Film Review: You Were Never Really Here

I found You Were Never Really Here to be one of the most humanly jarring and immersive cinema experiences that I have ever had. It’s a film that in my opinion does a perfect job at immersing and engaging its audience through the delicate and stylistic use of the aesthetics. It’s a film that is both written and directed by Lynne Ramsey, who happens to be a Scottish female director. You Were Never Really Here is a masterclass example of filmmaking that I believe is undeniably inspired by the movie Drive which is directed by Danish film director, Nicholas Winding Refn. They are still of course two distinctly different films that I find to be brilliant in their own way, but share a lot of the same elements of aesthetic immersion, conveyance of character and theme via visual storytelling.

Something that I absolutely appreciate in a film, is its ability to creatively utilize film aesthetics to convey information without a single word being spoken, and You Were Never Really Here knocks this out of the park. The film is able to reveal and communicate character, plot, and thematic elements purely through the usage of sound and cinematography, which of course  director Lynne Ramsay gets huge credit for. The use of sound in this movie is masterful and plays an essential part to its technique of aesthetic conveyance. The film allows the viewer to observe the actions of the main character while also putting you inside the mind of his character. It does an excellent job at conveying the complexities of his character by putting you inside his mind and allowing you to see and hear what he is thinking and feeling throughout the film. Jonny Greenwood’s score was also riveting and jarring.

My first thought after the diner scene is that Joe basically thinks “how can people act like things are so normal when everything around them seems to be going to hell?” He’s a cynic, because of his past (I also liked the point that someone brought up in here that perhaps he was abusive himself) and won’t let himself see the good in the world. I also really liked the idea of everyone just trying to outrun their past and their guilt. The governor, the senator, and even Joe. The burial scene was just fantastic. I do not think the film is very concerned with plot or realism in the sense that it’s primary goal is to immerse us into this guys mind. And when viewed from that standpoint, given what we know about his past traumas and ghosts, it becomes pretty clear that we as the audience can’t rely on his perspective.

The film is symbolic in that way, though. The hammer links back to Joe’s own childhood abuse, and represents his attempt to balance the injustices of the world through a sort of divine reckoning he meets out to the bad guys. His effort to “save” young girls also suggests a wounded torment that stems from his inability to protect his mother from his abusive father. The title itself alludes to his feelings of anonymity–he’s like a ghost of his own life and invisible to those around. He feels invisible because he’s been left to bare the burden of his traumas alone. So it makes sense that he’s able to infiltrate places like the brothel almost undetected. So those issues with whether or not something was totally realistic doesn’t bother me here, because it truly lends itself to what the film was trying to accomplish.

You Were Never Really was truly a blast to analyze. I truly believe that this film is a masterpiece of art-house filmmaking and it gave me an unforgettable and mesmerizing movie theater experience and I give an enormous amount of appreciation and thanks to the writer and director Lynne Ramsey for creating such a uniquely enthralling film. I’m sure that there are still plenty of things in this film that I did not touch on or perhaps interpreted incorrectly, but this is precisely the reason why I love film like this. I love the amount of ample discussion and debate that a film like this can generate.


You Were Never Really Here will be showing at the MFA Boston

March 14, 2019 
8:00 pm – 9:40 pm

Directed by Lynne Ramsay (UK/France/USA, 2018, 89 min.)

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