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?