Lynne Ramsay’s fourth feature, You Were Never Really Here, is a brutal thriller that breaks down genre boundaries. The premise — PTSD-stricken hitman Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is tasked with saving a young girl from sex traffickers — probably sounds familiar. Narratives of male saviours rescuing female innocents are baked into pop culture: if you’ve seen Taxi Driver, Taken, or Drive, then you know how these things go. But Ramsay’s film sets itself apart: amidst the violence is gentleness, beauty, and a delicacy and variety of style.
At the Glasgow Film Festival, I talked to Ramsay about making a subversive film, depicting violence, and her approach to visual storytelling.
Seventh Row (7R): Joe is a very stoic and emotionally repressed character, on the surface, but you subvert that common characterisation by revealing gentleness underneath. How did you approach giving us glimpses of his softer side?
Lynne Ramsay (LR): Casting Joaquin Phoenix. I felt he would bring a vulnerability. Everything we try to do is to humanise [Joe], to not go down that route of the cliché of these kinds of movies — but at the same time, make a really compelling and propulsive movie. For me, it was about bringing that character to life by showing his flaws, his vulnerabilities, his humour, his breakdown…