Movie Review : You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Everybody loves a good violent movie. It's catharsis for us sinners. It allows us to experience extreme, life-altering ordeals in a safe environment. Because none of us have the balls to be violent anyway. And I'm not talking Avengers: Infinity Wars type of on-screen fisticuffs. I'm talking Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive's blowing Christina Hendrick's head off with a shotgun type of violence. Don't deny it, you love that sort of stuff, too. That's why Lynne Ramsey's new movie You Were Never Really Here earned so many accolades for being artsy and deep. Or was it?
This movie is not conventionally enjoyable, but there's a perverse logic to it that perhaps more experienced moviegoers and cinephiles will thoroughly enjoy. Oh, and... spoilers.
Based on a novella by Jonathan Ames, You Were Never Really Here is the story of Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a traumatized veteran skilled in extreme violence, who retrieves runaways and kidnapping victims for a living. When tasked to bring back the prepubescent daughter of a U.S senator (Alex Manette), Joe figures it could be any more simple. Locate the girl. Get in. Wreck as much havoc as possible. Get the girl. Get out and reunite her with her dad. Well, it turns out it was the easy part of a long, dark and difficult journey he'll have to go through. And a lot of people will die in creative and horrible ways.
You Were Never Really Here is all about denying catharsis. Not only to us, but to its protagonist Joe, too. Writer and director Lynne Ramsey played off two tired tropes of hyperviolent movies to make her point: child rescue and, of course, revenge. Joe rescues young Nina (Ekatarina Samsonov) about twenty-five minutes into the movie, but she's taken away from him. Realizing he's got double-crossed by a mysterious third player, he embarks on a quest for bloodthirsty revenge, but he also gets denied that pleasure when he finds his target already dead at the end of the movie. So, Joe is never a vessel for righteous, Old Testament violence albeit there are plenty of deserving parties in the movie.
So, what is Lynne Ramsey trying to tell us, here? There's little to no on-screen violence throughout the entirety of You Were Never Really Here. Joe murders plenty of people, but it's always either going to happen or it already happened. The pederasts all get killed, but you're never witness to their execution. Violence has no morals in You Were Never Really Here. Joe obviously has and so does his handler McCleary (John Doman), but they're never in control of the violence they initiate. It catches up to them quick and starts controlling their lives, which I believe is more like what the cycle of violence would look like in the real world.
I liked You Were Never Really Here. I thought it was pretty clever and that it had a punishing outlook on smug hyperviolent movie tropes that would make anyone feel uncomfortable. It's not exactly a "Joe gits' the bad guy, crushes his skull and saves the day" type of visceral pleasure. It's more of a "Joe doesn't really gits shit, but earns a reason to stop being violent for his efforts" kind of movie. It's a cerebral treat for audiences like me, who are tired of romanticizing violence in movies. It's definitely not everyone's cup of tea. I'm not even sure I liked it that much, but it is a pretty smart movie. And for that, it deserves its props.