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Visceral, Minimal, Impossible to Forget: ‘You Were Never Really Here’

How Director Lynne Ramsay created "an immersive form of total cinema"

Discussing director Lynne Ramsay’s film You Were Never Really Here, Martin Cusack says that director “[Lynne] Ramsay offers an immersive form of total cinema. 

“Music choices, clever sound design and an arsenal of photographic techniques (including her trademark extreme close-ups of minute, but revealing, details and textures) are all harnessed to give her work a distinctive signature.” 

Read more: Why You Were Never Really Here is Pure Cinema

Based on a novella by Jonathan Ames, writes Miranda Sawyer, “it’s the story of Joe, an experienced hitman, and a job that goes wrong. A familiar film trope, but Ramsay turns the genre inside out, giving us the oppressive, fear-filled tension of a gun-for-hire movie, but one that’s flooded in existential sorrow. 

“Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, so bearded and big it took me 15 minutes to recognise him. He rarely speaks, but we are always right next to him, involved in everything. We see the detail, the clearing up of the mess. We share in his irritating, intimate home life; we feel his sadness, understand that he’s struggling. ‘I felt like his head was full of broken glass,’ says Ramsay. ‘He’s a middle-aged guy, he lives with his mum, he’s suicidal, he’s sticking around just ‘cos of her. He’s like a ghost in his own life.” To read the full interview with Ramsay, click here.

“Ramsay manages to avoid cliché in capturing the febrile atmosphere of New York’s backstreets, focusing less on the physical landscape than on Joe’s experience of his surroundings,” Cusack continues

“Dialogue and exposition are kept to an absolute minimum. Instead we learn about Joe’s past via a succession of trauma-induced memory shards which periodically jut into view, disrupting the flow of events and creating a jarring sense of anxiety which barely relents over the course of the film. This melding of interior and external worlds is another Ramsay trademark, here reinforced by Joe Bini’s superb editing and a Jonny Greenwood electronic score which brilliantly mirrors Joe’s inner turmoil.” To read the full article, click here.

“You know, I kind of think in images,” Ramsay tells Jordan Ruimy. “I have a feeling of the shot rather than what is being spoken by the characters. With this movie, it’s hard to describe my process exactly, but it was something like that.” To read the full article, click here.

“This may be [Ramsey’s] most formally exacting [film],” says Guy Lodge. “No shot or cut here is idle or extraneous. [Cinematographer Tom] Townend’s calm, crisp camerawork finds rich texture and contrast in seemingly ordinary images, whether it’s a ribbon of shadow skipping across a shoulder blade as it tenses, or the velvety billowing of a garbage bag under water. 

“Bini’s editing, seamlessly blending timelines and points of view in blink-of-an-eye strokes, gives the film the rhythm of a short fuse on a slow burn. Greenwood’s mesmerizing supporting character of a score, meanwhile, perhaps even outdoes his Paul Thomas Anderson collaborations for its instrumental range and bravado, careering from screaming strings to the discordant strum of a guitar with what sounds like a couple of snapped strings. 

Read more: Into the Stunning Visual World of Lynne Ramsay

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“In a Lynne Ramsay film, even the off-key elements are perfectly chosen; an exquisite, anxious study in damage, You Were Never Really Here knows exactly the value of its scars.” To read the full article, click here

Read more: How Lynne Ramsay Captured the Explosions Inside Joaquin Phoenix’s Head

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