(as seen through ‘The Fishy-Eye Lens’ of Ripley Trout)
(contains traces of nuts and spoilers)
Half a loaf is better than no analogy at all, right? And yet “You Were Never Really Here” leaves me wishing that Lynne Ramsay had gone all-out for either fur-coat or knickers, rather than attempting to have both her sartorial cake/loaf and eat it too. Especially since that last sentence has made me think of edible-knickers. And so I feel it only fair that Lynne Ramsay should feel responsible for this situation and learn whatever lesson is necessary so that it isn’t repeated.
The aptly-named Whack’Em Phoenix turns in an acting masterclass as Mel Gibson’s beard in a film that’s a mash-up of ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Whac-a-Mole’. But ‘You Were Never Really Here’ is, ironically, ‘not all there’. Just like Whack’em’s character, it’s losing the plot. Or, rather, the film doesn’t know whether to have more plot or less plot – and so falls between two stools of plot (which are like bar-stools at a counter in that they both look the same from a distance but one of them will have a slight wobble and smell faintly of piss).
Fortunately Ramsay’s film does not offer us the sense of scent as you rather fear there might indeed be a hint of urine wafting around Whack’Em’s character. But in terms of the other senses, like all Ramsay’s films, it is wonderfully crafted – provocatively framed, with unsettling sound-design, and driven by a powerful performance from Phoenix. But the whole is less than the sum of its parts. It is somehow less satisfying than it initially seems, like a small pizza, or Obama’s presidency.
The fur-coat-but-no-knickers approach would have seen the film minimise the intricacies of the crime plot and instead go full-Travis in concentrating on portraying the psychological breakdown of the main character – ditching the plot in order to concentrate on Whack’Em losing the plot. The most affecting and effective periods of the film are where it does this. But then it goes back in search of the plot again, a party-girl who has felt a cold draught of shame and gone in search of the knickers that she knows she’s supposed to be wearing if she’s to be a ‘respectable’ girl like all the other ‘good’ girls.
But surely this is an outdated notion. So what if she’s not wearing any knickers? ‘Going commando’ is a style-option these days rather than a symbol of moral degeneracy. Would a thong make it okay? And what’s a thong anyway? Is it half-a-pair of knickers or a full pair of one-sided knickers? Is a thong the half-a-loaf of sartorial analogies?
What if the knickers are made out of the fur-coat itself, to create a sort of metaphorical merkin? Granted, fur’s status has gone from de rigeur to verboten in the intervening PC years since the analogy was at its peak, but if it’s simply an issue of practicalities and being sensible – and if you can only pick one or the other – then surely the fur-coat can keep you warm and covered-up better than just the pair of knickers. Length is perhaps an issue, but the style is so wonderful that I don’t think anyone would have a problem with seeing more of it if it was also going to enable the party-girl to be all that she can be and thus bring more enjoyment to those at the same party. (Believe it or not, this analogy is still holding relatively firm, though for practical reasons I am ignoring the moral objections to the fur – imagine it as faux-fur if it makes you feel more comfortable).
The alternative approach – all-knickers-but-no-fur-coat – could also have worked. Minimising the indulgence of Whack’Em’s performance (a half-Bob, say, in the terminology of ‘Taxi Driver’ and hairdressing) could have allowed for the filling out of the crime-plot while still being stylish, closer in spirit perhaps to ‘Angel Heart’ (its step-sibling in the post-noir family)- wherein Mickey Rourke’s slipped-a-Mickey character is similarly in-over-his-(traumatised)-head and is being unwittingly used by powerful figures. But instead of bringing the audience on a walking-tour-at-night through the actual dark and dirty streets of a psychological breakdown, Alan Parker made it so that the viewer could instead enjoy it from the safe distance of an online virtual-tour without having to leave the comfort-zones of their metaphorical home. Being able to aesthetically appreciate Mickey’s groomed stubble from a distance is a lot less disturbing than feeling like you’re in physical danger of bits of actual gristle falling out of Whack’Em’s beard right onto you.
A place somewhere between ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Angel Heart’ might not be a nice area to live in but, cinematically, it is hardly a bad place to be. But those films achieved their impact by going all-out in one direction or another. Ramsay has taken on a difficult challenge in trying to achieve both – and very nearly succeeded. There’s not many films where you really actually want another half-hour, but I’d be fascinated to see what a longer version could have managed. Was there perhaps enough material left over from which could be fashioned a satisfactory coat-and-knickers combo? It could even be edible! It could be made from the allegorical/analogical half-loaves left behind by all the films that were only half-(Angel)-hearted rather than full-Bobbed. ‘You Were Never Really Here’ is very good, but Lynne Ramsay could have made the film even better … if she had just made a merkin for it out Joaquin Phoenix’s facial hair.