Skip to main content

Beau Is Afraid’s ending, explained

Note: This article contains major spoilers about the plot and ending of Beau Is Afraid.

Ari Aster’s three-hour film Beau Is Afraid is certainly something that has to be seen to be believed. Even then, you shouldn’t feel too self-conscious if you leave the movie wondering, “What the hell did I just see?!”

The ending of Beau Is Afraid sees Beau Wasserman on trial for his life, with the whole world acting as his jury. To even try to understand what the heck is going on here, we should start at the beginning.

What you need to know about Beau Is Afraid

Joaquin Phoenix wears silk pajamas in Beau is Afraid.
Takashi Seida/A24 / Takashi Seida/A24

Beau is an anxious, middle-aged guy who lives in a dangerous city. On the streets outside his apartment, chaos is the norm. Gunshots are as common as car horns, people gouge out the eyes of their enemies on the sidewalk, and a man covered in tattoos chases Beau into his apartment. It’s hell, and his drab apartment isn’t much better.

Beau is getting ready to fly home to see his mother on the anniversary of the death of his father, who supposedly died at Beau’s conception. The next day, Beau’s trip is canceled because someone stole his keys. After an insanely tense and surreal trip to get a bottle of water from across the street, our hero learns that his mother has died due to a chandelier falling on her head.

Many people have noted Beau Is Afraid as a take on Homer’s The Odyssey, with our anxious friend taking the place of the noble Odysseus. Beau’s journey home begins here, but it’s really less of a literal journey than a surreal existential adventure through Beau’s own psyche.

After having a tussle with a homeless man in his bathtub, our protagonist finds himself in a sticky situation. He’s naked, he’s bleeding, and a very incompetent cop seems to think Beau is the Birthday Boy Stab Man, a naked serial killer who has been terrorizing the streets of Aster’s fictional city. Beau is hit by a car and stabbed by the actual Stab Man, causing him to pass out. Cue the next act.

Beau finds new homes

Beau sits at a table in Beau is Afraid.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Beau wakes up in the house of friendly strangers Roger and Grace. Roger has treated his wounds and promises to take Beau to his mother’s funeral in the next few days. There is a dubious nature to the couple’s home, though, as Grace continues to hint that something else is going on here.

Beau’s world is once again turned into hell as Toni, Grace and Roger’s angsty teenage daughter, horrifyingly kills herself by drinking paint. Blaming Beau for her death, Grace turns loose Jeeves, a man who lives with them that served in the military with Grace and Roger’s deceased son. Beau flees into the woods, running into a branch and knocking himself unconscious.

What comes next is really where the film takes a deep dive into its surreal absurdity. Beau comes upon a theater troupe called The Orphans of the Forest, who put on a play in the woods that feels like it has some shocking similarities to Beau’s own life. The play, which might seem like a 15-minute adventure to nowhere, is fundamental to the last hour of the film, which sees Beau’s life implode due to his mommy issues.

A man looks behind him in Beau is Afraid.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

During the play, a man tells Beau that his father is in fact alive; Beau becomes convinced the man is actually his dad. It’s too bad he can’t confirm that, though, because Jeeves arrives and blows the man to bits. The attack on the troupe results in Jeeves somehow shooting himself with a submachine gun dozens of times, supposedly killing him. Before he dies, he’s able to activate Beau’s ankle bracelet and incapacitate him.

Beau passes out a lot of times in this movie, causing him to see surreal dreams of his past. One of Beau’s reoccurring dreams sees him as a child, talking to his mother about his father, who he knows is alive. He wants to see him, but she angrily forces him into a scary-looking attic. We don’t figure out what’s in the attic until later, after Beau has finally made it to his mother’s house by hitching a ride on the side of the road.

Beau learns the truth

Courtesy of A24

Once we enter Beau’s mother’s house, the film begins to show its true colors. Beau’s mom, named Mona Wasserman, is a very successful businesswoman, and she is very much not dead. In reality, she was testing Beau this entire time.

Here is where we can start to see that Beau Is Afraid is a kind of super-sadistic version of The Truman Show. A picture in the house, which shows an image of Mona composed of the photos of her employees in a fashion akin to the famed poster behind Jim Carrey’s classic movie, reveals that many of the people we have seen in Beau’s odyssey have actually worked for Mona: his therapist, Grace and Roger, even the tattooed guy that berated Beau in the opening act. All of the film’s proceedings have thus been structured by Mona, who was trying to test her son to see if he actually cared about her. She blames him for everything from refusing breastfeeding as a baby to making up a story about his keys being stolen.

The relationship between Mona and her son is one fueled by control. She seeks to protect her baby by concocting a cocoon of safety around him, trampling any sense of autonomy Beau may have in this world. Yet, Beau still isn’t enough for her. He does his best in this living hell of a world, but his inability to speak his mind and be brave is seen as a stab in the heart by her. Beau is crippled by the immense anxiety of not being good enough. He tries to color inside the lines and be kind to others, but his mom only sees cowardice.

An old man stares in the distance in Beau is Afraid.
Takashi Seida/A24

In the middle of Mona’s chastising, we come full circle as Beau’s nightmare comes to life. He’s shoved into the dark attic, where a starving man that looks astonishingly like Beau is huddled in the corner. In the other corner is, well, a large, grotesque penis monster. (You can’t make this stuff up, folks.)

So, what exactly is up with this thing? Great question. The monster is supposed to be Beau’s father; Mona says that it’s his father and that his dream was a “memory, you idiot.” So Beau was conceived by a penis monster? Maybe? My best guess would be that the monster, like much of the movie, is more of a metaphorical representation of his father rather than something literal. All Beau knows about his father is that he died upon Beau’s conception because his heart murmur killed him when he climaxed. Beau, too, has this heart murmur, resulting in a fear of sex. Beau’s father — and Beau’s own sexual freedom —has been kept from him by Mona because she was trying to protect him, much like everything else in the movie.

Maybe the other person in the attic was Beau’s twin, or maybe it was a manifestation of Beau’s brave side. This person didn’t listen to their mother and wanted to take their life into their own hands, and he was cast into exile. Meanwhile, Beau’s penis-father has been absent from his life because he is useless after conception. The living penis has done all he had to, and Mona didn’t need him after that.

How does Beau Is Afraid end?

Beau looks cautious in Beau is Afraid.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

After the attic sequence, Beau chokes his mother and she falls into a glass display, and appears to bedead. Beau flees the house, getting on a small boat and aimlessly taking off into the night. But you didn’t really think this movie would end like that, did you?

Beau’s boat is stopped in its tracks, and it’s revealed that he is inside a massive stadium. On one side sits Mona — alive and with new scars on her neck —  and her attorney. On the other side is Beau’s defense attorney. Beau is literally on trial for his life.

Mona and her attorney begin to levy countless charges on Beau, painting him as a horrible person and an even worse son. The entire movie has been a trial, and his judgment is here. He tries to plead and apologize for everything he’s done, but the decision has been made. The boat turns over. After a few moments of struggle, it stops moving. The stadium’s audience begins to leave just as us theater goers begin to leave. Beau is dead. Roll credits.

Beau Is Afraid | Official Trailer 2 HD | A24

Beau’s odyssey has led him to the one place that it seems his mother has always been seeking, whether she knew it or not. Her endless attempts to control and protect Beau were manifested over an inflated ego, one that fundamentally distrusts her son. She constructed his world, and Beau wasn’t able to live in it well. His entire life has been on trial for his existence, an anxiety that has smothered Beau since his birth.

The film’s opening begins with his chaotic birth, and it ends with his last breath. What’s i- between is a portrait of a certain kind of anxiety over one’s own life. Of trying to please everyone and not ruffle any feathers yet still not being enough. And in the end, the only escape is death. Beau was always doomed, and he was always afraid.

Beau Is Afraid is now playing in theaters.

Editors' Recommendations

Carson Burton
Carson Burton is an writer, entertainment fanatic, and a proud Crocs owner that loves everything from Spider-Man: Into the…
Leave the World Behind’s ending, explained
Mahershala Ali and Natalie Portman stand by a painting in Leave the World Behind.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Leave the World Behind (2023).

Sam Esmail’s new thriller, Leave the World Behind, ends with two major stand-offs and a short epilogue that is more satisfying than it really has any right to be. The film spends its final minutes cutting back and forth between a tense confrontation between G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali), Clay Sandford (Ethan Hawke), and G.H.’s doomsday prepper former contractor, Danny (Kevin Bacon), and a terrifying encounter that Clay’s wife, Amanda (Julia Roberts), and G.H.’s daughter, Ruth (Myha'la), share in the woods with a strangely aggressive herd of deer. The latter scene is preceded by an argument between Amanda and Ruth about the former’s coldness toward seemingly everyone outside of her family.

Read more
Thanksgiving’s ending, explained
Addison Rae screams in Thanksgiving.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Thanksgiving (2023).

Director Eli Roth’s new horror-comedy, Thanksgiving, ends as all slasher movies should: With a few last-minute twists. Its third act follows the film's protagonist, Jessica (Nell Verlaque), as she escapes a horrifying dinner party massacre orchestrated by Thanksgiving's masked killer and makes it to a nearby warehouse. Once there, she discovers her town’s sheriff, Eric Newlon (Patrick Dempsey), lying unconscious near his patrol car and, shortly thereafter, watches through one of the nearby warehouse’s windows as her ex-boyfriend, Bobby (Jalen Thomas Brooks), takes off the same mask worn by her murderous pursuer.

Read more
The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes’ ending, explained
Coriolanus Snow holds Lucy Gray's chin in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023).

By the time young Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth) has committed to fleeing the dystopian nation of Panem with Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler) in the final act of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, the seeds have already been planted for the future dictator’s turn to evil. Not only has he knowingly ratted out his best friend, Sejanus Plinth (Josh Andrés Rivera), for conspiring against the Capitol by sending a jabberjay recording of one of their conversations to the villainous Dr. Gaul (Widows star Viola Davis), but he’s also been given a one-way ticket to a better, Capitol-adjacent future by his Peacekeeper boss.

Read more