Sunday, June 24, 2018

Lynne Ramsay Shows Female Directors Are Absolute Masters of Thrillers in "You Were Never Really Here"

Following the success of 2011's We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay is back with yet another chilling thriller, You Were Never Really Here. Based on the Jonathan Ames novella of the same name, the Cannes-winning film goes to show that women can absolutely make phenomenal violent and expressive movies in a testosterone-dominated playground. Joaquin Phoenix, as the lead, Joe, delivers one of his best performances to date, weaving through the story of a brutal mercenary hired to track down a senator's daughter from a brothel. The plot seems like your run-of-the-mill noir thriller, drawing comparisons to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Both lead characters are hardened war veterans suffering from some form of PTSD, maneuvering through dark urban jungles, rescuing girls. The similarities stop there, however, as Ramsay offers a unique and intelligent twist on a macabre genre. Female directors holding their own with dramas and thrillers isn't anything new, in fact, they've been quietly making their mark for years now. Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, and Mary Harron's American Psycho are all examples of women stepping behind the camera and offering a refreshing take on violence. Despite all the destructiveness, what's different is that there is never an intention to fetishize the savagery. In You Were Never Really Here, Ramsay accomplishes some of her best work during her most violent scenes, and it's interesting to note that during those scenes, the brutality happens off-screen. Ramsay does this so effectively, that the violence becomes only a catalyst into the mind of Joe, but never taking the center stage, or doing so without meaning.
The discreet undercurrent of bloodshed is something that can perhaps be attested to a female-directed movie. This spin makes the whole experience so much more uncomfortable and effective, helping you come to the realization of what the film is truly about. As the drama unfolds in front of you, it touches on themes such as a sleazy underworld, childhood abuse, and corruption. Suddenly, you realize that the movie has nothing to do with rescuing a girl from sex trafficking. In fact, it's a jarring character analysis and social commentary on our world today. As I was watching the film, I found myself caring less and less about the plot, and more so wanting to get into the mind of Joe and his traumas, a heartbreaking look at how our world has absolutely shattered what's deep down an extremely compassionate man.
What's even more so captivating is the way Ramsay offers you glimpses into Joe's humanity and you see how multifaceted of a character he is. The scenes with his dying mother (played by the amazing Judith Roberts) are some of the film's most poignant. It's the relationship between these two characters that we see there is some good in Joe. In another breathtaking scene, Joe lays on the floor with a dying villain, holding his hand and singing along to Charlene's I've Never Been to Me.
Sure, You Were Never Really Here is a merciless thriller, but don't be fooled into thinking it's just like the rest. What Lynne Ramsay offers up is so much more than that. Her expressionistic approach is a journey I urge you to take with her, and one that will grip you and stay within your mind long after the credits have rolled.


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