Cinema can be broadly categorized into passive or active works. The
former allows you to sit back, miss a good portion of it, involves
nothing trying or novel, and by the end you may be satisfied or amnesic
about the experience. The latter tends to be challenging and
provocative. It can either stretch beyond whatever the boundaries of
cinema happens to be at the time, or perhaps bringing insight to the
viewer about the world they inhabit, or insight about themselves. The
greatest films tend to fall into the latter category, though they tend
to be poorly understood and less watched. An elitist viewpoint would
seem to be required to appreciate the latter, or maybe just a feeling
of boredom towards the former. This thought passed through my mind
after a week of fairly tepid action fare, followed by Mike Leigh’s

Leigh is among the most thoughtful of all filmmakers. His works tend to
be ensemble pieces, with actors who seem quite comfortable in their
skin and live their dialogue. This is understandable, since he gives
his actors the story and the action, and they write their own dialogue
or just ad-lib it when apropo. The end result is an organic work that
is fully aware of human nature and behavior above any issue the film
may address. Vera Drake and Secrets & Lies dealt with abortion and
interracial relationships, respectively, though above these simplistic
plot labels they dealt with the way we interact as families. Naked
deals with a much smaller family, that of the man and woman, and the
little games we play called relationships. The film deftly lays bare
behaviors that are intrinsic to our nature (though we are loathe to
admit it).

The protagonist, one Johnny, is introduced as he his having a bit ay
fun in the alley, literally and figuratively. The woman’s moans of
pleasure abruptly turn to screams of alarm and pain as he decides to
change this from consensual sex to a sexual assault by gripping her
throat and banging that shit like sheet metal in a windstorm. There is
no explanation for why he would, out of the blue, turn a normal
encounter into a rape – perhaps rape falls within the norm as well, or
there is no norm. The viewer is left to their own opinions. Whatever
the impetus, Johnny is no idiot; he is clever, urbane, and spends the
next scene playing with another woman’s head simply because he can. He
senses her desperation (suggested by refreshing nuance), and instead of
going in for the kill, he toys gleefully.

Woman: “Are you her boyfriend, or a mate?”

Johnny: “Primate.”

His ostensible girlfriend enters. “You look like shit.”

Johnny: “Just trying to blend with the surroundings.”

Girlfriend:”So how did you get here?”

Johnny:” Well, basically, there was this little dot, right? And the dot
went bang, and the bang expanded. Energy formed into matter, matter
cooled, matter lived, the amoeba to fish, the fish to fowl, the fowl to
froggy, the froggy to mammal, the mammal to monkey, the monkey to man.
Amo, amas, amat, quid pro quo, memento mori, ad infinitum, sprinkle on
a little bit of grated cheese and leave under the grill till doomsday.

But the dialogue avoids being too clever by half – this is only
character development, and he is just a canny twat. Lots of words and
wordless signals pass between characters, in a way I can ill do justice
to with a description. Rest assured you are in the hands of a masterful
director who has a way with characters. At the end of the day, and at
the end of conversations, hidden meanings, and verbal jabs, you have
people who struggle to make ends meet, and at those ends they remain
very lonely. The human beast is willing to pass the time with lazy
antisocial shits rather than be left in solitude. And on the other side
of that loneliness is the great fun to be had in humiliating someone,
physically, socially, and above all sexually. If you enjoyed Withnail
and I, or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for the weaponry used against
the human soul, you will find this film to be an utter delight, and
infinitely rewatchable. I have to admire the audacity of a film that
dares you to hate its protagonist.

Among the many observations within this inimitable work is that women
love a man willing to dehumanize and humiliate them; that is what makes
men who are ruthless cocksuckers so damned alluring. Before you label
this thought as misogynistic, remember back to your primary or
secondary school years, and who got all the ladies. Women eventually
get turned on to the nice and stable guys, but only when it comes time
to breed, and time to seek someone with financial stability. Since the
high school quarterback is in the dumpster with a needle in his arm,
the chess club geek gets some play. But even at an older age, women
still are attracted to scum. They only request the pretense of caring,
as genuine affection is a repellent of the highest order. After all,
why would a man care about a woman who cares nothing about them self?
The man in love must be an idiot and worthy of scorn. Men are no
different, but are, in general, less tied to relationships anyway, so
this doesn’t matter. Getting back to the allure of humiliation; is
there anything more humiliating or dehumanizing than rape? Some of the
female characters in the movie have sex, and others are raped. The most
enjoyable sex here, though, is sex with someone who hates you and
dehumanizes you. Actual rape goes too far, as there is a loss of
control. So sex that approaches rape that is still under the control
and consent of a woman is the best of all. Are you with me? I doubt it,
because I only pretend to know what I’m talking about. Human behavior
is a complex and fluid thing, and anyone claiming to be an expert is a
pretentious idiot. Even the main character, who is so articulate,
descends into self-parody at times trying to make sense of it all.

Here’s another: the nature of people is to seek boredom. Johnny is an
outlier – he is a hateful misanthrope, and he loves his life, content
with the day to day.

Johnny: “That’s the trouble with everybody, you’re all so bored! You’ve
all had nature explained to you and you’re bored with it, you had the
living body explained to you and you’re bored, you had the universe
explained to you and you’re bored with it. So now all you want is cheap
thrills plenty of them and it doesn’t matter how tawdry or vacuous they
are, as long as they’re new, as long as it’s new, and fucking flashes
and bleeps in forty different colors. Well no matter what else you can
say about me, I’m not bored.” His animated dialogue comes off like a
series of monologues; he is witty, but he has obviously been practicing
these passages in his head.

He’s a romantic, I suppose, but only romantic about the pointlessness
of life. “The resolve is never stronger than the day after the night it
was never weaker.” He certainly isn’t romantic about women. They love
him, but as he knows how detestable he can be, this only makes women
disgusting. His behavior seems random and impulsive, but dig below the
surface, and such behavior becomes as mechanic as just about every
relationship you have ever seen. Johnny bounces from one group of
characters to another, happy to inform people that guilt, pain, and
suffering are legion; he is also happy to drive the point home by
inflicting as many wounds as he is able. In a way, he is our
conscience, to which we are all quite naked anyway.

Other damaged characters fill out this dysfunctional society. Louise is
a nurse who loves Johnny, though she seems likely to cozy up to any
warm body available. Sofie is an insecure woman looking to any
worthless sod for validation, making her an easy victim. Other flotsam
characters pass through the film; a schizophrenic homeless kid off his
medications, looking for his girlfriend, a security guard obsessed with
reincarnation, a poster hanger in a dodgy part of town, and assorted
others. They all work lonely jobs. Though most people feel that the
cure for isolation is company, in this film every encounter turns for
the worse, and any group becomes less than the sum of its parts. And
there is Jeremy, a cunt of a man who lives for rape, and does so with
his smug level set to 11, knowing his wealth will buy him out of any
call to the fuzz. These characters are more structured than those seen
in other Leigh films, but with the misanthropy coating the walls you
can forgive their archetypal nature.

Naked was a controversial film in its time, primarily for its attacks
against societal ideas of morality, and the rather flimsy artifice that
goes with these ideas. This sustained blast against false morality is
one of the most literate you will ever see. Any cushion against
emotional trauma that money could provide has been removed here, as
nearly everyone is a paycheck away from eviction. Leigh has always been
concerned with class, and with those scraping by with their
near-poverty and emotional traumas.

More than anything, Naked is about the penetrating power of loneliness
to strip us bare. This film lives where there is no company, no sound
save an ambient hum, and no voices except your own thoughts. Some odd
thoughts occur to us when alone, and we start to question the nature of
God, or existence, or of ones place with the opposite or same sex. So
these ideas pass through our mind, and mutate with the pressure of time
and solitude. Women age, quite badly, and those lonely thoughts make
them uglier, and desperate for affirmation. Men assert, quite badly,
their importance in their world and to their significant other, when
all they want is also their greatest fear – to be left alone.
Intellectuals pontificate, quite badly, and in the end we decide that
nothing matters anyway, or settle upon the fiction of God to chase away
the echoes in our silent lives.

Additional Commentary by Gideon Fairchild

The way I interpret it (and Mike Leigh’s films are always gloriously open to interpretation), Naked
is a film about the second coming of Christ. He’s Back: And This Time
He Doesn’t Care. Johnny is God’s youngest, underachieving son, and
Jeremy is the devil.

Embued with infinite knowledge and wisdom, but lacking the
inclination to use it for good, Johnny walks the Earth imparting
unwanted and uncomfortable truth out of pure spite, dallying in
pleasures of the flesh but finding them ultimately unsatisfying when
compared with the true joy of destroying whatever love and hope is left
in mortal souls.

Jeremy’s maleficence, though more ambitious, is infinitely more
tawdry: he seeks only to wound, not to poison. His victims (that is,
everyone he comes into contact with) are harmed, but harmed in such a
way that one believes they might learn and, eventually, benefit from
their experience. Jeremy harms people by doing things to them: Johnny
harms people principally by the thoughts he insinuates into their weak
and fallible minds. It is an ability that Jeremy envies, because it is
given unto Satan only to destroy and confuse: he cannot create. Where
Jeremy is only able to destroy hope (always leaving the possibility of
its rebirth), Johnny is able to create despair that brooks no answer.

In defense of this interpretation, I offer the following:

1) Jeremy’s peculiar respect for Johnny’s person. Even when he is
physically thrashing Johnny, Jeremy addresses him in the terms of an
equal. This is equally well accounted for by attributing miogyny to
Jeremy – since all the characters he interacts with other than Johnny
are female – but this fails to account for observations 2 and 3.

2) Jeremy’s use, and Johnny’s tacit acceptance of such use, of the
third person to refer to mankind. I can’t recall the exact quote, and
don’t have the film to hand to check it, but in his big speech to
Johnny that is the character’s apologia pro vita mea he consistently refers to man’s failings as if neither he nor Johnny were included in the set of “mankind”.

3) Johnny’s (in my view otherwise inexplicable) outburst under Jeremy’s
brickbats, “I’m not [my] brother!” His brother is Jesus, and he has no
desire to emulate his brother’s example, nor any idea why anyone ahould
expect him to. He doesn’t want to save us because he has looked at us
and concluded that we’re not worth saving.

About Alex K.

Alex is an actual medical doctor. Really. At a hospital and everything. We dont know what hes doing here, but he writes good reviews.