In 2013, Ari Aster released Munchausen, a short film about the proxy disorder of the same name in which a caregiver torments people in their care. Munchausen made waves upon release in large part due to Aster’s impressive direction. In the years following the release of Munchausen, Aster became a household name in cinema circles for writing and directing Hereditary and Midsommar. We’re going to revisit Ari Aster short films to analyze his early writing/directing style. Fans of his work may be surprised to see just how much he worked on in such a short time before his Hollywood breakthrough.

Watch: Ari Aster Shot Films — Munchausen

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What is Munchausen?

Munchausen is a 2013 short film that was written and directed by Ari Aster. The film follows a mother’s delusions about her son’s prospective college experience and her attempts to control him from leaving home. Munchausen marked the second collaboration between Aster, producer Alejandro De Leon, and cinematographer Pawel Pogorzelski. The film was produced in part by Vice Media and received rave reviews from critics.

Munchausen 2013 Cast

  • Liam Aiken (Boy)
  • Bonnie Bedelia (Mother)
  • David Purdham (Father)
  • Rachel Brosnahan (Girl)
  • Richard Riehle (Doctor)

Ari Aster Short Films

What is Munchausen about?

Munchausen is about a complicated (and horrific) familial relationship – which has become a sort of calling card for Aster’s directorial works. The film’s tagline from producer Vice Media states, “Ari Aster's new short film, Munchausen, is a Pixar-inspired silent short about a clingy mother (played by Bonnie Bedelia, John McClaine's wife in Die Hard) who goes to a bunch of extreme lengths to keep her son from going off to college.” 

Munchausen Ari Aster

Munchausen influences and allusions

Call me crazy, but my mind doesn’t go to Pixar when I think of Munchausen; Aesop, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm: yes – but not quite Pixar. It’s been reported that Aster was inspired by Pixar’s Up when conceptualizing Munchausen – which is a one-to-one comparison I can see… especially in the short’s opening. But if there’s one filmmaker whose directing style seems most obviously an influence on Munchausen, it’s Tim Burton.

Tim Burton’s directing style has had an enormous influence on today’s directors. Amy Nicholson of The Guardian wrote about Aster saying, “He admired blockbuster auteurs such as Tim Burton, and rhapsodies about Batman Returns. It’s this work of bizarre Hollywood expressionism!” Burton is a master of turning props into iconic symbols – and it seems Aster is attempting to follow in his footsteps.

Munchausen Ari Aster Surrealist Props in Munchausen

Munchausen Ari Aster  •  Surrealist Props in Munchausen

A vial that reads “feel bad” is the sort of surrealist prop that makes a film feel like a fable. I’m pretty sure the vial is actually beard oil – but a custom graphic makes it seem like movie magic. 

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Munchausen is its use of editing transitions. It’s clear from watching just a few minutes of the short that it isn’t a typical short film. Aster and the editors made great use of match-cuts, whip pans, and other advanced editing techniques to raise the film to another level.

Hereditary Director Other Movies

Breaking down Ari Aster’s other shorts

Munchausen wasn’t Ari Aster’s first, nor last, short film. His first short film was called A Tale of Two Tims and it was directly responsible for getting him into the American Film Institute. While studying as a graduate student at AFI, Aster made several shorts with his friends – punctuated by his thesis film The Strange Thing About the Johnsons.

Ari Aster Shorts

The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011)

Ari Aster Short Films  •  The Strange Thing About the Johnsons

The Strange Thing About the Johnsons follows the story of an incestuous relationship between a father and son. The film obviously involved some seriously taboo subject matter which resulted in a visceral and viral reaction from viewers. 

Reaction videos to The Strange Thing About the Johnsons have garnered millions of views. 

Ari Aster Shorts

TDF Really Works (2011)

Ari Aster Short Film YouTube  •  TDF Really Works

TDF Really Works is a 3-minute parody advert for a product called (I’m not kidding) “Tino’s Dick Fart.” Many of Aster’s films have elicited WTF reactions from viewers, but perhaps none have elicited more than TDF Really Works

Ari Aster Shorts

Beau (2011)

Beau Ari Aster  •  Watch Beau

Beau is a seven-minute short that follows a man who’s haunted by an inexplicable force. Rumors suggest that Aster’s next feature film is going to expand on the story of Beau in a four-hour horror-comedy starring Joaquin Phoenix.

Ari Aster Shorts

Basically (2014)

Ari Aster Short Film YouTube  •  Basically

Basically is ~ahem~ basically about a woman who tells the audience about her life over the course of 15 minutes.  Basically was the first overt tableau film from Aster and it marked his first collaboration with Rachel Brosnahan.

Ari Aster Shorts

The Turtle’s Head (2014)

Ari Aster Short Films  •  Ari Aster’s The Turtle’s Head

The Turtle’s Head is a 12-minute short about a middle-aged detective who develops a genital disorder at a crucial point in his career. Heads up: don’t watch The Turtle’s Head in public.

Ari Aster Shorts

C’est La Vie (2016)

Where to Watch Ari Aster Short Films  •  Ari Aster’s C’est La Vie

In 2016, Aster took on Los Angeles’s homeless problem with the tableau short film C’est La Vie. The film was Aster’s last short before directing Hereditary.


Ari Aster’s Midsommar Explained

Now that we’ve touched on Ari Aster’s Munchausen and other short films, let’s move on to his most challenging feature Midsommar. Midsommar took the foundation of The Wicker Man and dialed the insanity up to 11. In this next article, we break down symbolism, themes, and easter eggs in the Midsommar script and final cut.

Up Next: Midsommar Explained →
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  • Chris Heckmann is a Professor of Media & Communication at Roger Williams University and graduate of UCLA’s Cinema & Media Studies Master of Arts program. When he’s not writing or teaching, he’s probably playing video games (or thinking about the next great Boston sports trade).

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