If anyone has been following my reviews they may notice that so far I haven't given a single negative review yet. This is mainly because I review films just after I've watched them, and I only review them when they make a definite impression on me. Good films are more likely to leave an impression than bland films. However, should I see something irredeemably terrible, I'll be sure to rip into it here. Just wanted to clear that up.
And now, Furburt reviews :
Naked, a 1993 film by visionary British director Mike Leigh, is at its heart a character study.
It follows Johnny (David Thewlis), a misanthropic, jaded Mancunian, as he journeys through a cavalcade of disappointments and despair in modern England.
He is a bitter man, an unabashed nihilist who has dived headfirst into hedonism. He drinks, he steals, he smokes, takes drugs and fornicates without restraint. He is only 27, but as a character he meets remarks, he looks like he's hitting 40. His philosophies are apocalyptic and demented. He believes in god, and hates him bitterly.
The first image we see is him raping a woman in Manchester, then stealing a car and driving maniacally to London to escape a beating. Seeking shelter, he arrives at the house of his ex-girlfriend, Louise (Lesley Sharp). He manages to ingratiate himself with her roommate, the dim cockney Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). She falls for him almost instantly, but while he is nice, if hyperactive, at first, his mood quickly changes and he insults and berates her. He leaves the flat, and journeys the streets, but the flat plays a pivotal role.
Johnny is not well. It's clear, if never stated, that he's suffering from some sort of crippling mental illness. He's tearing himself apart very rapidly, and he's obviously aware that he hasn't got long to live if he keeps it up. Although the first impression we get of the scraggly bearded and thin Johnny is that he's scum, it becomes quickly apparent that he's a very intelligent man.
He's well read, sophisticated and a very funny person. His hamartia is his bitterness and misanthropy. He could advance himself, and he states himself that he's actually very academically qualified, but he believes that it's pointless to even try. Despite how horrible he can be at times, to himself and others, he is probably the most likable character in the whole thing.
Johnny, summing up his world viewpoint.
This could be due to the fact that nobody in Naked is very likable. Unlike Leighs previous work up to this point, Naked is a dark, grimy film. It paints a picture of a London so utterly decrepit and grim that it almost feels like a different reality. The film is episodic in nature, with Johnny drifting through it, like Dante, through the levels of hell, meeting tired, broken people and their pathetic lives. His encounters are varied, he meets a security guard and debates with him on the topic of god, he meets a drunken woman trying to recapture her youth by being sexually open and refuses to have sex with her, he meets vagrants, workers, people as lost as him on his aimless journey towards nothing.
Everyone in Johnny's world is either stupid, arrogant or delusional. It becomes rapidly clear that Johnny, for all his faults, is a ray of intelligence in a world of people who cannot think. The scene where he is living rough in the streets of London, and comes into contact with a twitchy Scotsman looking for his girlfriend is funny and depressing all at once, as he tries to talk intelligently to what is obviously an irredeemable moron.
There is nothing nice in this picture, no happy undercurrent or hope. The humour is so black it almost hurts to laugh at it. The colour is washed out and bleak. The score is mostly a depressing cello, playing what's almost a lament. However, it's exquisitely filmed. The camerawork is natural and restrained, giving the picture an interesting down to earth feel.
Johnny, in the final shot, walking towards an uncertain future
While Naked is mostly about Johnny, is also occasionally focuses on Jeremy/Sebastian (it's never really clarified which). Jeremy is the landlord of the house Louise and Sophie live in, he's a middle class, generically handsome person, and he's an utter bastard. As misanthropic as Johnny, he lives in a world where he can take what he wants, and he always succeeds. He has sex with random women, bullies and mistreats them, he insults people and lives a life where he is the only person who is allowed to be happy. He's almost as insane as Johnny is too, during one of his sexual encounters, he chokes the poor naive waitress he's making love to and dementedly confesses that he's going to shoot himself on his 40th birthday, so he won't grow old.
In many ways, Jeremy and Johnny are both sides of the same person. Johnny hates the world, and people in it, but he tries sometimes to save it, and most of his hate is turned on himself. Jeremy hates the world, and enjoys being cruel to people in it. He's a very arrogant, but also a very stupid person. We can't help but empathize with Johnny.
Jeremy with one of his 'conquests'
(Please don't wrath me for this)
This movie is carried along not so much by events in it, but by how the characters react to each other. Most of the dialogue is written by improvisation in rehearsal, and then that is put into the script and not ad-libbed during actual filming, as is Mike Leighs technique. The performances are very natural, and David Thewlis, in what is really his breakthrough role, is superb, not just in conveying Johnny's emotions, but in subtly hinting at others below the surface as well.
If you haven't realised yet, I'll say it again. Naked is very hard hitting. It's depressing, painfully honest, and heavy on sexual attacks. It is not a feel good film.
However, as a film, it is a mini-masterpiece. It is to the point and brutal. It has no morals, no lesson, it is simply an observation of one of society's lowest rungs. It has no agenda, and seeks not to inform but to simply observe. This is its great strength. I would recommend it to anyone who considers themselves a film lover, as long as they can bear the crushing and sometimes unbearable realistic decay on display here.