The film You Were Never Really Here left me pondering two principal questions. First: How many of the rolls of duct tape sold in hardware stores each year are purchased for the express purpose of binding and/or gagging people so that violence may be inflicted upon them? And second: How many of the ball-peen hammers sold are bought specifically in order to inflict such violence?
Duct tape and ball-peen hammers are the chosen methodology of “Joe,” the protagonist of the film. Joe is a combat veteran who now makes ends meet by rescuing girls from sex traffickers and doling out violent retribution. You’ve heard of hired guns? Joe is a hired hammer, and not the kind who does cabinetry.
You Were Never Really Here is adapted from a Jonathan Ames novella by the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, and like her other work it is powerfully imagistic and nearly bereft of dialogue or a conventional plot. Joe, who lives with his mother in a rundown apartment in New York City, suffers from visions of his own childhood abuse and combat trauma, and frequently contemplates suicide, sometimes going so far as to semi-asphyxiate himself with a plastic bag. When we first meet him, he is finishing up one job. His next, which makes up the bulk of the film, involves an underage trafficking ring that eventually leads him to a conspiracy involving a state senator, crooked cops and federal agents, and the governor of New York.