Monday, September 15, 2014

Nick's Pick: Naked

Film: Naked
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

This is the ninth in a series of monthly reviews suggested by Nick Jobe at YourFace.

I went into Naked with some amount of trepidation. I know this is a film that Nick has a great deal of respect for. Were I a bigger bastard, I would suggest that Nick’s main reason for liking this film is the presence of David Thewlis, who was a major part of the Harry Potter films. In truth, Naked reminds me of a great number of films I’ve seen in the last few years. This is a film that is more or less about nothing. It’s a character study, and the entire thing turns on the performance of the actor in that role. As it happens, in this case that one role is played by Remus Lupin the aforementioned David Thewlis.

I’m not being glib when I suggest that this film is essentially without a plot. Loser Johnny (Thewlis) starts the film in the most unpleasant way possible—the film opens with Johnny in the middle of a sexual assault. This is a theme that will come up multiple times in the film—it’s not the only time that we see him demonstrate his penchant for violent and unpleasant sex. To avoid any potential legal problems with what was, essentially, a rape, Johnny heads off to London to look for his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp). He doesn’t find her right away—instead, he finds Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). The two spend the afternoon having sex, at least until Louise gets back.

Eventually, Johnny gets bored and wanders off into London and has a variety of encounters with people on the lower end of the spectrum—a drunken Scotsman and his wayward girlfriend, a security guard who is guarding a huge empty building, an inebriate who lives across the street from that building, a young waitress, and a man putting up concert posters around the city. Eventually, a gang beats the crap out of him.

Meanwhile, we get a series of short vignettes with a guy who is, in spirit, the same as Johnny save that he evidently has a great deal of money. This is Sebastian Hawks (Greg Cruttwell), who happens to be the landlord of the apartment where Sophie and Louise live. He is equally sexually aggressive as Johnny. After humiliating his masseuse, he shows up at the apartment and sexually abuses Sophie, then hangs around to essentially make fun of everything that’s going on around him, much in the way Johnny does.

Near the end, the owner of the apartment (Claire Skinner) returns from Zimbabwe and finds everyone in her apartment. Everything comes to a head.

Look, I’m going to be blunt here: this is an ugly film, and half an hour from the end I was wishing the whole thing was over. I’ve seen uglier films, of course, but not many that were specifically this mean. This isn’t an angry film or an aggressive film, it’s simply a mean-spirited one that seems content to show the audience a collection of awful people on display as in a museum. Here we have the depraved intellectual poser. Here is the display on the wealthy sociopath.

Johnny is who we spend the most time with, and there is nothing interesting or good about Johnny that warrants spending any time with him. He talks a mile a minute, and sometimes the things he says are interesting or amusing, but there doesn’t seem to be a point with him other than his own self-destruction. In some ways, he is the final result of the base philosophy in Fight Club. Johnny hasn’t merely hit bottom; he’s hit bottom and started drilling. Everywhere he goes, he depends on the kindness of strangers and then does everything he can to irritate, annoy, and belittle the people he is depending on.

And here’s the thing—for the most part, they take it. Eventually, some of them fight back against him, but frequently, Johnny takes conversations to places or says such unrepentantly ugly things with absolutely no consequences to himself. The landlord is really no different. He’s a sadist who evidently has free rein to be a sadist, taking sexual advantage of every woman he comes across. We’re supposed to dislike him, and we do. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to feel sorry for Johnny, but he’s exactly the same person. When he gets the shit kicked out of him, I didn’t feel even a twinge of sympathy.

But it’s not the two men who are the real problem here. It’s Louise and particularly Sophie. Both of them are constantly taken advantage of, Sophie sexually and Louise in every other way. And both of them, while they may rail against their treatment, are essentially passive and simply take it.

I can take an ugly film. I can deal with a film that shows me things that are terrible and people who deserve much better being given the worst things I can think of. But Naked is a film that revels in its own ugliness. There’s no real point to everything we see—it’s just put on display for us to watch.

David Thewlis’s performance is very good, no doubt. But good in the service of what? Showing me that some people suck, others are too passive to change their situation and still others are terrible? That life is a shitstorm and all you can do is cover your head? This isn’t existentialism; it’s nihilism, and there’s nothing interesting about that as a philosophy. It’s just people making each other miserable on purpose. The only hope we have is that the film will eventually end, and eventually, thankfully, it does.

Sorry, Nick. I know you admire this film, particularly for Thewlis, but it’s a miss. You’re 6.5 for 9.

Why to watch Naked: David Thewlis.
Why not to watch: It’s really, really ugly.


  1. Yeah, it's no surprise here. It's a tough film to watch. Aside from the Potter connection, I honestly think Thewlis' performance is one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. The film completely overtakes me in its dialogue/monologues every time I see it. And I have no idea why I like it as much as I do, since it's the exact type of film I usually hate. I think a lot of that has to do with the performance, regardless of the fact it may or may not be in service of anything. There's a lot of dark humor here, too, like with the couple trying to find each other, or the owner of the apartment coming back from Africa and totally flipping out. It is a dark, nihilistic film, but it totally entrances me as a study on this empty shell of a human being full of philosophies that may or may not mean anything whatsoever. They're ravings of a madman, but they're just so fascinating to me.

    Still, I understand not liking it. You took some risks when you chose movies for me to watch. This was my biggest risk with you.

    1. Actually, I get it. It's not unlike the position I find myself in with The Ruling Class, which is mainly interesting because you never know what's going to come out of Peter O'Toole's mouth at any moment.

      It's really the nihilism that's a problem for me. It's an uninteresting philosophy in my opinion, and spending this much time mired in it is ugly.

      I agree that Thewlis is good, even great. But again, a great nihilistic performance is still a nihilistic performance.

  2. I'm with you. I disliked pretty much everything about this movie, except the part where Thewlis' character gets the shit kicked out of him. Not only did I not feel sympathy for him, I enjoyed it quite a bit. And I agree that it's the people around him who irritate me maybe even more than him because they just put up with his shit. (I watched this a few months back because it's on the TSPDT list.)

    1. I've seen your Letterboxd review. We're pretty much of the same mind here.

  3. Don't know if you caught my review(s) of this when Nick challenged me with it at Your Face, but you were kinder than I was. - Nolahn

    1. I'll go read that now. I have a feeling that Nick is used to people not liking this choice of his.