The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘You Were Never Really Here’ wasn’t the movie I expected. But the mix-up worked out.

Joaquin Phoenix does not play artist John Callahan in “You Were Never Really Here.” Nor does he play Jesus. Both of those movies are out later this year. (Alison Cohen Rosa, Amazon Studios)
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The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s review of “You Were Never Really Here,” click here.

As my husband and I settled in to watch “You Were Never Really Here,” he asked what it was about. I said, “It’s about a disabled alcoholic writer, I think?”

It is not about a disabled alcoholic writer. That is “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” which comes out later this year (and is actually about an artist). Instead, what we got was a story of a mercenary (Joaquin Phoenix) who hunts for missing girls and does very bad things to the people who took them. It’s the latest from writer-director Lynne Ramsay (2011’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin”), who has a real gift for taking the deeply disturbing and making it intriguing.

It’s rare I get to go into a movie blind. First of all, I write a regular feature on trailers. Second, it’s part of my job to know who’s cast as what and who might be in what and was there really a hint that Luke Skywalker will appear in “Solo”? The fact that I exist on the internet means I glimpse trailers on Facebook, casting announcements on Twitter and BuzzFeed headlines like “This Moment in the ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Trailer Proves Beyond a Doubt That Loki Is Definitely Going to Die. And That He Might be Gay.’”

So it’s a particular joy when a movie is a real surprise. It forces me to focus more, to interact with the film in the present rather than waiting for the mental nod of recognition I give when a line from the trailer drops. In this case, I found myself paying sharp attention to Ramsay’s lighting — a neon noir, similar to Nicolas Winding Refn’s style in “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.” What Phoenix’s gray-bearded face and schlumpy body say about the traditional role of a hero. How Ramsay implies violence, and what power that has when the implicit becomes explicit.

That doesn’t mean I turn off my brain when I watch a movie I was familiar with before the lights went down; there’s always a level of engagement required. But sometimes ignorance is bliss. It means you’ve taken a chance on the unknown, which is harder and harder now that entertainment is catered more and more to the individual. So try this: Create a new Netflix profile. Click on a category you don’t watch much (I usually recommend documentary). Choose the seventh movie on the list — not because you heard a friend say it was good or because you’re pretty sure it got nominated for an Oscar one year, but because you have the chance to watch something unknown.

There is something refreshing about being thrown into uncharted waters. Even if — and especially if — it means you have to swim a little harder.

More Reelists from Kristen Page-Kirby

Changing the world, one good boy at the time

“Tomb Raider” is the most not-bad, not-good movie of the year.

“A Wrinkle in Time” delivers a powerful message I wish I’d heard when I was a girl