Modern Cinema From Around the World: A Review of Mike Leigh’s “Naked”

Naked
https://imdb.to/3as8zwl

Although this is considered my modern cinema series, I am still inclined to include a film from 26 years ago. The reason for Naked’s inclusion is simple: I enjoy the film very much and constitute a modern film as one from the 1990s onward. Even though I am not purposely hunting for the similarities between my previous entries, Naked also embodies a certain segment of society through its main character, which my previous entries of the films Brother [Brat] (1997) and The Debt [Dług] (1999) dealt with. The previous films deal with economic crimes fueled by incentives, whereas Naked harps on chaos, dark comedy, and violence against women. Naked also seems to have more complex dialogue that the other films had only in smaller doses. Johnny, portrayed by David Thewlis, is a character with many idiosyncrasies. His style seems almost stream-of-consciousness as he is not as much of a main character, but rather acts as a shadow that navigates us through the streets of London.

Throughout the film’s runtime, I continuously found myself questioning Johnny’s motivation or purpose. For instance, why does he meet people all around London in a transient fashion, or what is the significance to the incredibly problematic relations with women. A potential answer to these questions would be that the many characters that Johnny encounters give him more of what he wants, which is either a power differential that he craves, or some sort of purpose to exist in this world. He does not seem keen on work or any other occupation, which is shown through him making a mockery of Louise (Leslie Sharp) and her choice of becoming a “working stiff.”  I think an important aspect of the film is the cyclical pursuit of women during Johnny’s late night odyssey that spans from Manchester to England and onward— to maybe Manchester again?

Mike Leigh’s Naked is a film built upon by the exposure of a few dysfunctional relationships in lower-class England, which one can take as a comment on relationships in general. The film is considered a black comedy that takes place in London, England and has a strange and chaotic pace to its scenes with some trademarks being fast speaking, argumentation, and Johnny’s ramblings. In my view, one could easily get lost in the dialogue-heavy scenes, humor, and the witticisms of Johnny throughout. For a film that examines relationships in raw, chaotic, and candid ways, it also unapologetically shows power differentials in a few of Leigh’s characters. Leigh chooses to open Naked with a scene of Johnny raping a woman in the streets of Manchester. The scene sets a chaotic tone, almost anarchic, and is emphasized with the handheld camera, shaky cam, and natural light of the street lamps— almost Jack the Ripper-esque. Johnny then escapes the woman’s parents by getting into his car and driving to London. As he drives, dark non-diegetic music plays in the background in a long take— the music, by Andrew Dickinson, reappears later in the film.

Naked 2
https://imdb.to/38gCJkr

Another character that really subjects the viewer to a horrendously misogynistic viewpoint is the landlord (Greg Cruttwell), who is named Jeremy, but also goes by the alias Sebastian. When we meet Jeremy, his first bit of dialogue seems to connect with what just happened with Johnny in Manchester. He asks his masseuse, “do you think women enjoy being raped?” which unquestionably makes this character despicable. Towards the end of the film, Jeremy’s character affects Louise and Sophie the most, by coming to their apartment and establishing, or highlighting, the power differential. Jeremy is their landlord, and he is not afraid to exploit his power through sexual advances by walking around the apartment in tiny black underwear— the film almost comments on this overtly misogynistic world. The power differential is most obvious when they contemplate calling the police on him for his sexual advance, after he slept with Sophie, which causes Sophie to predict, “they will take one look at him in his suit and believe him.” Both Louise and Sophie are unable to get Jeremy out of the house until morning, but Louise really ends his terror by asking for him to unzip his fly, and saying, “Do you want me to cut off your prick and shove it up your arse?”– In actuality, this is probably what most people wanted to do to Jeremy from the very beginning.

An important aspect of the film is the interactions between Johnny, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), and Louise. These characters really explore relationships and their personal beliefs on life. In an important conversation between Sophie and Louise we really understand the plight that they go through if they want to seek a “proper relationship”. They share their stories; Sophie talks about having an abortion at 15 and Louise talks about her past failed relationship after she thought she was pregnant. Louise mentions the very reasonable request of having a person who will talk to them after they have “bonked”. Johnny seems to be what brings the three together by showing up randomly to the house,  but also causes Sophie to end up leaving the house because of his refusal to show her affection. The dynamic between these characters seems to lay between either understanding or chaos. I am particularly drawn to the scene where Johnny comes home badly beaten, and all three end up sleeping in Louise’s bed. Sandra comes back from her vacation to Zimbabwe early, and humor ensues. Both Johnny and Louise decide to move on together, but of course Johnny ends up betraying her, which was expected due to all the other short “relationships” he already had with women during the film.

Sophie
Louise and Sophie https://imdb.to/32HOIqh

 

The tone of the film seems almost bleak, with cynical moments that really demonstrate Johnny’s view that humans are just a mere step in the evolution process. Jumping to later in the film, during his discussion with Brian, the security guard (Peter Wight)— or “insecurity” guard, as Johnny calls him—Johnny states, “Evolution is evolving,” which he explains more thoroughly by saying human beings are similar to the dinosaurs in that we will go extinct and after this chaos evolution will take place. The conversation with the security guard really goes into unfamiliar and dark territories, even mentioning the number of the beast 666, the planets lining up, and the end of the world as we know it— very interesting and dense. One specific quote during the discussion with the security guard is brilliant:

“Do you think that the amoeba ever dreamed that it would evolve into the frog? Of course it didn’t. And when that first frog shimmied out of the water and employed its vocal chords in order to attract a mate or to retard a predator, do you think that that frog ever imagined that that incipient croak would evolve into all the languages of the world, into all the literature of the world? Of course it fucking didn’t. And just as that froggy could never possibly have conceived of Shakespeare, so we can never possibly imagine our destiny.”

I could go into extraordinary lengths unpacking the deeper significance of this quote in relation to the whole story, which surely means that this film is historically important. Johnny speaks on the hysteria of the world ending in 1999, making me label him as a cynic. The security guard then shows Johnny the woman outside a circular window in an apartment across the street. She is dancing, framed by her window, and Johnny, as he does countless times, goes to her. They do not end up having sex, which is what he tells the security guard at breakfast that morning. The final sentence the security guard says to Johnny is, “Don’t waste your life,” which I take as a condemnation of Johnny’s lifestyle, but, potentially, taken as an affirmation to Johnny to continue his lifestyle. Johnny may have taken the statement and interpreted it as he wanted.

Naked 3
Johnny and Louise, he is badly beaten. https://imdb.to/3cs6cLu

The film really leaves a lot up to the viewer to interpret. Fast-forward to the ending sequence when Johnny leaves with the money (350 pounds) Jeremy left Sophie for their sexual encounter, treating her almost like a prostitute, and we are left to watch as he slowly limps away. He leaves Louise like he has left every other woman in the film. Louise’s promise meant nothing to him, and we are left to wonder if Johnny will continue the cyclical encounters with people on the streets of London or Manchester. Louise and Johnny had an earlier moment, before his betrayal, where they were deciding to go back to Manchester together— will Johnny still go to Manchester without her?

3.85 out 5

— Christian Mietus, Blog Editor.


Christian’s Bio:

chris

Christian is a Junior at Lewis University who is an English major and a minor in Film Studies and Russian Language and Culture. In 2019, he received the “Dr. Stephany Schlachter Excellence in Undergraduate Scholarship Award” for his collaborative piece “Assimilation through Sound.”  Additionally, his poem “The Japanese Photography is Covered in Dust” is forthcoming from City Brink Magazine. In his free time, he appreciates and dissects cinema as well as consistently rating and reviewing it. Some of his favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, John Cassavettes, Ingmar Bergman, and Kenji Mitzoguchi. He also appreciates different art forms, such as music and literature. Christian hopes to continue expanding his skills as a writer and to encourage others to do so as well. He writes about film for the JFR blog, so check out Christian’s Cinematic Syntax.


 

2 thoughts on “Modern Cinema From Around the World: A Review of Mike Leigh’s “Naked”

  1. RUBEN VIEIRA May 13, 2020 / 4:38 am

    “The final sentence the security guard says to Johnny is, “Don’t waste your life,” which I take as a condemnation of Johnny’s lifestyle, but, potentially, taken as an affirmation to Johnny to continue his lifestyle. Johnny may have taken the statement and interpreted it as he wanted.”

    If you did not understand this part properly, than you did not understand anything about this movie. This is one of the only moments that Johnny hears something and does not talk back. He knows he is wasting his life, he knows he is a piece of shit. I mean if you didn’t understand that, what is it that you like about the movie, the rape?

    • Editor September 9, 2020 / 4:15 pm

      I guess I was more pointing out the fact that it feels as though, “Don’t waste your life,” is a rather ambiguous statement. I meant that the character saying “Don’t waste your life,” may not register as that Johnny should change his ways in that moment, but it could have been taken in a variety of ways because what constitutes a wasted life? I appreciate how you say that this is the first moment that Johnny does not talk back, and that would make sense that it would be the first realization (I find Johnny being a motormouth for the rest of the film to really demonstrates this). I do agree that Johnny is a self-aware enough of a character that he knows he is a piece of shit, but I think he is in a destructive cycle that is inescapable. However, by the end I can definitely see how Johnny is starting to realize he is in a rut and he is wasting his life, especially the fact that he is beaten in the streets (which ties back to the beginning of the film, as he barely escapes a beating). I really demonstrated this by talking about the end, where I feel Johnny is trying to escape his lifestyle but still continues it by leaving Liz after they were supposed to be together (playing on her emotions). This futile escape could be doubly demonstrated by the Johnny’s hyponotic march at the end of the film. To answer your final question: There is a lot to like about this film. It has complex character, is a look at morally problematic characters, it has an atmospheric dark setting with a hypnotic score and realistic cinematography, and the characters speculate big philosophical questions such as meaning/purpose of life and humanity’s evolution. I reject the idea that by missing this aspect of the film I didn’t understand anything about the movie.

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