by request: invaders from mars (william cameron menzies, 1953)
music friday, 2007 edition

blu-ray series #3: naked (mike leigh, 1993)

(The “Blu-ray Series” is by request from my wife, who said I had to watch all of the Blu-rays on the shelf that I hadn’t gotten around to, before I bought any more.)

About Mike Leigh’s 2010 movie Another Year, I wrote:

I liked this movie quite a lot, about which more in a bit, but I have to hand it to Karina Longworth, who truly hated it, for closing her review by noting, “I haven’t seen a film this year that so openly invited me to revile each and every one of its characters—and I reviewed The Human Centipede.” I found the characters to be human (not centipede). They had their foibles, and there are many uncomfortable scenes in Another Year where people act in socially inappropriate ways. But in most of the cases, we aren’t meant to revile them, but to appreciate the place from which they are coming.

At the time, I hadn’t seen Naked, probably Leigh’s most highly-regarded film. Now that I’ve seen it, I have a better understanding for where Longworth was coming from. I didn’t hate Naked, although I wanted to kick it in the balls at several points. What struck me is that my description of the characters in Another Year (8/10) fit perfectly with how I saw the characters in Naked (uncomfortable scenes of socially inappropriate people), but I found the characters in the latter mostly infuriating. I think Leigh wants us to “appreciate the place from which they are coming” … his vision of post-Thatcher England is unrelentingly depressing. But he works harder in Naked to make us recoil from David Thewlis as Johnny.

Thewlis is as brilliant as advertised, and to the extent Johnny has been beaten down by the system, he elicits sympathy. But Leigh makes sure that Johnny is more than socially inappropriate. His self-loathing is immense, and while I found many of his inspired rants against the world to be incomprehensible, I admired his passion. But the way he externalizes that loathing demonstrates why the film has been criticized for misogyny. Johnny dumps on other men with endless philosophical ramblings. He dumps on women by having violent sex with them. Leigh attempts to show us that Johnny’s not that bad, by including another male character, an upper-middle-class landlord, who is more abusive than Johnny and has the power of his social status behind him. But that doesn’t elevate Johnny, it merely shows us that the upper classes have fewer qualms about their behavior.

As I watched, I felt that my own reactions to Johnny were built into the schematics of the film. I couldn’t accept Johnny because he spoke the uncomfortable truth against power. The more likely truth, in my case, is that I had trouble with Johnny because I recognized myself in his character, which was more than merely uncomfortable for me.

Still, I respect the lengths to which Leigh and Thewlis are willing to take the film’s title at face value, and to go with it all the way. I found the long scene between Johnny and a night watchman to be interminably dull, because I thought Johnny’s philosophy was mostly crap. But the way Johnny is stripped naked in an emotional sense is extreme and disturbing … it, too, goes far beyond merely uncomfortable. Little is done to make Johnny appealing, and there again, I respect what Leigh accomplishes, but it makes Naked a hard film to like. If that’s the point, OK, but ultimately I admired the effort a lot more than I liked the movie, and I can’t just pretend my reaction didn’t exist. So my own rating for Naked will be lower than most people’s, and it should be taken with more than the usual grain of salt. #468 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 6/10.

For a Mike Leigh film that I actually liked, see the afore-mentioned Another Year. I’m a fan of the late Katrin Cartlidge, but she had a habit of turning up in pictures I didn’t like. So, I don’t know, how about the Hughes Brothers’ 2001 Jack the Ripper movie, From Hell. And for a different 1993 movie that I really liked, go with Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. There were times during Naked, in fact, when I thought about Linklater, in particular Slacker and Waking Life. Now that I think of it, Waking Life would be a very good movie companion to Naked, if you like movies with lots of philosophical rambling. (If it isn’t clear, I liked Waking Life a lot more than I liked Naked.)

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