Saturday, April 7, 2018


It’s easy to compare You Were Never Really Here to Taxi Driver. It does make sense. Besides the fact that both films deal with characters saving young girls from prostitution/sex-trafficking, there are some strong visual similarities between the two films...

Taxi Driver / You Were Never Really Here

My good friend/podcast partner Scott Thorough put it perfectly in a recent tweet... 

Lynne Ramsay's latest also shares some of the same DNA as Drive which also comes from the school of Scorsese (the plots to Drive & You Were Never Really Here are similar in that both protagonist use hammers as weapons and they also get caught up in convoluted crimes that are way above their pay grade). 

Drive / You Were Never Really Here

The emphasis on the hammer (along with one scene in particular) also brings Oldboy & Pulp Fiction to mind...
Oldboy / You Were Never Really Here
Pulp Fiction / You Were Never Really Here

If the Taxi Driver/Drive comparison doesn’t do it for you - imagine a gritty episode of Law & Order: SVU where Elliot Stabler's PTSD takes control over him and he goes batshit crazy killing pedophiles with a hammer. 

And before some of you get bent out of shape over some of these comparison (which are valid) Lynne Ramsay’s cinematic universe is full of references that she herself has acknowledged. From using the theme from Terrence Malick’s Badlands in Ratcatcher to her recreation of “The Lovers” at the beginning of the same film - she is an influenced filmmaker (an influenced filmmaker that has a style all her own). 
"The Lovers" / Ratcatcher

A few more visual similarities between older cinema and You Were Never Really Here...

Battleship Potemkin /
You Were Never Really Here

Apocalypse NowYou Were Never Really Here

The Night Of The HunterYou Were Never Really Here

Now...the trailer for You Were Never Really Here is a bit deceiving. It’s certainly brutal and somewhat grimey but a lot of the brutality & griminess is either implied or takes place just off camera. This is common for Lynne Ramsay. In her sophomore feature; Morvern Callar, we see the aftermath of a suicide instead of the suicide itself (we also see the dismemberment of the dead body just off camera). In Ratcatcher she shows us Ryan Quinn’s dead body right after he drowns rather than seeing the actual drowning itself. In the very beginning of You Were Never Really Here, you see Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joe” cleaning off a bloody hammer that he clearly used to kill someone minutes before. The cinema of Lynne Ramsay’s rests on the idea of hints & implications. 

You Were Never Really Here isn’t as violent as one might expect and it is, my personal opinion, that it has to do with the female direction. And that’s not a criticism. Quite the opposite. Movies with action & violence are often relegated to male directors because film directing is kind of a boys club and we all know boys love their action & violence. I don’t mean to make this about gender but I think there’s a tenderness that some male directors just don’t have. You don’t always have to be tender when directing a film but in the case of this specific film I think you do. Our main character Joe is suffering from multiple forms of PTSD. Through quick flashbacks we’re given pieces of a rather large puzzle that indicates he was raised by violent/abusive father, was traumatized from his time in the military, and was scarred from his time as an FBI agent that presumably worked in sex crimes. 
In the present day - Joe moonlights as a rescuer of young girls caught up in sex trafficking rinks. On his latest assignment, he gets in way over his head and discovers that the child he is supposed to rescue has ties to local New York City government. 

Instead of making Joe out to be this unbelievably badass tough guy (which he kind of is on some level), he’s a broken man barely holding on. This is that tenderness I was speaking of earlier. I know I’m generalizing but it is true that some men have problems showing certain emotions whereas women don’t. I think that’s why this film is a success because Ramsay adds a personal/touching layer to a film that would have been nothing more than a kickass action film in the hands of some run-of-the mill male filmmaker. That’s not to say male directors aren’t good at mixing violence & tenderness (Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher 2 comes to mind). But it is my personal opinion that women have a better balance/grasp on mixing the two elements (Claire Denis’ Trouble Every Day & I Can’t Sleep, Lucrecia Martel’s Zama & Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution are a few more examples of women successfully mixing beauty & violence).
Joe has a soul. Not only does his line of work have to do with saving young girls, but he also takes care of his mother and isn’t afraid to cry when it’s time to cry (it makes perfect sense as to why Phoenix won best actor for his performance at last year's Cannes film festival).

Like I said earlier - the fast-paced hammer wielding trailer might be a little deceiving to some, but if you’re interested in semi-non conventional cinema (the music is strange, the editing is jarring, a couple of hilariously random things occur, and there are long stretches of minimal dialogue) this might just be the film for you. 

It’s always a treat when Lynne Ramsay delivers (in two decades she’s only made four features). Hopefully You Were Never Really Here will be a success making Ramsay more active behind the camera in the near future.


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