'You Were Never Really Here' Director Lynne Ramsay Uses Limited Time and Budget to Her Storytelling Advantage
Published Apr 19, 2018It's always a bit disorienting leaving a movie theatre. Sometimes, you've seen years go by in front of your eyes. Imagine the disorientation after the tense thriller, You Were Never Really Here, brought me into the dizzying mind of Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a hitman with a heart of gold and a hair-trigger temper, as he works to rescue trafficked girls while dealing with PTSD from his time in the military and FBI.
The film, directed by Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ratcatcher), opts to leave the audience in the dark, slowly revealing information throughout, sometimes only through hazy context clues. It's not an easy watch, both in form and content, and it's hard to find footholds.
Despite the visual head-trip and obfuscated storytelling, You Are Never Really Here lasts a scant 90 minutes. According to Ramsay, the film's tight runtime parallels its similarly short shooting time, 29 days, far below the average of two to six months.
"I felt it was an exercise in 'How do you tell the story and go inside this character using the essentials?' because of the time [limit]," Ramsay tells Exclaim! "[Sequences] that might've been 15 shots became four. Everything was stripped so back. It just made me aware that I had to really have an attitude about shooting them in a certain way in order to do that, but it was very exciting as well."
Ramsay was drawn to Jonathan Ames' novel of the same name, on which the film was based, due to her love of film noir and hardboiled fiction. "They were economical," says Ramsay of the genre's best works.
To sum it up succinctly, Ramsay muses, "With the least, say the most. That was the nature of the beast." It's the film's guiding principle, an MO that helped Ramsay stay focused and give the film its indelible style. One of the film's most powerful techniques is the way it pushes violence to the edge of the frame, or obscuring it through ceiling mirrors and surveillance footage. Not only did it fit with the film's emotion-oriented storytelling, but it was a choice that made the short filming time easier, with only half a day to film each action sequence.
You Were Never Really Here premiered six years after Ramsay's previous film, school shooter drama We Need to Talk About Kevin, but the director assures us that it won't take as long before her next feature. "Making this film was exciting, working with the cast and crew. I just felt astonished, watching Joaquin, it was this exhilarating feeling. Usually, at the end of the shoot, you want to go hibernate," she says. "But at the end, I was like, 'Let's go make something else.' After this, it was such a vibe of sadness toward the end because we had a good flow of things, I just wanted to go make another film afterward.
"There's a lot of things that interest me: sci-fi, comedy. I don't think I've ever made the same film twice. It's just whatever feels right. [A film] takes two or three years of your life, so you gotta know that you'll still feel that way a few years down the line. There's a few things that I'm excited about. Hopefully it's not going to take that long. I feel like I'm really hitting my stride at the moment as a filmmaker. I'm hoping just to make something amazing."
You Were Never Really Here opens nationwide on April 20.