Archive for December 7th, 2018


© 2018 by James Clark


    Our striking film today is not what it seems to be. And it signals something along those surprising lines by its title, You Were Never Really Here (2017). The elsewhere, where our leading man, Joe, chooses to be, lands him in late 19th century Sweden. He, portrayed by actor, Joaquin Phoenix. along with filmmaker extraordinaire, Lynne Ramsay, proceed to the extremities of the filmic communications of Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007),  in particular, his film, Cries and Whispers (1972). Whereas we see onscreen a burly, bewhiskered, kill-for-pay, frenetic bottom-feeder, he’s galvanized by a maxim, produced by a long-ago patrician of Bergman’s invention, namely, Karin: “It’s all a tissue of lies…” Joe’s not the sort who would bat around remarks like that; but he does very deeply know what it means.

Both Joe and Karin (the latter being one of a triumvirate of sisters) have been burned by violent parenting. But it is how they cultivated that rather mundane handicap which distinguishes them as thoroughgoing thinkers, forming a bizarre kinship which can tell us a lot. We see in tenuous flash-backs Joe’s mother being assaulted by her husband by means of a hammer smashing her head and Joe being terrorized (including sexually) and frequently hiding in a closet. (We also see, in the earlier film, in that same way of flash-back, how two of the sisters, Karin and Agnes, are slighted and intimidated, by their mother, while the third [and prettiest], Maria, is spoiled rotten. Soon we will hear of a pretty young girl, Nina, basking in her mother’s affection, but losing that, perhaps dubious, gift on the latter’s death, which sends her frequently running away from home to seek a revival of the right stuff, or the rich stuff.) Fathoming the heart of You Were Never Really Here means transcending its scabrous comportment per se, for the sake of disclosing the massive rigors of lucidity and love. Despite its façade of Grand Guignol melodrama, we are expertly guided to something far more rare and important—the patrimony of Bergman, re-branded for an age of iconoclasts.

Joe’s mother, quite far into dementia, can introduce us to the nature of advanced perception. We first see her, late at night, after Joe returns from Cincinnati, where he has  murdered, by a ball peen hammer, the principals of a child prostitution ring, one of the captive’s parents being eager to recover their child for a significant payment. What catches our attention first of all is the affection between the youngish beast and the old beauty. He finds her asleep in front of the TV, and as she wakes up she smiles and tells him she wanted to stay up to see him (having no idea what his job entails). Her carefree laugh is echoed by him. She refers to the late-night screening of Hitchcock’s Psycho—“Oh, boy, it’s scary!”—and he joins the edgy fun by simulating Anthony Perkins’ slashing Janet Leigh. Over and above the robust conviviality, this moment establishes their being more contemporary than the cloying domesticity mentioned above. The hot jazz sax solo doubling down on her radio takes us to Lynch’s Lost Highway—something closer to what’s in store for Joe. He helps her into her bed and she doesn’t want what she sees to be a gem of a night to end. “Hey, Joe, stay a bit…” In reply, he twigs on to her fear of being murdered, flaring up due to Hitchcock. “Well, if you must watch scary movies…” (more…)

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