Naked (United Kingdom, 1993)
Mike Leigh has always been known as a creator of exceptional, insightful character studies. Often, his films do little more than trace activities in the life of a person or persons over a several-day period. However, whereas comedies such as Life is Sweet and High Hopes showed Leigh's whimsical side, Naked is anything but charming. This movie is brutal and raw, and its sense of humor comes with a serrated edge.
We meet Johnny (David Thewlis) on the benighted streets of Manchester, pinning a woman against a building as he rapes her. Then, threatened with bodily harm, Johnny heads for London to find his old girlfriend, Louise (Lesley Sharp). Their reunion is less-than-affectionate, and propels Johnny into a violent and self-destructive sexual relationship with Louise's flatmate, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). Not long after, Johnny starts to feel trapped by his new lover's unexpected dependence, and he takes to the streets, wandering through the backways and alleys of the city's underprivileged districts (where a rat is always less than thirty feet away), meeting an assortment of people even more bizarre than himself.
There are so many thought-provoking themes and issues addressed by Naked that it's impossible to mention them all, let alone do them justice, in the space of a movie review. Johnny, despite having the appearance of a tramp, has the heart and mind of a philosopher, and isn't afraid to express his views. In line after line of energetic, dazzling dialogue delivered at a rapid-fire pace, we are exposed to the lead character's views on why everyone is bored, the importance of cliches, the interrelationship between the past, present, and future, the Apocalypse, evolution, God's relationship to man, and life in general. He's not particularly choosey about his listeners, entering into conversations with the vacuous Sophie, a middle-class guard named Brian (Peter Wight), a lonely woman who he initially observes from afar through a window, and a man putting up posters.
A reckless, restless intensity pervades Naked as it follows Johnny on his odyssey through London. The film's mood and tone change suddenly and frequently, but never radically. It could be argued that the running length is a little on the long side, but it's hard to figure which scenes could have been cut. Don't expect a happy ending, or a happy anything, for that matter. As true-to-life as Naked is, it hides nothing. Brutality abounds, from the thugs that attack innocent pedestrians on nighttime streets to the hidden lifestyle of the rich Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), whose sadistic sexual excesses are presented in such a manner as to leave little to the imagination.
David Thewlis didn't get his deserved Oscar nomination, but his work here is extraordinary, and possibly better than that of any of the five nominees (including Anthony Hopkins). Thewlis creates an amazing character -- someone with a keen intellect and ugly appetites, who can be reviled, understood, and respected. He and writer/director Leigh have clearly established a rapport (they previously worked together on Life is Sweet and a Channel Four short film The Short and Curlies) that yields astounding results.
Naked is one of those rare motion pictures that refuses to slip easily from memory. Its images and themes linger long after the viewer has left the theater. Those in search of escapism should not look to this motion picture, but anyone willing to assume the risk of facing the ugliness of Johnny's world will find a startling, gut-wrenching, eye-opening experience.
Naked (United Kingdom, 1993)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Screenplay: Mike Leigh
Cinematography: Dick Pope
Music: Andrew Dickson
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