Beau is Afraid ending explained: So... what was the deal with the penis monster?

Ari Aster's three-hour odyssey leaves a lot of questions to ponder.
Beau Is Afraid, an A24 film.
Beau Is Afraid, an A24 film. /

Spoilers ahead for Beau is Afraid.

Ari Aster's surreal magnum opus Beau is Afraid (2023) is full of memorable (and horrifying) moments, but the one everyone remembers most vividly is the giant disturbing penis monster imprisoned in his mother's attic we're meant to believe is somehow Beau's (Joaquin Phoenix)... father?

But is the penis monster real or is it just a hallucination? I mean, that's kind of the main question throughout the film. People might have walked away from Beau is Afraid confused, but Aster thought it was all pretty straightforward, telling Time Magazine, “I worry it’s too obvious. Like, it’s right there. There’s nothing to talk about. You bury a lot of details, but they’re all details you’re burying in service of filling out the thing that it obviously is."

So, taking it all at face value, the penis monster is actually quite fitting because so much of Beau's journey has related to the warped, almost Oedpial relationship with his mother, Mona (Patti LuPone), and her insistence that if he ever has sex and achieves orgasm, he'll immediately go into cardiac arrest and died.

Because of that, Beau has remained a recluse, scared of becoming intimate with anyone. The penis monster, real or not, works as a manifestation of Beau's sexual dysfunction.

The Greek tragedy of Beau is Afraid

In the film's final act, Beau discovers that his mom has faked her death after Beau missed his flight to visit her. It's darkly hilarious that Mona goes to such extreme lengths to punish Beau for his slights, going so far as to hire people to keep her son under surveillance and lure him home for her "funeral."

In reality, she just wanted to check and see how Beau would react to her death. Does he mourn her appropriately? Is he sad enough? Does he feel guilty enough? Guilt is the primary driving force behind everything Beau does and feels, and it all comes back to his mother.

And Mona's pettiness really is that extravagant. Talking to Time, Aster said he was inspired by the Gods of Greek mythology, who are always "punishing people for not honoring them in the right way." He thought, "‘Oh, that’s very Jewish. That’s like the most Jewish thing.'”

Frequently compared to Franz Kafka's works, Beau is Afraid is meant to be embraced for all of its oddities because we're seeing one man, Beau's, horrifying interpretation of the world around him. This is how Beau experiences life as someone struggling with an abusive mother, years of guilt, and debilitating anxiety.

The gas station/apartment scene at the beginning of the movie is literally one of the best and most unsettling depictions of anxiety I've ever seen on-screen. I've struggled with intense anxiety my entire life, and I wish that sequence were required viewing for people who don't get what it feels like.

"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."

Aster tells TIME

What about that final court scene?

But like all of Aster's movies, and most horror movies in general, much of Beau is Afraid is left up to viewer interpretation, especially the ending scene where Beau escapes from his mother's house in a boat and ends up in a silly kangaroo court where he's found "guilty" of not appreciating Mona in the way she deserves.

Once the verdict is reached, Beau's boat capsizes and leaves him to sink into the water as he slowly drowns.

The odds of the arena where the court scene is "real" are slim. It seems like that scene might be occurring in Beau's head. It's very possible his mother drove him to suicide—a truly bleak ending.

Another way of interpreting the ending is looking at all those people in the courtroom and seeing them as stand-ins for the real audience. They watch Beau get blamed and accused before exiting the room and continuing their lives.

People with anxiety often think others are watching and accusing them of things, when in reality, they don't care, to the point of ignoring cries for help (see the bystander effect). Humans are usually too focused on themselves to think much of what others are doing.

In Beau's mind, the folks in attendance are focused intently on him, but as soon as he's dead, they stop caring, like how the movie-going audience would watch Beau's plight, see the credits roll, and leave—exiting his story after watching the spectacle unfold with no one to help.

That's all Beau has experienced throughout his entire journey. No one ever helped him, and the few who tried to were punished severely by Mona. Whether the court scene was real or imagined, that's what Beau felt from the people in the courtroom, like they were only there to witness his downfall.

Beau is Afraid is currently streaming on Paramount+ (with the Showtime add-on). To stay up to date on thrillers, sci-fi, and horror, bookmark 1428 Elm and follow our Facebook page and Twitter account!

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