1993 Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Deborah Maclaren, Gina Mckee, Greg Cruttwell.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 15, 1994
“Ever see a dead body?” asks one of Johnny's fellow travelers in Naked. “Only me own,” answers Johnny (Thewlis). That about sums up the bleak tone of this new British movie by Mike Leigh (High Hopes, Life Is Sweet). Johnny is a repugnantly self-destructive vagabond with a keen wit and savage tongue. Naked is a brutal yet fascinating portrait of this character as he cuts a jagged swath through London. In Film Comment, Gavin Smith referred to Naked as a “neorealist monster movie,” and I can think of no better description. The movie has all the physical grit and dreariness typical of British film imports these days. But it also has an emotional desperation and spiritual defeatism not evident in many other movies and certainly not in Leigh's other, more humanist, explorations of British middle class existence. Johnny is a misanthropic, misogynistic, emotional anarchist who pathologically withdraws from any advancement of human warmth or kindness. The film opens with what can only be construed as an alleyway rape, after which Johnny makes a hasty getaway for London. There he looks up an old girlfriend, has sex with her masochistic roommate, and then wanders around the city having conversations with other vagabonds, a lonely security guard, an alcoholic woman in whose window he's been spying and a waitress he picks up for the night. He gets badly beat up and returns to the old girlfriend's apartment. By this time, her third roommate has returned and a sadistic man claiming to be the landlord has taken up temporary residence in the apartment. This last character, Jeremy, is someone whose life the movie has tracked throughout, and while he seems to be some kind of “men are pigs” parallel to Johnny, his overall role in Naked is poorly developed. Certainly, it is a rare achievement for a movie to capture such raw and unrefined anomie with so deliberate and honest a realization. The astounding performance of David Thewlis as Johnny is in no small measure responsible for the success of Naked. Talking his way through every scene, his portrait of this drifter is mesmerizingly appealing, hateful, humorous, self-destructive, honest and compelling. Still, I am unable to separate my loathing for this character from my feelings about the formal achievements of this movie. The effect may be one of naked observation but the view is ugly and corrosive.