Debuting at Cannes Film Festival in 2011, We Need To Talk About Kevin asserted Lynne Ramsay‘s place in contemporary indie cinema as a wholly unique and boldly risky voice. It was dark, stunning bravura filmmaking, that left many floored. It’s this flair that Ramsay has consistently shown throughout her career, first shown with Ratcatcher and Morvern Caller, and what she continues to show with the recent You Were Never Really Here.
You Were Never Really Here is a psychological thriller, adapted from the Jonathan Ames novel of the same name, that follows Joe, a veteran that’s numb to violence. Using his skills as a former soldier, he tracks down and returns trafficked girls for a living. When a job involving a teenage girl named Nina goes awry, things begin to spin out of control for both him and the girl he was tasked to retrieve.
“What it doesn’t show us is equally as, if not more, important as what it does.”
The discussion surrounding You Were Never Really Here tends to lean towards the ultra violence. While the violence plays a key part in the film, it is ultimately characterized by its visuals and presentation. For the majority of the run-time, the film resembles an arthouse film, presenting each shot as a complex and beautiful painting, dimly and softly lit in orange and yellow. The character that Ramsay depicts here is what propels You Were Never Really Here forward. It highlights the devastating nature of the situations perfectly, with an incredibly human touch that most viewers could ask for.
Ramsay captures the very essence in the writing, the visuals matching the tone of the screenplay to a T. The lighting reflecting the soft yet harsh tone of the world. The angles of the camera looking up at Joe in his power, the shadows dimly casting a fade on the world around it. But beyond what the film does show us, the film goes a long way in implication. What it doesn’t show us is equally as, if not more, important as what it does.
The violence is certainly brutal, the main weapon including a hammer used to break the victims at the end of Joe’s destruction. All of the violence shown in the film is raw. Even then, most of it is implicit. Viewers are always shown the bodies sprawling on the floor, surrounded by blood, but rarely are they treated to the brutality that led to it.
“At a brisk eighty nine minutes, it is stripped of all fat.”
The film uses this so you can fill in the gaps with your imagination, the imagery in our mind more powerful and effective than Lynne Ramsay chooses to display on the screen. Because off the screen we imagine those horrible, pedophilic monsters getting slaughtered with the hammer. Bones cracking, blood flowing, skin torn open.
We imagine justice being deserved, maybe not in the most ethical way, but justice delivered nonetheless. And we see the bodies gathered into the after fact, and we know what happened. It’s different for everyone, but we all know what happened off of the camera.
You Were Never Really Here is not told in an abstract one, taking singular images and shots to imply entire story beats. Most of Joe’s background is presented in short bursts with little context, leaving the viewer to put the pieces together for themselves. The film also is cut to the minimum of what it should be. At a brisk eighty nine minutes, it is stripped of all fat, and what is left is what is required for a complex and cohesive narrative.
“[Ramsay has] created a wholly satisfying, wonderfully executed, brutal work of art.”
This in turn makes the pace perfect, each beat flowing smoothly from one to another. It never feels rushed, yet it never feels slow. It’s deliberate, and it takes it time but yet it’s never boring. And it’s over before you even know it.
What Lynne Ramsay has achieved here is incredible. She’s created a wholly satisfying, wonderfully executed, brutal work of art that rings with an aura that only someone as talented as Ramsay could pull off correctly.
She deserves much more awards love for this, especially from the Academy Awards. It would be a huge step forward for female representation in Oscar nominations, and with the tide of inclusion this year, she more than well deserves it for everything she’s done. And for ultimately what it would represent for the future of Hollywood.
“Wake up. It’s a beautiful day.”