You Were Never Really Here (2017)

You Were Never Really Here
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writer: Lynne Ramsay
Based on: Jonathan Ames‘ novel of the same name
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Dante Pereira-Olson, Vinicius Damasceno, Judith Roberts, Frank Pando, John Doman, Alex Manette, Alessandro Nivola
Seen on: 11.5.2018

Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a veteran with PTSD whose job it is to retrieve trafficked girls as a freelancer. His newest task is to find Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) who ran away from home. Her father (Alex Manette) is a state senator and he’s pretty sure she’s held against her will at a house he knows of. He wants as little fuss as possible, not only for his own position, but also because he works for the Governor (Alessandro Nivola). Joe takes the job but soon finds that things may be more complicated than anticipated.

You Were Never Really Here is a fantastic film that really carries a punch. There’s a lot to dissect and reflect here – and since it is such a good film, you’ll be happy to engage with it after having seen it to do just that.

The film poster showing Joaquin Phoenix with a hammer in his hand, looking down with an image of Ekaterina Samsonov floating in water superimposed over his body.

With You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay manages to straddle the line between cliché and subversion in many ways. On the one hand, it’s the classic lone avenger story of a heroic man set out to save innocent girls, but on the other hand Joe is pretty much a dismemberment of the lone avenger: he is broken, sad and problematic. And yet, the story doesn’t show him as an anti-hero: he remains a hero despite that. (He reminded me of Mad Max in that he, too, is a hero and a subversion of a hero at the same time.) Nina, too, is both a victim waiting to be saved, a pawn in the lives of the men around her and a character who grows a lot, finds her agency and does her own saving in the end.

I’m not entirely sure whether I can ultimately go along with the moral of the film, but then I’m still not certain what that moral actually is. (I’m a firm believer that all stories make arguments about how the world is and works and how it should be, so every story has a moral. But some arguments are made more clearly than others.)

Joaquin Phoenix in the film.

Even if the film didn’t provide so much food for thought and material worth discussing, it would still be a great film with fantastic performance, beautiful camera work and excellent music. It’s worth seeing for the practically flawless execution of pretty much everything.

But you have got to be in the right frame of mind to see it, because the film really is heavy and that weight can get overwhelming if you’re not prepared for it, I think. But if you brace yourself, then You Were Never Really Here is more than just worth seeing.

Joaquin Phoenix and Ekaterina Samsonov in the film.

Summarizing: Fantastic.

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