Challenge Week 15: Naked

I hadn’t heard of this film at all until a few months ago when someone (I don’t even remember who!) was raving about David Thewlis’ performance in it, but it definitely seemed like a difficult watch – I approached it with some trepidation when Chewie recommended it. And while it’s certainly about a great number of people who range from borderline dislikeable to absolutely horrible and features a lot of highly dysfunctional “relationships” among working class (and below) Brits, I found it surprisingly witty, compelling, and even enjoyable, though enjoyable seems like a weird word to use.

David Thewlis’ character Johnny starts the film off raping a woman in an alley, so yeah, that gives you SOME idea of what we’re dealing with. He flees to London and stays with an old girlfriend of his (Louise) and her roommate Sophie, who immediately starts a thing with him. Then there’s a secondary plotline that eventually intersects with the first, about a truly sadistic guy (Jeremy). In the meantime, Johnny leaves the girls’ apartment, spends some nights on the street and hanging out with a bored night watchman, and getting beat up himself for no reason.

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As I said, this sounds like a really rough and depressing watch, and it certainly is difficult at times, but the terrible things that happen are somehow balanced by an incredibly wonderful script that posits Johnny as a sort of fast-talking street philosopher, pulling esoteric references together quickly and cleverly to answer questions like “how did you get here” with an entire explanation of evolution starting with the big bang, describe how barcodes are the Mark of the Beast, and discuss the relevance of Nostradamus in the modern world.

I would never claim that how much I enjoyed listening to Johnny talk offsets the bad things he does, but he captures a kind of intellectual lost boy quality that doesn’t excuse his actions but does manage to make him somewhat sympathetic. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Jeremy is such a wretched excuse for a human being that Johnny does seem ALMOST good in comparison. He starts off with the worst thing he does, and seems to genuinely be trying to behave better toward people, even though he often fails. The movie doesn’t moralize, though, but just lets its characters fumble through their dead-end lives.

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It definitely doesn’t pay to be a woman in the film, as they’re mostly either roughed up by Johnny or raped and humiliated by Jeremy. Some of those scenes I’d hesitate to return to again, but other scenes were incredibly fascinating, both on a visceral and intellectual level. I’ve seen a couple of other Mike Leigh films and knew he was a good writer, but this is on a different level – it’s simultaneously poetic and down to earth and harsh and weirdly lovely.

There’s a LOT more that could be said about this film and probably has been by smarter people than me, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

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Stats and stuff…

1993, UK
written and directed by Mike Leigh
starring David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Greg Crutwell

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Naked entered my chart:

Naked beats Jarhead
Naked beats The Orphanage
Naked loses to Princess and the Warrior
Naked loses to Revanche
Naked loses to Toy Story 2
Naked beats Dead Again
Naked loses to Aladdin
Naked beats The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Naked loses to The Bad and the Beautiful
Naked loses to Young Bess
Naked beats The Roaring Twenties
Naked loses to Hail the Conquering Hero

Final ranking #830 out of 3612 films on my chart (77%)

It is now my #1 Mike Leigh film, my #6 David Thewlis film, my #23 Black Comedy, my #5 Social Problem film, and my #11 film of 1993.

Naked was recommended by Chewie Darsow, a real-life friend. Averaging together this #830 ranking with my #890 ranking of her other film, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, gives Chewie an average ranking of 860.

A few quotes…

[language warning]

Johnny: You ever think you might’ve already lived the happiest day in your fuckin’ life, and all you have left to look forward to is fuckin’ sickness and purgatory?

Johnny: I used to be a werewolf but I’m not right awoooo!

Louise: What are you doing here? You look like shit.
Johnny: Just trying to blend in with the surroundings.

Louise: 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, to fish to fowl, to fowl to frog, to frog to mammal, the mammal to monkey, to 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.

Johnny: Is it everything you hoped it would be?
Louise: Yeah.
Johnny: What did you hope it would be?
[silence]

Louise: So what happened, were you bored in Manchester?
Johnny: Was I bored? No, I wasn’t fuckin’ bored. I’m never bored. That’s the trouble with everybody – you’re all so bored. You’ve had nature explained to you and you’re bored with it, you’ve had the living body explained to you and you’re bored with it, you’ve had the universe explained to you and you’re bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn’t matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it’s new as long as it’s new as long as it flashes and fuckin’ bleeps in forty fuckin’ different colors. So whatever else you can say about me, I’m not fuckin’ bored.
[beat]
Johnny: How’s it all going for you?
Louise:It’s a bit boring, actually.

Johnny: I’ve got an infinite number of places to go, the problem is where to stay.

Johnny: Has nobody not told you, Brian, that you’ve got this kind of gleeful preoccupation with the future? I wouldn’t even mind, but you don’t even have a fuckin’ future, I don’t have a future. Nobody has a future. The party’s over. Take a look around you man, it’s all breaking up. Are you not familiar with the book of Revelations of St. John, the final book of the Bible prophesying the apocalypse?… He forced everyone to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead so that no one shall be able to buy or sell unless he has the mark, which is the name of the beast, or the number of his name, and the number of the beast is 6-6-6… What can such a specific prophecy mean? What is the mark? Well the mark, Brian, is the barcode, the ubiquitous barcode that you’ll find on every bog roll and packet of johnnies and every poxy pork pie, and every fuckin’ barcode is divided into two parts by three markers, and those three markers are always represented by the number 6. 6-6-6! Now what does it say? No one shall be able to buy or sell without that mark. And now what they’re planning to do in order to eradicate all credit card fraud and in order to precipitate a totally cashless society, what they’re planning to do, what they’ve already tested on the American troops, they’re going to subcutaneously laser tattoo that mark onto your right hand, or onto your forehead. They’re going to replace plastic with flesh. Fact! In the same book of Revelations when the seven seals are broken open on the day of judgment and the seven angels blow the trumpets, when the third angel blows her bugle, wormwood will fall from the sky, wormwood will poison a third part of all the waters and a third part of all the land and many many many people will die! Now do you know what the Russian translation for wormwood is?… Chernobyl! Fact. On August the 18th, 1999, the planets of our solar system are gonna line up into the shape of a cross… They’re gonna line up in the signs of Aquarius, Leo, Taurus, and Scorpio, which just happen to correspond to the four beasts of the apocalypse, as mentioned in the book of Daniel, another fuckin’ fact! Do you want me to go on? The end of the world is nigh, Brian, the game is up!
Brian: I don’t believe that. Life can’t just come to a stop.
Johnny: All right, I’m not saying that life will end or the world will end, or the universe will cease to exist. But man will cease to exist! Just like the dinosaurs passed into extinction, the same thing will happen to us! We’re not fuckin’ important! We’re just a crap idea!

Johnny: If God is good, why is there evil in world? […] Good exists in order to be fucked up by evil. […] It doesn’t matter how many past or future existences you have, because they’re all going to be riddled with grief and anguish and sickness and death. You see, Brian, God doesn’t love you. God despises you, so there’s no hope. See, what I’m saying is you can’t make an omelete with a cracking a few eggs, and humanity is just a cracked egg, and the omelete…stinks.

A few more screenshots…

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