Tuesday, 16 August 2011

When the film is better than my review - Naked (1993)

This is a film like no other in its examination of people’s lives under the hard, steely and unforgiving shadow of post-Thatcherite Great Britain. Originally made for television, director Mike Leigh is unrelenting in his savage portrayal of lives undone by a combination of poverty and indifference. The characters attempt unsuccessfully to make sense of their pitiless environment in a depressed and emotionally bankrupt London landscape, bereft of any kind of refuge or redemption. Our hero, Johnny, is seen in the first minutes of the film, having what does not appear to be consensual relations, in a depressed area of Manchester. He flees to London and back into the life of his former girlfriend (Lesley Sharp). What follows are a series of funny, horrifying and depressing encounters which end as abruptly as they have started. People appear to be at the end of their tether, lacking any connection with their fellows and falling by the wayside into an unbelievable hole of poverty and squalor which Charles Dickens would be ashamed to reiterate. The film takes place mostly during a very long, dark night as Johnny is forced by circumstance to face the disappointments of his life and somehow use his exceptional intelligence to deal with them. 

The look of the film, a hellish foreground in which the characters swarm around like lackadaisical insects in their vain attempt to stay alive, is what haunts the memory. The cinematography is as stark as anything in ‘Taxi Driver’ as we are reminded of a terrible inferno in which the characters play a minor part, made insignificant by the hellish surroundings that appear to engulf them. This journey of darkness into the character’s souls and the literal darkness of the film is an obvious metaphor that need not be laboured. 

As played by David Thewlis, Johnny is a foul mouthed Mancusian, angry beyond measure, but doomed by neglect from his betters. A not-so-common man in the throes of a bitter hatred toward the status quo, which he expresses in a number of brilliantly written and acted monologues, Johnny appears to have either lost, or abandoned his ambitions. David Thewlis gives a tour de force performance in what I believe in future will become a classic of English drama (if it isn't already). The film would not be the same without its impeccable soundtrack of cello and harp, part of a haunting theme that resonates from start to finish, composed by Andrew Dickson. 

“Naked’ is an unforgettable snapshot of England at its foulest and most soul destroying. It’s a portrait unfortunately destined for posterity, along with a narrative and characterisations that tattoo themselves into your brain so that you will never forget them – for at least as long as you live. 

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