continued to dream of a reunion. Interestingly, both these dreams and the associated thoughts are given resolution in the film’s next section.

What Does Beau Learn About Elaine And His Father?

As the vengeful Jeeves intrudes on the scene inside the forest and starts to shoot, Beau escapes and manages to find a lift to his mother’s house. Upon arriving at the house, the man first pays respect to Mona’s body, which had not been buried till now only because of him, and then finds himself completely alone. It is now that Elaine suddenly appears at the house, informing Beau that she has been employed under Mona for quite some time now, and then the two lovingly reunite. Beau is definitely scared that the moment of climax during their intimate act will kill him, as he has been told by his mother, but then quite the opposite happens. In a sudden, crude turn of events, it is Elaine who turns stiff and dies right after her orgasm. The absurdity of the whole matter aside, Beau now learns that the warnings that Mona had taught him were wrong and fake.

Later, when Mona comes to the house in flesh and blood, Beau questions whether his life had been manipulated by his mother without his knowledge. He recalls how Elaine had been Mona’s employee for so long without him knowing about it and states the possibility that Mona had done so only to ensure that her son did not get romantically involved with Elaine. Beau then demands to know about his father and is now finally sent up into the attic, where the man is possibly still living. This idea had been spurred inside Beau’s head by an elderly man in the forest telling him that his father is still alive, so Beau climbs up to the attic. At first, he finds a frail man around the same age as himself, and this is seemingly the brother who Beau had seen in his dream, which was more of a memory from his childhood. Next, Beau finally meets with his father, who is a giant monster in the shape of a phallus, and Beau is Afraid truly hits its most bizarre moment here.

The meaning of such a scene can perhaps be interpreted in various ways, especially owing to how open Beau is Afraid is as a film, but the most plausible explanation is probably that these two characters are presented through the subjective lens of Beau. The man had dreamt of his brother having been sent up into the attic by his mother when they were young, and now he seems to have found him in the attic again. Even if the brother is just an imaginary figure or if there was indeed a brother who had been sent to the attic only as a punishment and had been later taken out from there, Beau still finds him inside the prison-like place. Beau’s fears are all very instant, and his reactions are equally spontaneous, and so, having recently dreamed of his brother’s punishment, the man now finds him here. On the other side, all that Beau knew about his father was that the man had impregnated his mother and then immediately died. Therefore, to him, the father was never anything more than just a physical phallus whose only role had been to make his life possible. It is almost as if Beau cannot even try to imagine his father looking like anything other than a literal phallus.

‘Beau Is Afraid’ Ending Explained: What Happens In Beau & Mona’s Final Confrontation?

Out of all his fears and insecurities, the biggest of Beau’s troubles are very evidently with his mother, Mona. This is hinted at from the beginning of Beau is Afraid, and towards the end, it is stated in clear, bold lines. Despite being a very successful businesswoman in her professional life, Mona had been extremely attached to her seemingly only son, Beau, to the point of stifling him with love and attention. In essence, Mona had been very controlling and dominating over Beau, and she also expected him to act according to her will. Therefore, when he called her, informing her of his situation that he could not visit home for his father’s death anniversary, she got the idea that he was lying and putting up a pretense. Mona then puts up her own pretense of dying, as it is revealed that it was her trusted housekeeper Martha who had died. Mona had paid Martha to essentially die and pretend to be her, only so that Beau would come rushing in, and then Mona would confront him.

One of Beau’s greatest fears, of being termed a failure by his mother, comes true as she starts talking about how he had tried to push her away from a very young age. At its very core, Beau is Afraid is definitely the tale of a difficult mother-son relationship, as both sides suffer from terrible mental insecurities. Mona had seemingly kept Beau away from his father and from Elaine and had also been regularly listening in on Beau’s therapy sessions, in which the man would talk mostly about his troubles with her. At one point, Beau loses his calm and strangles his mother before swiftly regaining control and leaving the house ashamed.

He reaches a large lake and rows a boat into the water, only to then realize that he is actually on center stage, with large galleries filled with people all around him. The protagonist’s ultimate fear of being judged by people takes literal shape at the end of Beau is Afraid, as he has to face trial in front of all these strangers. On one side are Mona and her lawyer, who try to prove how bad and irresponsible Beau is as a son. On the other side, a cheaply hired defense attorney tries to fight for Beau’s cause, but he loses control both figuratively and literally and soon falls over. Just like his lawyer then, Beau’s boat also topples, and the protagonist falls into the water, never to appear again. If Beau is Afraid is about the many stages of fears that Beau has faced, the end clearly suggests that he has succumbed to his ultimate fear and has drowned in his many anxieties and insecurities.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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