“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a biopic that is more resonant in theory than in practice, a study of Freddie Mercury that seems like it was filmed after its director and writer researched their subject over one brief afternoon on Wikipedia. What a shame it comes to this – that after years of false starts and changing casting decisions and ambitious goals, a film about one of the most profound entertainers of his time is barely motivated to offer the basic outline of his journey, much less a few precious insights. For a good while, it appears to be going somewhere: a series of early scenes feature the avid and gifted Mercury (played here with precision by Rami Malek) charm his way into a job as a college band’s lead singer, push them towards big gigs, master a distinct sense of showmanship on stage and even negotiate the band’s future in a record deal with significant creative control. Yet as the scenes pass and the camera peers into recording sessions to catch a glimpse of their intricate creative process, we begin to sense a distinct absence of a group dynamic. Their dramatic interest is curiously muted. Does that not, in itself, contradict the very nature of the Mercury persona, who moved as if guided by magic on stage while guarding over deep and meaningful relationships, including those with his bandmates, behind the scenes?
Imagine, if you will, a world in which images on a cellphone screen secretly possess free will. They don’t so much exist as they consciously regard themselves as tools in a grand purpose, which involves competing for popularity against those who are either eccentric or unconventional. By the most basic principle of an outline, what goes on in their small world is the equivalent the modern high school social structure – all about cliques and illusions instead of any sense of individualism. That makes it rough for anyone attempting to break free of that monotony, but teenagers at least have an outlet: those constraints come to an end after four years. What of the poor helpless beings that populate “The Emoji Movie,” who are resigned to live an unending existence of tedium for the sake of keeping pace with the demands of their owner’s anxious trigger fingers? What happens if someone can’t conform to the expectation? A conflict ensues when one of them shows emotions he ought not to be programmed with, leading to a suggested malfunction that could potentially destroy them all in a massive hard drive reboot. But if that will erase everything, including them, then why has no one bothered to inform them that most cellphones tend to die out after a three-year stint anyway?
If most modern films consciously exploit a spiritual link to the past, then “You Were Never Really Here” shares its most fundamental detail with the great “Taxi Driver.” Both are stories in which men weather the curse of exhaustive past traumas, all the while using them to mask a brooding contempt for civilization. In relation to these worldviews, each sees children as victims of a corrupt paradigm that must be dismantled, be it through activism or slaughter. The conflicted antihero of Scorsese’s film kept the company of a young teenage prostitute as motivation to pick up arms and become her protector, and now comes Joe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a loner who is hired by others to save teenage girls from human trafficking, and then murder their enslavers. At first the routine seems too coarse and vulgar, even in the framework of a film saturated in nihilism, but a thoughtful picture becomes clearer with each passing sequence: this is a man who was exposed to violence when he was too young to process it, and the psychological wound it created is more easily soothed through vengeance for the innocent.