You Were Never Really Here challenges the viewer, requiring us to fully surrender ourselves to the experience in order to appreciate what may be the most rewarding film of the year. The story is nothing new, and on paper might even sound cliche, but director Lynne Ramsay tells the story through a new and exciting lens, which makes for a thoroughly original film.

Joe, played by the uniquely brilliant Joaquin Phoenix, holds an unconventional job that, on occasion, entails killing perverts in a brutal fashion. Obviously Joe is haunted by a traumatic past, or else he wouldn’t be in the pervert-killing business. Joe is the latest example of Ramsay’s ability to create deeply disturbed protagonists who terrify as much as they enthrall.

 

The jarring sound design of You Were Never Really Here subjects the audience to the overwhelming presence of a noisy, demented world through the eyes of our PTSD-afflicted protagonist. One moment the sound of a subway car screeches through the speakers, pushing the boundary of bearable volume, while the next moment Joe is speaking so softly that it’s hard to make out what he’s saying. The sound design doesn’t serve to make you comfortable, it’s meant to put you in Joe’s shoes. While Jonny Greenwood has proven himself a safe bet when it comes to scoring films, he completely outdoes himself here, providing a frantic, fragmented score that perfectly supplements the photography. As a general rule for narrative film, a successful score might become an earworm, but shouldn’t be too noticeable in the moment so as not to distract from the story being told. Greenwood gets away with breaking the rule here, with a score that becomes overwhelming at times, but nevertheless doesn’t distract from the narrative, which is told almost entirely visually rather than orally. Without much dialogue to infringe upon, the powerful score and sound design don’t detract from the world as seen through Joe’s eyes. Similar to a music video at times, the imagery and music build off each other to tell the story together.

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Many films this subversive are shot with a gritty aesthetic, finding unconventional beauty in grimy photography; however, the visuals in Ramsey’s latest are absolutely astounding. The contrast of the blood, the violence, the hatred, the corruption and the dirty, mechanical city against the elegant manner in which this jarring reality is shot somehow makes every detail that much more disturbing.

Considering how much violence occurs in the story, it’s surprising that nearly all of said violence is off-screen, implied or shown to the audience once removed (through a broken mirror, or fuzzy security footage for example.) By keeping this action from us, Ramsay piques our curiosity; we want to see what’s being hidden from us, especially since violence is usually the centerpiece of this genre. However, when we finally get what we asked for and see violence unfold on camera, clear as day, it’s absolutely sickening, not only because we have been sheltered thus far, but because when Ramsay finally decides to stop hiding it from us, she does not sugarcoat, nor does she glorify violence and death.

Perhaps what goes without saying must be said anyway: Phoenix is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen. Phoenix’s hulking physical presence in You Were Never Really Here is entirely different from, yet equally as effective as, his lanky, angular physicality in The Master, as well as his delicate, gentle demeanor in Her, adding up to three of the greatest performances of the past seven years. Despite the fact that this film features one of the best performances in recent memory, Phoenix isn’t the only aspect that makes You Were Never Really Here so special; it’s also the tone of the film, the stunning visuals, the score, and the sound design coming together to create a transfixing audio-visual experience that omits everything we’ve come to expect from this kind of story. I highly recommend renting or buying You Were Never Really Here. You won’t see anything else quite like it.

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Roberts, John Doman, Frank Pando

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: R for strong violence, disturbing and grisly images, language, and brief nudity

Release Date: April 6 2018 (Theatrical Release,) July 17 2018 (Blu-Ray Release)