In You Were Never Really Here, a distressed and disturbed veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) uses his post-war skills to hunt down missing women for a living. His experiences in combat have caused him to lose nearly all empathy, and he has no regard for violence, which makes him efficient in his line of work. In the meantime, he is plagued by nightmares and at times has trouble distinguishing them from reality. His already broken life becomes tumultuous when one of his operations goes sideways and he uncovers a dark conspiracy. Johnny Greenwood composed a doozy of a musical score to accent this jarring film.
The score and film begin with the track ‘Tree Synthesisers’, which is aptly named and effectively used in the opening sequence. It utilises sequenced synthesisers sounding on repetitive stacked chords to construct an airy ostinato (a basis or base line in the music that continuously repeats itself). Entering above this base line are additional synthesisers echoing the film’s first theme, which is rather sure of itself and triumphant. It consists of ascending major third and perfect fourth intervals and a descending perfect fifth interval in succession that are sequenced to repeat themselves. This seems to be the theme for Phoenix’s character, as it returns in later cues.
‘Hammer and Tape’, ‘Playground’, ‘The Hunt’, ‘Downstairs’, and ‘Joe’s Drive’ stand out as indeterminate, dissonant, and frenzied cues that represent the turmoil within Phoenix’s character. Each of these cues contain percussive, discordant stringed instruments sawing away with no real sense of key or a set musical time. They all seem to be cued in intense, purposeful moments. As Phoenix’s character is viciously or vigorously fighting towards his goal, these cues bring the tension and anxiety from the screen to the audience. Until the action reaches a quasi-resolution, that is.
‘Nausea’ and ‘Dark Streets’ interject in the film and score with additional processed and synthesiser-filled underscore. These tracks imply moments of deep thought for the main characters, and could also accompany moments of transition. This music personifies the characters’ detached struggle with their emotions and the dark situations surrounding them. The strict ostinato and low, serious tone of these cues aids the weighty feelings the film is trying to communicate.
‘Tree Strings’, ‘Nina Through Glass’, and ‘Sandy’s Necklace’, mark the return of more quaint, yet stirring music to the score. These tracks are somewhat of an opposite side of the coin to tracks like ‘The Hunt’ and ‘Joe’s Drive’. They mostly contain a simple chord progression with melodic strings or synthesiser above that. The most melodic composition of the entire score is contained in these cues, and perhaps it’s for a reason. The music suggests scenes of somewhat happy thoughts or dreams. ‘Tree Strings’ sounds as if it could accompany a highly thoughtful sequence set in nature, while ‘Nina Through Glass’ and ‘Sandy’s Necklace’ sound like perfect accompaniment to gazing at someone you love or desire to help. These tracks add symbolic variety to Greenwood’s score.
For a film about a hardened man who is driven by his numbness towards life, Johnny Greenwood produced an ethereal score that is definitely unexpected in its execution. However, it is stunning in the way it satisfyingly fits and accompanies the deep and bleak tones of this film.