dirty: Simply put, Bo (Joaquin Phoenix) wasted his life. A shy, middle-aged bald man lives a menial life in a crowded New York City apartment, terrified of the hordes of junkies and killers that race through the streets like a horde of zombies. But his greatest fear appears to be the prospect of visiting his mother in upstate New York, despite the best efforts of his therapist (Stephen McKinley Henderson), who notes (none) that thoughts of killing his mother are “not repetitive.”
And the way he feels like a settlement in Poe’s life, he soon gets a painful but very tempting reason to evade his visit: After an unexpected robbery derails his plans, he asks his mother over the phone, “What? Do you think I should?”
She replied “…it’s okay”. (Narrator: It wasn’t good.)
As for the mom who gets the last laugh – Beau gets a call the day after she passes away, and he has to get there for the funeral as soon as possible. After all, it’s her Express desire that she would not be buried without Bo physically present. As usual in Poe’s life (or at least the very subjective glimpse Aster gives us), this simple excursion takes him on a nightmarish journey that will test the limits of his mind, his spirit, and – most importantly – his nerves.
Mother issues: The name A24 Marquee Ari Aster is usually synonymous with the hallmarks of what is often (sometimes derisively) referred to as “A24 horror” — long, contemplative mood pieces that unveil their existential horrors through clear framing and understated performances by A-list actors who rate the genre. From stories that were comfortable under a schlock lens. Bo afraid It is ostensibly Aster’s “comedy,” though it’s tinged with the same fantastical delusion of his earlier efforts: here, he’s clearly treading into Charlie Kaufman territory, using the language of cinema to express his deepest concerns about his mother, his life, and every anxiety he has.
Speaking of which, Phoenix’s Beau is a tangled ball of it, as if “nerves” were molded into clay and given life like golem. The guy is no stranger to playing closed-minded strangers; Hell, he just won an Oscar a few years ago for turning the Clown Prince of Crime into one. But he, with his remarkably punchy punches, the shock of his wispy white hair, and sagging jaw expression, spends the entire movie constantly searching for solid emotional ground and finds none.
Bo is a tragic, pathetic existence: his sin is laziness, idleness, and fear—or, as Henderson’s therapist writes in his notebook, “guilty.” It’s guilt, cultivated over years of what appears to be crushing abuse by his mother (played flawlessly by Zoe Lister-Jones in flashbacks to Beau the Younger, and Patty LuPone in a late film appearance that has to be seen to be believed), that keeps him a docile man. And confusingly, he did nothing with his life. Phoenix’s performance is a tightly wrapped panic attack, one that embraces his character’s negativity and makes it compelling nonetheless.