Wednesday, 25 April 2018

You Were Never Really Here

On paper, Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here seems plotted to allow for bursts of super-Dad wish-fulfilment. Joaquin Phoenix's Joe has both the credentials and opportunity to wield that kind of power - he's a combat veteran and an ex-domestic intelligence agent currently working as an off-the-books rescue service for trafficked children. This promise of mob satisfaction is stressed again in how Phoenix is presented for the screen. His Joe is depicted as a thick, towering man, equipped with mauling hands and a pitiless hammer, desperate to get at the abusers his job propels him towards.

The film denies the release offered by prolonged bloody violence though, obscuring the act either through CCTV feeds that lag behind Joe's sloping carnage or simply by the decision to focus elsewhere at crucial moments. Ramsay isn't interested in how a tortured man inflicts himself on the world, the events of the film are likewise not proposed or communicated in terms of catharsis either. Joe's already broken. No amount of pulverising will fix him. The writer-director's focus is reflective rather than deflective then. A sharp, elliptical continuity constructed out of a lifetime of internalised trauma and the flawed, inadequate responses Joe has employed to placate himself.

Throughout You Were Never Really Here a nagging buzz pours out of Joe. He is restless and artificially animated, propped up by non-prescription medication and a dwindling sense of duty. His fractured sense of the present recalls Lee Marvin's Walker muddling through his own collapsing reality in John Boorman's Point Blank, while the infrequent sound of crunchy, non-diegetic afterburners brings Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's Performance to mind. All three films are united in their examination of male identities with symbiotic, big-screen friendly, relationships to violence. You Were Never Really Here depicts a chasm in Joe, an essential incompatibility with life outside of the mission he has imposed upon himself.

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