You Were Never Really Here, written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, follows Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a damaged veteran on a mission to save a missing girl. Things, as they often do, take a turn for the worse when corruption rises to the surface and shakes Joe’s world.
This film could have easily been a fast-paced thriller with action-packed fight scenes. Instead, Ramsay makes this a tour of the inside of Joe’s head. We don’t only see the ongoings of the story at hand, but how our character’s past brought him to be the person he is. The interesting thing about this approach is that it leaves the audience not wondering, “What is going to happen next?”, but “How is Joe going to react to this?” The best part is that Joe is such a real and complex character that we never quite know the answer. Another wonderful facet of this film is how balanced it is. In many instances, we see Joe as a very tough character, but then we witness how soft he can be. Miraculously, there are instances where these natures exist at the same time. Tackling this kind of polarity can sometimes come off as kitschy and insincere, but it rides the line masterfully.
Ramsey shines a light on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression in a way we don’t often see. The audience experiences Joe’s world through the lens of his mental state and the tone makes it feel like it is always under the surface just waiting to rise. This way that Ramsay handles mental illness in her storytelling is groundbreaking. It’s not glamorized, sugar-coated, or ignored but raw and honest.
On a final note, Lynne Ramsay’s direction can be described completely as decisive. She directed and wrote the movie and it’s clear that she knew exactly what she wanted. Every camera movement is motivated and the composition of the shots is never without purpose. Now, we have the pleasure of seeing her vision come to life.