In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Beau is Afraid, we answer questions you have about the movie. If you’re curious about plot explanations, meanings, themes, lessons, motifs, symbols, or just confused by something, ask and we’ll do our best to answer.
- 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
Beau is Afraid | Questions and Answers
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.
What questions do you have?
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