Please excuse me, I’m going to spend the next 48 hours cradled in a fetal position trying to regain any positivity that this world has left to offer.
Lynne Ramsay has once again reminded us that the world can be a tiny bit cruel, delivering a gut-wrenching thriller that will keep your mind on its toes. If you are of the faint heart, or cannot deal with intense depictions of PTSD, maybe sit this one out. For those of you who are game to experience a hammer-wielding ex-marine slaughter his way through paedophiles in an underage girls’ brothel, welcome to You Were Never Really Here.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the aforementioned hammer-wielding Joe, You Were Never Really Here follows Joe through tragic flashbacks, future contract killings and present trauma. When you break down the plot, there is not actually a whole lot going on, and that’s a good thing. He is hired to rescue a politician’s daughter from a child sex house after an anonymous tip of her location. There are twists and turns along the way, but the clear simplicity of the goal affords breathing room within the scenes.
Now, when it comes to depicting such gruesome themes as paedophilia, death and trauma, it is natural that the entertainment factor will be lower than other films. You are not going to see hundreds of bad guys get their justice through the super moves of a disgruntled anti-hero. Joe is a real human – every hit counts. This film is very artistic in its approach. It has some surreal weirdness at points, but its execution is amazing.
Joe is massively complicated. Ramsay teases us with sharp bursts of horrific flashbacks, each more violent than the last. What makes her direction so amazing in this film is the silences. Without spoiling the film, the majority of the violence in You Were Never Really Here is depicted around the act, or filmed from a unique perspective to allow your mind to fill in the gaps. And when we are left to our own devices, we create our own fear and horror. It’s a genius directorial choice.
The breathing room also accommodates those mundane moments of living. Joe leads a lonely life. He cares for his elderly mother, infiltrates paedophile rings to gruesomely murder those responsible for destroying the lives of children… And that’s about it. That’s a lot of room to fill. It takes a brilliant director and leading actor to depict minimal dialogue and action that serves the scene rather than the plot, and Ramsay and Phoenix are just that: brilliant.
Received a seven-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival premiere, on May 27, 2017. Lynne Ramsay won the award for Best Screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix won for Best Actor.