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What the Hell Happens at the End of ‘Beau is Afraid’? Let’s Dive In

So, yeah, THAT scene.

Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) gasps, wearing silk pajamas.

Beau is Afraid, Ari Aster’s Freudian epic, focuses on a strange quest: timid, middle-aged Beau has to go home for his mom’s funeral after a chandelier crushes her head. However, Beau gets caught up in obstacle after obstacle as he tries to make his way home. He’s held hostage by a friendly suburban family. He falls in with a troupe of actors in the woods, where he gets sucked into a play about a fantastical version of the life he wants. When he finally makes it home, the story doesn’t end—it gets even more bonkers.

Let’s get into it!

Beau can survive an orgasm! As for Elaine…

During a flashback, Beau’s mom Mona tells him that his father died of a heart murmur at the moment of Beau’s conception. The condition, she tells him, is hereditary, and her message is clear: if Beau ever has sex, he’ll die instantly. How’s that for abstinence education?

After Beau gets home, his old crush Elaine comes to pay her respects to Mona. She and Beau decide to hook up, and Beau is amazed to find out that an orgasm won’t kill him.

Except—oops! When Elaine gets off, she does die. In fact, she dies on top of him, instantly freezing in rigor mortis at the moment of climax. It turns out Beau’s fears were real: sex is lethal, manhood is deadly, and the first hint of adult pleasure will lead to death and despair. You should have listened to your mother, Beau.

Beau’s mom was alive the whole time—and his therapist is in cahoots

After Elaine dies, Mona herself appears. It turns out she faked her own death, cruelly having the housekeeper Martha beheaded, so that she could lure Beau home and test his love.

As I wrote in my review of Beau is Afraid, Mona is a lazy caricature of a Jewish mother, and her final scenes in the movie reveal how awful she is. It turns out that Beau’s therapist has been sending her recordings of every session, revealing all the painful secrets that Beau entrusted him with. Mona is an absolute nightmare of a mother: she craves endless love from Beau, but lashes out the moment he doesn’t live up to her impossible standards.

So, yeah, the dick monster

Throughout the movie, we see Beau’s recurring nightmare: he’s in the bath, and he watches as Mona locks his childhood self in the attic. After Beau confronts her, she tricks him into going into the attic in real life, where he finds an emaciated beggar who’s supposedly his father. Then the beggar is replaced by a monster: a gigantic killer penis with insect legs.

What on earth does it mean? On one level, you could say that Beau’s dad is a disembodied penis: the source of the sperm that created Beau, but devoid of any identity. Beau’s dad is an anonymous figure from his past, and the source of his family’s dysfunction.

On another level, if you see the attic, as the top of the house, as representing Beau’s brain and higher self, you could argue that his fear of sex and manhood is all in his head.

Beau is born again, but quickly trapped

In a fit of rage, Beau finally takes his life into his own hands—or, more specifically, his mother’s life. As she’s berating him, he strangles her, and although she’s still alive when he lets go, she keels over soon afterward. It isn’t the strangulation that kills her, but Beau’s rejection.

Beau runs out of the house and gets into a motorboat. He glides through a long cave reminiscent of a birth canal, echoing the movie’s first scene, which depicts his birth. Beau is reborn! He’s finally free of the cycle of fear and codependence that’s defined him throughout his entire life!

However, as he reaches the open ocean, a large cage lowers down over him. He finds himself in an amphitheater, where he’s put on trial. Mona, miraculously alive yet again, watches him coldly while her lawyer recounts Beau’s many sins. Beau has a lawyer, too, but he doesn’t have a microphone, so he’s barely audible—and he’s soon dragged away by security anyway. Beau tries his best to insist that he’s not a bad person, but his boat explodes, and he drowns.

The womb-like atmosphere of the amphitheater is telling. Mona finally gets her wish: she consumes her son completely, killing him to make sure that he’ll never become his own person. (Remember that Pixar short, Bao? This is like that, except way more fucked up.)

Of course, this is a film that’s meant to make you think, so don’t take my interpretations as gospel. Something tells me that even with its flaws, audiences will be chewing on the strange events of Beau is Afraid for a long time.

(featured image: A24)

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Julia Glassman (she/they) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and covers film, television, and books for The Mary Sue. When she's not making yarn on her spinning wheel, she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. You can check out more of her writing at, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.