Allergy Advice: may contain traces of spoilers due to manufacturing methods.
Cinematography has this unique ability to submerge members of audience, who usually disturb me with the constant consumption of highly unhealthy and excessive noise-producing snacks, into distressful experiences that none of us would be willing to encounter in our day to day existence (this is of great relevance for me as someone who is an incorrigible hypochondriac withe a tendency to google potentially fatal diseases every time his stool turns red after eating beetroot). And Lynne Ramsey's latest work is a clear manifestation of this cinematic paradox that never fails to amuse me.
"You Were Never Really Here" is a robust and candid exposure of the life with the post-traumatic stress disorder - with all of the confusion, suffering and delusion that accompany an individual trapped in this mental hook. Thankfully, this social agenda does not prevent the film from being a truly breathtaking psychological thriller that grabs your attention from the very beginning and keeps you in its fetters throughout the whole journey.
Well, let me spoil a few basic facts about the story. Based on Jonathan Ames' book, the film follows the life of Joe, a former military servant (portrayed by excellent and totally on point Joaquin Phoenix) and now a low-budget hitman on call, hired to rescue a trafficked girl named Nina from the sexual imprisonment. And this is where the obviousness of the narrative ends. The rest of the movie is quite chaotic and fragmented. There are some clues and brief action shots that are used to merely progress the story without going into many details. It almost feels like the director was not really interested in telling how Joe rescued (he actually did not) poor little Nina from this highly delicate and quite appalling situation.
This disinterested narration is the biggest attraction of the movie. It feels more like a visual diary of a human being co-existing with himself. Perhaps Ramsey's primary intention was to delineate the character as thoroughly as possible. Eventually, we see both a brutal killer who will go head over heels to complete his assignment and a loving and carrying son ready to take his own life when the mother falls a victim of his unfortunate and risky affair. An excellent masterclass on how to create a dimensional and complex character: just show two completely opposite and, intuitively, mutually-excluding sides and you will get an individual the audience would love to observe and follow.
Ramsey wants us to feel Joe through the lens of his actions, gestures and facial expressions. There is a particular eloquent moment manifesting this when Joe finally discovers the luxurious manor house(clearly bought on fairly earned money) where the Nina is being kept. He enters the premises ready to smash the sexual perpetrator's head but discovers that someone else carried out this messy action. And he just starts crying. Perhaps not because he really enjoys killing and there is no bastard left to kill. More likely because he apprehends that the horrible act of murder was performed by the little innocent girl Nina who will carry this traumatic experience throughout her adult life. In the same vein as he carried an abuse from childhood and horrible wartime memories.
To draw a subtle line of comparison with a wider cultural context, Ramsey's directing style somewhat resembles the way Dostoevsky told his stories. Though Fyodor Mikhailovich never actually directed a moving picture, the Russian novelist was brilliant in something else. He could unravel the human psychic in a very detailed and precise way by merely using vivid Russian words. And in a different manner but with the same intention, Ramsey bares Joe's mental struggle by showing how he confusingly wanders around the rooms, gives some awkward looks to Asian tourists and casually tries to strangle oneself with a plastic bag.
In the long run, "You Were Never Really Here" is a brilliant and memorable experience. The only single bit of frustration comes with the ending which feels quite underdeveloped, unconvincing and somewhat sloppy. A happy ending is not something you expect but maybe that just me being a mean person who needs some extra drama and grief in the movie that has quite enough of it anyway.