The city sequences, while chaotic and miserable, are bursting with detail. It’s like a “Where’s Waldo” drawing from Hell, with the audience always scanning the scene to find another character or miniature scene playing itself out in the background while Beau runs through the foreground. One might instantly make note of the dance instructor, the characters waiting in line for food at the community outreach truck, or the police officer hassling the sex worker. And what was the deal with the man who runs up to Beau and merely being pleading “helpmehelpmehelpme?” One might even get the impression that “Beau is Afraid” takes place in a strange, near-apocalyptic near-future where society is that much closer to total collapse.
Aster revealed that every single extra in his film received direction. He wanted to, it seems, construct a complete scene, not just a setting. In Aster’s words:
“I just took a lot of time to build it out and think about what all those details could be, who all those people on the street could be. There was no background actor that just was standing there. They all had very, very specific directives.”
Despite how mad the world was, Phoenix seemingly wanted more. Talking directly to Aster, Phoenix recalled a moment when he asked for something more stressful than what Aster was already providing. How could this sequence go from a panic attack to a warzone? The actor recalls:
“I remember thinking, in one sequence, ‘This isn’t enough. We need something else.’ But seriously, I was like, ‘Isn’t there something else? I’m running across the street. There’s one other little piece.’ And you were like, ‘Well, I could have a gun go off.'”