Sound designer Paul Davies discusses crafting a subjective mix that sounds like the inside of a PTSD-stricken head. This is the second feature in our Special Issue on You Were Never Really Here.
Sound design is often subtle or forgotten, used as little more than ambience — but in You Were Never Really Here, it’s everything. The film even starts with sound: a heady, disorienting soundscape that instantly pulls you into the claustrophobic mind of protagonist Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a hitman tasked with rescuing a young girl, Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), from sex traffickers. Paul Davies’ sound design is our primary window into Joe’s headspace, which is warped and uncomfortable, a product of his PTSD and the constant presence of violence in his life. The overwhelming noise is at once enveloping and subconsciously disturbing.
I talked to sound designer Paul Davies about how he pulled off an immersive, subjective mix that sounds like the inside of Joe’s “head full of broken glass”.
Seventh Row (7R): Did you work on developing the sound with Lynne before shooting started?
Paul Davies (PD): We did discuss it a lot. I’ve worked with her for 20 years, since Ratcatcher, so I knew that she was doing this. She told me she was considering doing an adaptation of the novella [You Were Never Really Here] some time ago. I read that, and I read all drafts of the script, as well.
7R: The sound mix is really subjective, immersing you in Joe’s disoriented headspace. How did you approach creating that subjective soundscape?
PD: While [Lynne] was shooting, I saw an exhibition at the Tate Modern, in the new wing. It was by American artist Charles Atlas: an installation of several video screens, placed not all in a line, but in layers. In front of them were four speakers. Out of each of the four speakers was a different sound of New York City. I thought that was an interesting effect; a basis of an idea, about having different sounds coming out of different speakers. Not completely different sounds, but of the same family. What effect would that have?
Read the rest of our Special Issue on You Were Never Really Here here >>