Written and Directed by: Mike Leigh
Starring: David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Ewen Bremner and Greg Cruttwell
Anarchy and tedium exist so equally in Mike Leigh’s Naked that it seems they’re the same thing. The film mostly follows Johnny (David Thewlis), a spectre-like Manc who steals a car and heads for London. Once there, Johnny wanders the streets and treats every chance encounter like a chance to expound some nugget of his personal philosophy.
Johnny is a punk and a shithead but he’s also a perceptive intellectual who can’t help inflict himself on those he meets. First, Johnny shows up at his ex-girlfriend Louise’s (Lesley Sharp) flat, seemingly to bother her. Nearly immediately he sleeps with Louise’s roommate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge) only to treat them both with unfounded contempt and storm out into the streets of London. Next, Johnny discovers Archie (Ewen Bremner), an addled and flighty Scot, shouting for his girlfriend in the streets. Johnny spouts his thoughts on self-fulfilling prophecy and Archie, confounded, grows only more agitated. Later, Johnny reads his Bible aloud in the doorway of an office building, and the lonely security guard invites him in from the cold. This chance meeting results in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, as the two debate their relationship with time. The security guard has a hopeful view of the future, while Johnny argues his fatalistic beliefs that humankind is merely rocketing into their own, looming destruction. Thewlis’ performance as Johnny is truly mesmerizing, the sort of performance that doesn’t feel like a performance at all. Thewlis inhabits this character fully and Johnny’s every slinky, scuzzy movement has the sort of authenticity that could only be a lifetime in its making.
Lurking through the sub-plot of the film is Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), Louise and Sophie’s psychotic landlord. If Johnny represents an abstract misanthropy, Jeremy represents the very specific and much more tangible hatred of women by men. Jeremy moves through women, seducing them only to torture them. If a woman won’t play his games he insults her until he feels he has won. If she won’t buckle under his emotional torture, he forces himself upon her.
The people in Naked are sad, hopeless and mean, but in the same way as a cornered animal. Leigh is presenting the world with his trademark bleak realism, but he is tender in his observation of his characters. It’s rather clear, by the end of the film, that while Leigh is presenting a certain reality, he doesn’t necessarily condone it. The people that live in the world of the film (the real world, give or take) have given up hope on themselves, and on the integrity of human beings but it seems that Leigh has not given up hope in the same way.