Naked is a harrowing portrait of self-destruction and victimization. It is the story of a drifter named Johnny (David Thewlis) who, fleeing from certain retaliation over a violent tryst, runs away from Manchester to find his ex-girlfriend, Louise (Lynda Steadman). Instead, he meets her roommate, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), an attractive, spaced-out, and unemployed woman, and impresses her with his abrasive wit and sardonic humor. By the time Louise comes home, Sophie has developed an immediate attachment to him. But Johnny is more interested in the conquest than a commitment. The more Sophie tries to love him, the more distant, abusive, and violent he becomes. Feeling smothered by Sophie’s constant attention, he storms out of the apartment and wanders the London streets, finding other lost souls. Mike Leigh’s improvisational approach to filmmaking (a technique used by John Cassavetes to create equally compelling characters) has elicited powerful performances from Thewlis and Cartlidge, who create characters as equally likable as they are pathetic – Johnny: lost, misguided, disillusioned; and Sophie: gullible, perennial victim, starved for affection (the acting is equally inspired in Leigh’s Secrets and Lies). There is an uncomfortable and exceptionally heartbreaking scene where Sophie, after a forced sexual encounter with an unwanted guest, lies in fetal position, visibly convulsing on the floor. Naked is Mike Leigh’s devastating, caustic vision of life without roots, hope… or heart.
The grainy look of the the characters in the film provides a subtle visual manifestation of the theme. Seeing the characters through this perspective, they appear raw and unmasked. Symbolically, they are exposed – emotionally naked – vulnerable. They have, in different respects, fallen out of society, and are in desperate need of validation. Johnny and Sophie are unemployed. The night security guard has a meaningless job. The woman across the building fears the loss of her youth and beauty. As self-assured and confident as they project themselves to be, their brief encounters are all attempts to feel something – anything – to prove that they are still alive. Naked is an unrelenting, deeply disturbing film about the pain of alienation and lost direction.
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