Film: You Were Never Really Here
'You Were Never Really Here'
With how much passion can you film somebody? With how much passion can you let yourself be filmed? Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix seek answers to these questions in the hyper-stylized, otherworldly revenge thriller You Were Never Really Here.
Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is no ordinary film. It is intense experiential cinema that either sucks you in entirely or doesn’t move you at all. There is no in-between. Joaquin Phoenix plays a world-weary, lonely man who wanders through New York and decides that his mission is to save a young woman from her pimps. The comparison with Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver is easily made, but Ramsay is no Martin Scorsese. She is something much better (why would you want a copy?): she’s a born film genius.
This time, she has detached herself even more from the (pulp) plot than in Morvern Callar and We Need to Talk About Kevin to immerse you completely in a deeply cinematic world. The raging soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood transports you outside yourself, as do the moments of stylistic brilliance. The unconditional love with which Ramsay films her muse is incredibly fascinating, as is the unconditional love for film with which Joaquin Phoenix allows himself to be filmed.
His immense body, his scars, his ravaged appearance, and even his soul! Or at least that’s how we imagine it. That crushingly sad expression and inconsolable solitude cannot be purely acted and invented, it must come from somewhere. Another important difference with Taxi Driver and films about avenging angels is that the mission does not erode the avenger but gives him meaning.
Initially, there is not so much as a spark of life in Phoenix’s traumatized, suicidal war veteran. He is completely consumed by his past. He destroys his targets on auto-pilot. But little by little, he comes back to life. Unless it was a dream and he was never really here. That’s always a possibility in cinema. The end is made of the kind of wretchedness that is unbearable. Either You Were Never Really Here will leave you unmoved or this trance of a film will haunt you for months afterwards. We couldn’t ask for more.
> You Were Never Really Here. US, dir.: Lynne Ramsay, act.: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov