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NAKED
(Mike Leigh, 1993)


Naked centres on the intelligent but extremely bitter Johnny, who flees his native Manchester after raping a woman and heads down to London to meet up with his ex-girlfriend.

I hadn't seen any of Leigh's prior work before deciding to settle on Naked as a good starter. From what I'd gathered beforehand, I knew I could expect something that could best be described as "a gritty-feeling movie". In hindsight, I don't think you can describe Naked as being "a gritty-feeling movie". You end up describing gritty-feeling movies as being "like Naked".

That statement is pretty true – Naked is as bleak and unforgiving as they come. There are no good guys or any possible chances for redemption. Whenever a glimmer of hope appears during the film, it’s obliterated within mere moments. The characters don’t undergo any significant changes throughout the film. The film ends in pretty much the same way it begins, probably doomed to repetition until the end of the world. If you sit down to watch this, all I can say is “be prepared”. Know what you’re getting into.

Although the unforgettable feel of the film could be attributed to its verité style (filmed on the dodgy side of London with very rough-looking film), it could be better attributed to the protagonist himself. David Thewlis gives what's probably his best performance as Johnny, a man with few strengths and countless flaws. His eloquent monologues are roughly balanced by his harsh treatment of others. Johnny has very little respect for anyone or anything and it shows as he inflicts pain (physical or emotional, it doesn’t matter to him) on everybody that crosses his path.

As bad as he is, however, he’s oddly sympathetic in a way (especially when compared to a landlord who’s as callous and sociopathic as he is, possibly more so). In a way, I could actually relate to Johnny (and not just because I have the same coat). He knows how bad he can be and acts accordingly, only because he doesn’t believe in anything else or changing his ways. He just exists from day to day, just like any other human being. That’s what makes Johnny so compelling – he really is only human. When karma finally catches up to him late in the film, we aren’t glad to see him suffer. Johnny is the best kind of character, full of nuance that will make different people love him and hate him for the same reasons.

Even though Naked depends heavily on Johnny’s presence, he is not the be-all and end-all of the film. The supporting characters are exceptional – the stand-out roles being Johnny’s ex and her flatmate. Watching them try and deal with the sudden arrival of both Johnny and (later on) the landlord is in itself one very compelling subplot. A runner-up would be the security guard on his graveyard shift who engages in a series of debates with Johnny about time, life, evolution and the inevitable Apocalypse.

Needless to say, Naked was one hell of a film to watch. It makes me wonder exactly how I should rate it, if I should rate it. It’s not really one of those movies where you just say “Oh yeah, very good, very moving, 4 stars.” You’re more likely to watch it and afterwards not say anything, just think about it. Those are the exceptional films, and Naked is definitely that – a dark, pessimistic insight into the mind of a human being who treads the fine line between self-destruction and utter dissatisfaction.