Walking into the theater to see Lynne Ramsay’s new film “You Were Never Really Here,” I did not know what to expect, and I certainly did not expect to be walking out of the theater with the knot in my stomach that the film left there.
I went in blind, knowing very little about the premise or story, and I would recommend that most people who are interested in this movie do so as well. To give the short sell, the story revolves around a man named Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) whose job it is to find missing girls outside of the purview of the law. This particular job takes a turn and leads him and his life down a dark and treacherous path.
I have not seen any of Lynne Ramsay’s other films but it seems that exploring childhood trauma is a common theme throughout her films, based on her other films like “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which tells the story of the events surrounding a school shooting. This films explores some dark themes and topics that many movies would be hesitant to touch on and the impact of those depictions lingers with the audience.
Throughout the movie the viewer is berated with trauma surrounding PTSD, sex-trafficking, rape and murder that is presented in a gut-wrenchingly realistic way. Something about the lack of drama interjected in the events and the brutality in its depictions of violence and insinuations at sexual violence make for a film that is so intense it stuck with me for quite some time after I walked out of the theater.
While none of these feelings were particularly pleasant to experience, I feel like this impact is a sign that the film accomplished what it set out to do. Some of the cinematography and shot composition was beautifully and thoughtfully done and the narrative unfolds in a creative and confusing way that kept me on the edge of my seat.
There are many shots where Joe is seen walking down the street but the camera is kept at a distance, on the other side of the cars driving by or a train flying by, and the noise and velocity of the movement on screen creates this sense of urgency and anxiety that builds up to these long, drawn-out scenes of brutal violence. Joe also has these moments of PTSD flashbacks where the viewer is hit with a series of disturbing scenes in rapid succession. Joe also frequently tries to take his own life, often by asphyxiating himself, and these scenes are insanely uncomfortable and hard to watch.
Joaquin Phoenix carries this film on his shoulders and gives an impressively chilling and convincing performance as this tortured man just trying to do what is right. Ekaterina Samsonov (“Wonderstruck”) also gives a performance that left me with chills and feeling sick as I left the theater. That sounds bad, but again, that’s what Lynne Ramsay was trying to achieve with this film and she achieved it. If you are a fan of thrillers, I would recommend this movie highly, though be prepared that what you’re getting into is not necessarily the easiest watch.