Provocative, dark, disturbing and brutally violent, “You Were Never Really Here” envelops you in the dissociated world of Joe, a traumatized veteran who tracks down missing children for a living. When a routine job spirals out of control, Joe finds himself caught up in a conspiracy of violence and murder, spinning out of control and fracturing his fragile grip on reality. It’s through this fractured lens that director/ screenwriter Lynne Ramsay explores a sordid, decadent, corrupt world of sex trafficking, money, power and revenge.
Comparisons to “Taxi Driver” are inevitable but also sell this film short. There’s a trippy, dream-like quality to the whole film and Joe’s damaged psyche becomes the unreliable narrator around which our perceptions are forced to navigate. Flitting between fantasy and reality, there’s an abundance of riches on offer for you to assemble the narrative that works best for you. There are several key turning points in the film and each on their own could be leading Joe to his damnation or salvation, depending on your point of view.
Joaquin Phoenix is incredible, wringing every last drop of emotional truth from Joe’s shattered existence. Flashes of dark humour briefly illuminate the darkness of the subtext, dripping with Oedipal undertones and corrupted versions of familial love. The cinematography is frequently stunning and while there’s a superficial impression that Joe’s PTSD has conveyed a sort of superpower of relentless fearlessness, it’s clear that every new atrocity further shatters a life lived as if made entirely from broken glass.
Edgy, experimental and brutal and yet somehow darkly poetic, “You Were Never Really Here” fulfils the ambiguous promise of its title in a beautifully shot, abstruse slow-burn psychological revenge thriller.