You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017)

Joe in shadow

“Where are we going?”
“Wherever you want to go. . . . Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know either.”

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film, Psycho, a past-haunted man cannot escape himself or the violence he has known and inflicted, and he preserves his own guilt and trauma, literally, in the body of his mother. He could not bear to live with her and the man she called her husband, and so he killed her. He could not bear to live without her, and so he keeps her, tucked in her bed, a “boy’s best friend.” It’s an impossible, stunted existence, an embalmed life, where the dead cannot be buried, and it is a life that splits Norman Bates’s identity in two. His body becomes a sort of prison, a site of ever-present struggle between two selves, between life and death, past and present. “We scratch and we claw,” Norman says, “but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

Lynne Ramsay’s newest film, You Were Never Really Here, beautifully recalls this earlier cinematic classic both overtly and obliquely.  Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a war veteran, a sort of walking dead man like Norman Bates. Joe carries the suffocating horror of his past around in his scarred body while violent images of that past crash, unbidden, into his mind, disrupting his path in any given moment. The voices of the dead, too, and of his younger self force themselves into his ears. His is a divided existence, and his body contains a mind that won’t obey him. “What am I doing?” he mutters to himself when one of these images or voices shatters his attention and a task at hand. He is often, then, cut off from the world around him, the trauma of his mind wrenching him towards itself and away from an exterior, Other reality.   Continue reading You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017)”

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)

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Neil Young has a habit of changing course just when everybody starts to get on his wavelength. He’ll follow up an acclaimed album of pretty acoustic songs like Harvest with some loud fucked up sadness like On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night. It’s becoming apparent that Paul Thomas Anderson is a little like that, too. Early in his career, Anderson made a name for himself as the guy who wove dozens of disparate characters into the sweeping tapestries of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. He then abandoned his templates for the anger and intimacy of Punch-Drunk Love. Now Anderson, the zig-zag wanderer, has done it again, following up two raw portraits of American ego with an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, a goofy escapade to the paranoid summit of Stoner Mountain. If the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis was the album cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan come to life, Inherent Vice is the cover and title of Young’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. It’s the death knell of the ‘60s being banged on a dimestore gong. Continue reading Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)”