“Do you know what paradise is? It’s a lie, a fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be.”
War veteran Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is haunted by memories of a dark childhood, memories of combat, and by his current job – tracking down missing girls that are the victims of human sex trafficking. The police get involved when Joe rescues Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov). Joe’s mother ends up dead and Joe himself must get to the political core of the situation or face the all-consuming darkness of his own demise.
As a kid, he dealt with an abusive father. As an adult, he fought in combat and was subjected to the horrors of war. Now, fighting for justice for girls being trafficked, Joe surrounds himself with shadows.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
One of the more discussed mental health diagnoses, PTSD is known to affect veterans. This does not mean that you should assume every veteran has a mental illness because combat affects everyone differently. Due to the nature of what veterans have been exposed to, they are more susceptible to PTSD; however, we now understand that people who have been sexually assaulted, mentally abused, or experienced a traumatic event like a school shooting may develop PTSD. One of the reasons it is more talked about is because it is actually very common.
Joe is hounded by flashbacks and disturbing memories – so much so that it is difficult to make sense of You Were Never Really Here. Joe has fantasies of dying, but seems motivated to stay alive to rescue Nina after she is taken away by the police. The movie touches on the similarities between the trauma faced by veterans and the trauma faced by victims of human sex trafficking. Joe has been doing this work for a long time – saving girls from the hands of predators – but that this is the first time one of his jobs has gone awry.
The suggestion of course is that Joe and Nina may be able to save one another; the bigger suggestion is that PTSD and related illnesses can be managed with the help of other people. This is a bit of a conundrum since other people are often responsible for individual symptoms of PTSD, but connecting with other people that understand, that will not judge, and that may be seeking the same kind of connection could be a way to fight the battle that comes after the war.