The Big Lebowski at 20: The tale of a rug

The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski turns 20 this month, but the cult classic wasn’t always as popular as it is now, garnering mixed reviews in 1998. A film that begins with a mistaken identity quickly becomes a complex, interwoven web of storylines that the protagonist Jeffery Lebowski, or The Dude as he prefers to be known, wants no part of yet finds impossible to escape. The reason for that is simple, his rug. First soiled then stolen, it not only tied the room together, but it also tied the narrative together.

And yet, what is going on in the front of the scene is often irrelevant. The kidnapping plot which we, the audience, feel should take centre stage is never fulfilled because of The Dude’s lack of ambition or motivation to pursue it. He would much rather go bowling with his friends Walter or Donnie and so the plot must come to him, but after each advancement of the story, each bit of new information that comes to light, The Dude continues his life as if nothing happened.

This is because he simply doesn’t care. He lives in a simple house, with no job, no goals and most importantly to him, no stress. However when his rug is stolen from him he is thrust into a complicated story that doesn’t really need him at all. Once he goes to find the real Jeffery Lebowski and takes one of his rugs in return, that should be the end of The Dude’s involvement in the film. His journey is complete and the ending is satisfactory, but nothing is ever that easy.

The rug’s role in the film is a MacGuffin. A plot device in the form of object or goal that our protagonist pursues with little narrative explanation. You see them often in crime or spy films. James Bond is always after some object, that if in the wrong hands would spell disaster. More often than not the audience doesn’t care about the object itself, but for the action it catalyses. The Dude wouldn’t go find Jeffery Lebowski if his rug wasn’t stolen, just like Bond wouldn’t fence with Madonna in Die Another Day if it wasn’t for the Icarus Satellite. Well, maybe he might.

“It just seemed interesting to us to thrust that character into the most confusing situations possible. The person it would seem on the face of it least equipped to deal with it. That’s sort of the conceit of the movie.” Ethan Coen is saying here that it’s not the situations themselves which hold value to the audience but how The Dude reacts to them, how he copes with this influx of stress that tries to steer his life off course.

Joel Coen said in that same interview how the film was loosely based on the works of American writer Raymond Chandler. Episodic in nature, Chandler’s detective novels follow the protagonist as he interacts with lots of characters on his way to solving the case. The Big Lebowski’s main narrative is very similar to this, although it has a staccato rhythm from jumping between fast-paced investigation and the relaxed everyday life of The Dude.

Coming back to the rug, it’s importance to The Dude stems from what the rug itself represents, it’s stability and comfort in his life. Without that presence, he finds it difficult to relax, to be The Dude. While we see him go bowling with Walter and Donnie several times we never actually see him bowl. The closest he comes is in his imagination laying on the floor of his house listening to a tape of the Venice Beach League Bowling Playoffs from 1987, shortly before his second rug gets stolen.

“This is when we figured if things are becoming a little bit uncomplicated of unclear it doesn’t really matter. This is similar to Chandler in that the plot is secondary to the other things that are going on. If people are getting confused it’s not necessarily going to get in the way of them enjoying the movie.”

It is ironic that The Big Lebowski, a film whose protagonist works so actively to leave behind no legacy, has one of the biggest in cinema. From an annual festival to a religion, there is surprisingly large following of fanatical fans, those who simply wish to abide by the same carefree lifestyle as The Dude.


A Stray Sumerian Tablet

On 13th March 2018, Cambridge University Library published their findings on a Sumerian Tablet, their oldest written document. The clay tablet, dating back 4,200 years, was written by a scribe in ancient Iraq.

It consists of six lines of cuneiform script. One of the earliest systems of writing, cuneiform translates to mean “wedge shaped” and that embodies the manner of the markings carved into clay tablets at the time. The language of the inscription is Sumerian, the oldest written language and one that is unrelated to those in that area of the world at that time.

Originally the thumb-sized tablet was donated to the University in 1921 but disappeared until 2016, during research for the University Library’s 600th anniversary exhibition: Curious Objects. Senior Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archeological Research Professor Nicholas Postgate had this to say about the tablet:

“In the early years of the 20th Century, we have a disaster. The antiquities market in the West was flooded with thousands of cuneiform tablets. They had been ripped out of their original context in the sites where the illicit robbers were working and distributed across the world.”

“The tablets of an individual archive can be found in museums from Moscow to London to Chicago. We may be able to reconstruct what’s going on in the individual tablets and by comparison with the others in the archive as a whole but we can never reconstruct the physical archeological context from which they came. There is a great loss of information there.”

“The content of the tablet is very simple. It simply mentions a large quantity, 22 jars, of lard or egg fat. It gives the name of the responsible official and it states that this fat was dispensed in the city of Zabala.”

Following the exhibition, Postgate further examined the piece and he has plans to publish an academic paper on both the tablet and its wider context this year.

90th Oscars Roundup

Best Picture

Call Me By Your Name – Luca Guadagnino
Darkest Hour – Joe Wright
Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan
Get Out – Jordan Peele
Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig
Phantom Thread – Paul Thomas Anderson
The Post – Steven Spielberg
The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro (Predicted)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Martin McDonough

If I’m honest, the outcome for Best Picture surprised me. I wanted The Shape of Water to win as an acknowledgement for the great work Guillermo del Toro has done, but I expected Get Out to get the Oscar. With the amount of build up surrounding Peele’s film and the timely racial discussion it created, it seemed inevitable. There were also a few films that really shouldn’t have been nominated, Darkest Hour and The Post are among them.

Best Director

Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan
Get Out – Jordan Peele
Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig
Phantom Thread – Paul Thomas Anderson

The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro (P)

Again, like Best Picture, my heart said Guillermo del Toro but my head said Jordan Peele and if anything, I expected Peele to win this category more. With this win del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, known affectionately as the Three Amingo, have all won the Best Director Oscar in the past five years for the films The Shape of Water, Gravity and Birdman respectively.


Best Adapted Screenplay

James Ivory – Call Me By Your Name (P)
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green – Logan
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees – Mudbound

Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game

James Ivory becomes the oldest person to ever win an Oscar at 89 for Call Me By Your Name. While I predicted it to win, I felt like it was an outsider, and Logan might buck the superhero curse and win a major Oscar. It was also refreshing to see a coming-of-age drama and a film involving gay characters to get recognition.

Best Original Screenplay

Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water (P)
Marin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick

Best Original Screenplay was my first mistake of the ceremony. I stuck with my gut and chose The Shape of Water for all Film, Director, and Screenplay and was perhaps too brazen to think it could win all three. The result of Get Out winning an Oscar however, is that horror films will perhaps receive more attention from mainstream audiences, who connected with the ever-relevant themes it explored.

Best Actor

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name (P)
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Actor was the second and last mistake I made for the 90th Oscars. Gary Oldman’s victory for Darkest Hour just goes to show, you don’t need to be in a good movie to win an award, or even a half decent one. Denzel Washington put in a very good performance in Roman J. Israel, Esq. but I think the lack of advertising hindered its chances. Chalamet was an outlandish choice but the 22 year old definitely has quite a career ahead of him.

Best Actress

Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (P)
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird

Meryl Streep – The Post

For the life of me, I can’t understand why Meryl Streep was nominated for The Post. I think if Steven Spielberg used a text-to-speech program he could have got more life out of those lines. At this point, it almost feels like an inside joke to nominate her on every role she as much as glances at the script for. Regardless McDormand fully deserved a second Best Actress Oscar to go on her mantelpiece next to the one from Fargo.


Best Supporting Actor

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (P)

Sam Rockwell deserved this Oscar. Out of every film I watched in 2017 his performance was the best, by some distance. I don’t think Rockwell gets quite the credit he should for his performances and that is in part to the inconsistency of the roles he chooses. One film he’s playing Sam Bell in the fantastic Moon and the next he’s playing Darwin in 102 Dalmatians. Woody Harrelson will be disappointed he missed out with his career-best performance.

Best Supporting Actress

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Allison Janney – I, Tonya (P)
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Whilst I would have been happy to see Mary J. Blige win Best Supporting Actress, both for her performance and to finally award Netflix for years of making incredible content, I think Allison Janney’s portrayal as Tonya Harding’s mother was the best of the nominees. Lesley Manville was also brilliant as Reynolds Woodcock’s stern elder sister.

Best Animated Feature

Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco (P)

Loving Vincent

Out of all the categories up for grabs this year Best Animated Feature is the one that was most clearly won before the ceremony began. Boss Baby and Ferdinand were both unexceptional films and The Breadwinner and Loving Vincent, while both unique in style and good films were never going to challenge the Disney machine. A machine that has won the last six awards in this category in a row, including 12 of the last 17.


Roger A. Deakins – Blade Runner 2049 (P)
Bruno Delbonnel – Darkest Hour
Hoyte van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Rachel Morrison – Mudbound

Dan Laustsen – The Shape of Water

A big song and dance was made about this being Deakins’ 14th nomination without him winning a single one. I think the greatest hint that this would be his year was the fact that Emmanuel Lubezki was absent from the nominations this year. The past three nominations Deakins received in 2013, 2014 and 2015 (Prisoners, Unbroken and Sicario respectively) were destined to fall second to the veteran Mexican Cinematographer. He won with Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant, the first person to win in three successive years in this category.

86th Academy Awards, The Oscar Concert

Best Original Score

Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Johnny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water (P)
John Williams – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Carter Burwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

In stark contrast with Best Animated Feature, I think this was the closest category with all five nominations equally deserving of the award. Zimmer broke new ground in scoring by making use of an auditory illusion, the Shepard-Risset glissando, Johnny Greenwood is going from strength to strength with his swirling score for Phantom Thread, John Williams produced yet another sublime score for Star Wars and Carter Burwell has kept high standard that he set over three decades ago. There could only be one winner though and Desplat, my personal favourite composer, has created a masterpiece for The Shape of Water.

In Conversation with Lynne Ramsay

Lynne Ramsay is a Scottish film director and screenwriter who specialises in visceral films with themes of guilt and death. She has been described as one of the best British filmmakers of her generation. Despite this lofty praise, Ramsay is one of the most down to Earth people I’ve had the pleasure of talking to.

Her latest work, You Were Never Really Here, is a gritty thriller based on a novella by Jonathan Ames. “A friend of mine is really into his genre films. He works with a lot of really interesting filmmakers like Jacques Audiard and so he sent me this novella. I read it in 85 minutes which is probably the same length as my movie. They didn’t have the rights to it so I started writing it on spec to see if it would work out.”

“I had a draft in about four weeks and I was getting into it but it’s a very pulpy, B-movie kind of novella. Ames wanted to make this dime novel but the character was unusual. We talked about the script but he was never prescriptive, the only thing he said to me was he wants it to have the feeling of a page turner and I wanted that too.”

From beginning to write the script purely as speculation to the finished film, there were many twists and surprises “It was strange for me with the script because there was a bidding war at Cannes and I was like what this isn’t even finished yet. Then Amazon bought it and then we were in Cannes the next year it was so fast.”

“Sometimes when you’re under the gun you have to kill your darlings a little bit. I knew I had 29 days to rewrite and prep, it was a nightmare. I don’t think I slept but I think that’s why it’s a bit of a hallucination. It was also super hot in New York, never shoot in summer in New York it’s totally brutal. There was something about going there when I had previously lived in a village with no cars, it was driving me mental. You shut your eyes and it’s just noise. I think that really went into the sound design. I hate to say it but some of the limitations actually brought around brainwaves when you have your back against the wall but it would be nice to have a bit longer time though.”

Part of what made it possible to prepare the script in under a month was the length of the book, at just 96 pages. “With my last film, We Need To Talk About Kevin it was a huge book and was armchair edited. In order to get the money and edit it, we had to cut huge parts of the book out and it was so forensic. For this one, it was about 70% from the original book though it is quite different. Obviously, I would never want to do a straight adaptation.”

The main performance in the film is Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Joe. Phoenix was haunting in his role and ended up winning Best Actor at Cannes but his collaboration with Ramsay began quite unusually. “I think it was a first for both of us. I’ve never not met the actor before but I knew I wanted him to play Joe before I wrote the script that I didn’t even have the rights to. I think I was telepathically willing him to be in the movie because he’s quite choosy. He arrived as soon as we, the crew, arrived, and I was terrified. I had six weeks to look at 90 locations in New York which takes weeks and he was building up and becoming this beast. It was exciting how it evolved really.”

“No-one recognised Joaquin that much, which was great, they thought he was a construction worker or a bum. I remember someone throwing some coins at him when he was on the floor tying his shoe. That meant we could run and gun in a way, there wasn’t that crowd with iPhones or anything. I saw French Connection at this screening in LA and was blown away at how they shot it, without permits! It was just really inspiring because the car chase in that is one of the best car chases ever.”

During this time in New York, she found out her film was going to be in Cannes, just one year after her script was purchased by Amazon. “I got this call from this French company saying I have a meeting in London for four hours. I put two days aside in the schedule I had to shoot stuff in New York and I was just thinking ‘oh my god he’s not giving us the rest of the money to make the film’. He just said to me ‘it’s in Cannes’.”

“It was a lovely thing to hear but I had my head in my hands. Cannes is quite a brutal place and I was still only writing the script, it was kind of surreal, a bit like this film was telling us it was going to be crazy the whole way through. I edited this one in half the time of We Need To Talk About Kevin but it had the same frenetic energy that the prep and the shoot did. Sometimes a film tells you what it’s going to be and it just felt like a nervous breakdown the whole time in the coolest possible way.”

In order to convey the feeling of a nervous breakdown, Ramsay turned to sound. “The sound is like music. It’s subconscious. You don’t know why it works but it does. It stirs you or takes you into a dream. For me I worked on the sound really early, I never understand why some people only think about the sound at the end. With this is was very much the opposite, we’d do a cut and then do sound so that the sound could inform the cut.”

“After that, we’ll get a piece of music from Johnny Greenwood and it wasn’t like that’s the exact place you need to use it. You were looking at the pieces and it was a bit like a puzzle. Joe Bini, the editor, and I were getting all these pieces of music and they were amazing. We took them and put the right piece to the right part of the picture and then cut the picture to the music. It’s not a very conventional way of doing it but that works for me. If you ever watch a non-mixed film you instantly know, it’s a different experience. We were premixing ours the whole way through.”

With a runtime of 90 minutes, Ramsay keeps this film lean. As a result, it never drags, and just as Ames wished, it truly feels like a page-turner. That said, there were quite a few scenes that didn’t make the cut. “It was never really a long assembly but you could have made a Harold and Maude type film with the stuff with Joe and his mum. There was so much good stuff, some amazing scenes.”

“I was constantly thinking that it could be a different film, this hitman living with his mum, a totally different tone. Plus his takes were all so different, sometimes he’d do something funny and other times you’d just think what the hell was that. You just have to let this animal loose. Like in that scene with the drug dealer he really did punch that guy and we were all shocked. Luckily the extra was pretty cool about it. It’s the same improvisation with the scene where he’s singing on the floor of his house with the agent.”

Phoenix punching an extra isn’t the only problem Ramsay had with her extras in New York. “Well, there’s a thing called a tier system in New York. If you shoot something super low budget then you can use who you like but after a certain kind of budget, you have to use a union like SAG extras. You can’t even speak to them there’s this weird system where only the assistant director can. I had this experience with We Need To Talk About Kevin with SAG extras where the shot was down a street in New York and I was saying ‘why are these extras all walking so slowly’, it’s because they all wanted to be on camera for ages. So I was getting into trouble for telling these guys to hurry up.”

“I also remember with Kevin I had to get quite a few waivers because there was a kid that just hung out on set in a Halloween scene. There was a SAG guy who was telling me I can’t just pull someone in like I can do in the UK. I got fined by SAG that day for making a girl cry, but she loved it, she came up to me and went ‘that was the best experience of my life’. It was because I was telling her to really feel the emotion.”

At Cannes Ramsay also won Best Screenplay for her film and it drew comparisons to similar iconic films such as Taxi Driver and Léon: The Professional, something that meant a lot to her. “Just to be mentioned along with those films is amazing. What was great was when I was in Paris on the radio. They did a trailer that was dubbed and asked me about my film. Afterward they played an old clip of Paul Schrader talking about Taxi Driver saying almost the same things I did. It was weird was I thinking along the same lines as him?”

“I was talking to someone recently about the film Five Easy Pieces, a character study of Jack Nicholson. Maybe it’s a bit of a cliche but where are those movies these days, with the real conviction behind them. There’s such good television these days I think we need to elevate the movies. The cinema needs to be a spectacle and not just a marvel one.”

“The first time I went into the cinema and felt like I was in a complete other world. When I came out I was still in it for another couple of hours. That was with Blue Velvet when I was 15. I went with my boyfriend at the time and had to lie about my age because he was a bit older than me, but then he found my school bus pass. Half the audience walked out of that film because they didn’t get it, and they really didn’t. It’s quite a scary film. The way Lynch uses sound, like in Lost Highway, I think it’s very inspirational. You can only get that feeling by being in the cinema.”

Looking forward, Ramsay isn’t quite sure what her next film will be. “I’ve no idea, a comedy. I’ve been thinking of a few things for a while but you don’t finish a film when it’s finished anymore. It gets a release and then you have to go here and here and then talk about it and try to explain it. I’m used to being behind a camera not in front of one you know. I know people who have been doing screenings and such a year after. The thing that makes me feel the best as a human being is just creating stuff so it doesn’t feel that great talking about it, but I think it’s all a part of getting it out there.”

The Library of the Future

In Nordmarka, Norway, 30km outside of Oslo, a thousand trees have been planted for a very special purpose: the library of the future. In 2115 they will be used to make paper for a collection of books.

The Framstidsbiblioteket, or Future Library, is a 100-year project launched by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. In every year from 2014 until 2114, a notable writer will give one piece of writing, destined to remain unread until after the project has concluded. The purpose is to give readers of the future a fresh anthology of works by some of the century’s greatest writers.

Starting the Future Library off in 2014 was Margeret Atwood, five-time nominee for the Man Booker Prize, who gave a work entitled ’Scribbler Moon’. She said of the project: “Future Library is bound to attract a lot of attention over the decades, as people follow the progress of the trees, note what takes up residence in and around them, and try to guess what the writers have put into their sealed boxes.”

The second contributor, for the year 2015, was David Mitchell who contributed a piece called ‘From Me Flows What You Call Time’. Mitchell said “Civilisation, according to one of those handy Chinese proverbs, is the basking in the shade of trees planted a hundred years ago, trees which the gardener knew would outlive him or her, but which he or she planted anyway for the pleasure of people not yet born. I accepted the Future Library’s invitation to participate because I would like to plant such a tree.”

“The project is a vote of confidence that, despite the catastrophist shadows under which we live, the future will still be a brightish place willing and able to complete an artistic endeavour begun by long-dead people a century ago. Imagine if the Future Library had been conceived in 1914, and a hundred authors from all over the world had written a hundred volumes between 1915 and today, unseen until now – what a human highway through time to be a part of. Contributing and belonging to a narrative arc longer than your own lifespan is good for your soul.”

In 2016, Icelandic artist Sjón’s piece ‘As My Brow Brushes On The Tunics Of Angels or The Drop Tower, the Roller Coaster, the Whirling Cups and other Instruments of Worship from the Post-Industrial Age’. Patterson, who came up with the Future Library concept said of Sjón; “Sjón creates a world of metamorphosis: his poetic works weave together history and myth, folklore, ancient storytelling, the surreal and the magical, through the language of past and contemporary Icelandic.”

“His writing is dynamic and melodic, and like Future Library, interlaces the human and natural world through stretches of time. In addition to writing poems, novels, plays, librettos, lyrics, and children’s books, Sjón often collaborates with other artists and musicians, so I am very excited about the possibilities his contribution will bring to this hidden library growing through the trees.”

The most recent addition to the project is Turkish author Elif Shafak. Patterson spoke about Shafak saying “her work dissolves boundaries: cultural, geographic, political, ideological, religious and spiritual, and embraces a plurality of voices. Her storytelling is magical and profound, creating connectivity between people and places: a signal of hope at a particularly divided moment in time.”

The works will be kept in a purpose-built room in the New Deichmanske Public Library that will be opening in Bjørvika, Oslo. The room, designed by Patterson, will utilise wood from the forest and will try to emulate the tranquility. There will be a list of the name’s and titles of the works included in the project, however, none will be revealed until 2114.

You can watch a short video about the project, featuring Margaret Atwood, below:

Review: Phantom Thread

As a final performance to end his career, Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal as Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned designer of women’s fashion, is fittingly bizarre given the range of his previous roles.

Phantom Thread is perhaps his most unorthodox film, one which could not have successfully cast any other actor in his role, for doing so would have been disastrous. Daniel Day-Lewis does not carry this film, he elevates it to a level that director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson could not have anticipated otherwise.

The most striking aspect of this film is the difficulty of pigeonholing it into a specific genre or subset of cinema. In the blink of an eye, we’ll go from a frenetic fashion show to a potentially fatal love story yet no matter where the narrative leads us, there is an overwhelming sense of normality.

This is in large part to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance but also due to Johnny Greenwood’s enchanting orchestral score. Greenwood, the lead guitarist, and keyboardist of Radiohead who also composes scores for the films of Lynne Ramsey contributes to this fantastical feeling that emanates throughout, his score only ceasing for brief moments before returning in a rousing fashion.

The majority of the film is set in 1950’s London and surrounds Woodcock, a fashion designer who specialises in lavish formalwear and dresses for the rich and royal. Reynolds is inimitably eccentric with an accent that hints at a poorer upbringing than his current quality of life would suggest. Despite his years he has yet to find a wife and has an endless conveyor belt of models who live in his house until he tires of them and he sends them away.

Women are not his love, fashion is and he uses women as nothing more than mannequins, to be used as tools to produce his works, and nothing more. Two exceptions to this rule are his manager and sister Cyril, formidably played by Lesley Manville, and his mother, who appears to be the only woman he has ever loved.

That is until he meets Alma. After his previous live-in model outstays her welcome, Reynolds takes a trip to the country to unwind as she and all her belongings are purged from the house. There, whilst ordering a mammoth breakfast, he falls for the waitress taking his order.

Perhaps another hint towards his poorer upbringing is his disregard for the class differences between the two, her lowly position at the hotel does nothing to dissuade him from flirting with her. And so, before they could share as much as a ‘how do you do’, she moves in with him, the latest of his muses.

The scenes immediately following this are the best of the film. Amongst them is a stunning sequence in which Alma has here measurements taken by Reynolds. “You have no breasts,” he tells her, as his sister writes down the measurements sat in the corner, “it’s my job to give you some if I care to.” The swirling score, razor-sharp dialogue, and superb framing are mixed in just the right way to guide the film and the audience into a next chapter.

However, it is this next chapter where viewers may find themselves left behind or unwilling to follow where Anderson is taking us. The plot descends into a patient-nurse relationship where Alma purposefully poisons Reynolds to allow him to become helpless and open up. Again, if this was any actor other than Daniel Day-Lewis, the benefit of the doubt would not be given but when the climax of the film takes several more unpalatable twists, my patience had run out.

What began as a potential masterpiece ended with a level of masochism last seen in Lynch’s Blue Velvet. There was another, better, film here, and it’s a shame that Daniel Day-Lewis should finish his career with a whimper.

Review: You Were Never Really Here

Director Lynne Ramsay proves there is still life in the revenge thriller yet with her latest project You Were Never Really Here. Based on the novella by Jonathan Ames, the plot follows Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a former Marine and FBI agent who is tortured by the violence he has witnessed. When he returns from duty he becomes a contract killer who focusses on breaking down paedophile rings and rescuing the young girls who are helplessly trapped within them.

In preparation for the role Phoenix puts of a staggering amount of weight in both fat and muscle and when combined with the mass of facial hair he is almost unrecognisable. Joe has very few lines of dialogue in the film and he instead conveys emotion through body language, facial expression and an intent to his movement that is terrifying. The nature of this role suits Phoenix, who has mastered the skill of evoking so much by doing very little.

Even in the lighter scenes where he is singing a song with his elderly mother, his massive frame and haunting expression keeps me unsettled, always expecting something to be waiting around the corner. In the dark lurks disturbing flashbacks to Joe’s past. Unlike traditional flashbacks that only serve to throw exposition at the audience, the ones here are sliced into fragments and are spattered chaotically to reflect on the character whose memory they depict. We see a hammer-wielding father who beat his wife and son, and the monstrosities he witnessed in the Middle East.

When he picks up a new contract, it turns out that the man ordering the hit is a Senator whose daughter Nina was kidnapped to be a part of a Manhattan-based brothel. “They say that you’re brutal,” the Senator says, after a brooding-filled pause Joe replies “I can be”. The ring that Joe begins to shatter turns out to have far bigger political ties than just the Senator who’s daughter has been taken. It’s sad that such a twisted and evil story can mirror similar events in real life as high profile arrests and accusations of paedophilic activities are not a rarity, even with politicians.

The fantastic editing work done by Ramsay and Joe Bini lays at the core of the film’s success. It keeps the plot ticking over whilst also weaving the nightmarish flashbacks. The effect is almost hallucinatory and exacerbates the metaphorical punch packed. Johnny Greenwood, who composed a sumptuous score for Paul Thomas Anderson’ Phantom Thread, steps in again here but he produces a something very different. Similar to Hans Zimmer’s work for Blade Runner 2049, Greenwood builds a brutalist soundscape that feeds into this hallucinatory feeling. Nothing in this world feels real. Even a simple photograph becomes a horrific reminder of a mass murder.

At a touch under 90 minutes in length, You Were Never Really Here does not overstay its welcome. In fact, you could argue it is too short. There’s so much left unexplored in the character of Joe that the film could double in size and still not drag, a testament to the powerful performance by Phoenix and the deeply visceral viewing experience that Ramsay creates. If you saw Joaquin Phoenix bounding down a corridor wielding a hammer you would truly wish you were never here.