Watch Joaquin Phoenix Make a Run for It in ‘Beau Is Afraid’ | Anatomy of a Scene
NYT, 06 May 2023
In this early sequence from the bleak comedy “Beau Is Afraid,” the frame is packed with so many gags and references that’s it’s impossible to take them all in.
But for the film’s writer and director, Ari Aster, that’s the point.
This moment, which has Beau (Joaquin Phoenix) walking, then ultimately running, through his neighborhood, employs a technique called “chicken fat.” In an interview, Aster said that he learned of the term while making the film. Coined by the cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman in reference to the work of the illustrator Will Elder, it involves layering the background with as many visual jokes as possible. Here, that includes signs, graffiti, props and more.
The philosophy behind the technique isn’t that everything should be seen, but “that the audience gets the sense of all the detail,” Aster said. “And I think that encourages an even deeper engagement because you see the amount of work that’s gone into building this world."
The scene is also packed with background players. Aster said that each one was ”given very specific directives and very specific behavior.” As they pop up in subsequent scenes, they continue to exhibit the same behaviors.
The sequence closes out with Beau sprinting down the street to make it to the front door of his building before being caught by his tattooed nemesis.
Aster said that Phoenix “was only able to do this a few times because he hurt his ankle pretty early on. And by the time we were done shooting, he was limping around.”
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