Shocking Thriller Review: You were never really here with Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix suffocating

A review of Lynne Ramsays dark Veteran Story

Joe is not a person. He is a tool and does what he thinks is the purpose of his existence.

You were never really here Trailer on YouTube

Joe is a self destructive veteran

Already the first scene conveys the dark, self-destructive mood that will stick with us the whole movie.
Joe is not going to evolve during the story. He will not overcome a new resistance or find another side to his strength.
There is no evolving montage, there is just Joe.

He is introduced as suffering, drowning man with a plastic bag over his face in which he is breathing. Suffocating himself, or even trying to cause this feeling.
He is counting backward without us knowing what he is counting to. When he reaches his limit he rips the bag apart, sets himself free of his own world, his reality, arrives in his moment, breathing heavily. An offspring of his own motions.

Is this his moment of birth, relived in a strange sadomasochistic ritual? His feeling of being reborn through pain and suffering into a destructive world.

We see his hands, how they let things disappear. We see them act, grab, light things up in fire. Joe is not more human than a hammer is a tool. His hands grasp and destroy. We get to know him as an acting person, not a thinker, himself being expressed more by his hands, which have not shown any open or giving gesture so far, than his face.

In a hotel hallway, he gets rid of a child’s personal objects and leaves the hotel avoiding the public eye of the police. The camera copies Joe’s positions and moves, bringing us close to Joe’s personal view.

Even his name doesn´t convey his character. Joe is one the most common names in America, expressed in average joe and ordinary joe as an average person. It can be used both to give the image of a hypothetical “completely average person” or to describe an existing one.

Therefore Joe symbolizes many more than himself. He is the one that comes home from war, who has lived in risk and fear for their country, but when they come back, back home, they stand eye to eye with a society that gives them a life in the shadows instead of honor and glory. Tricked and in spite of caring for his inner conflicts, he is trashed away.

Joe is living in his own part of reality

He does not live in the same reality as anybody else. The bag whose used air he breathes may seem like he is creating or recreating his own cosmos. His world consists of memories from the past, it is made of fear, guilt, grieve, revenge and he is about to drown in it.
In any case, this is disconnecting him from the reality around him.
Director of photography Thomas Townend is presenting us Joes world in long camera settings that let us walk and drive through his world. We get a glimpse at ambulances, bored people, a couple of lovers, and Joe, watching them from far or through a window of a moving car. He is not part of their reality, he is part of his own cosmos.
When Joes reality and the outside world of his get in touch we realize why he keeps his memories to himself. While on the streets he gets asked to take a picture of a group of tourists, leaving him to drift away into his subconsciousness.


Joe is driven by protecting others from becoming monsters as well

His job or profession, to call it so, brings him to the edge of those two worlds.
Throughout the movie, he gets asked to save a child from a brothel where she is kept hostage.
After many hits and fights, he arrives in the bedroom just to find the bad guy already killed on the ground, his throat slid open with a knife.
Joe begins to cry. Because he has failed. Not by taking revenge, but by saving a child from becoming the kind of monster he sees in himself. The evil, that he has become, supposedly through the murder of his father to protect his mother when he was a child, has occurred for this girl as well. What has made him into a drifter, a loner, someone who is pushed out, could not be prevented from her. Not only couldn’t he protect her from her rapist, but mostly from herself. The same as Joe she has to live with the memories and certainty that she killed someone, making this little girl a monster in the eyes of the world, just like him.

If we are like Joe, why do we hurt ourselves more than the world has hurt us?

Stay strong,


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