Released in 1993 Naked was Mike Leigh’s third film and it forever changed the way that he would be viewed as an artist. His previous films, 1988’s High Hopes and 1990’s Life is Sweet, had been comedies. Naked is a bleak dark comedy, if it is a comedy at all. The film begins with violence and ends long before any of its characters find a sense of resolution. Hate it or love it, Naked will leave you breathless.
The film stars David Thewlis as Johnny, a wondering philosopher that stumbles from one abusive encounter to the next. He spouts poison, bitterness and grief without a hope or desire to find a remedy. Johnny is what ails him. Cure the disease and there is nothing left but a long black coat and a collection of stolen paperback books.
We’re introduced to Johnny via a back alley tryst with woman that quickly turns ugly forcing him to steal a car and flee to London seeking refuge with his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp). Once in London Johnny begins his odyssey through the city’s underbelly by seducing Louise’s flatmate, Sophie (Katrin Cartildge), before setting out to wander the streets alone.
Naked has been accused of being misogynistic and there are most certainly elements, particularly the subplot involving Louise’s landlord Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), that support such an accusation. But, just because a film features misogynistic characters that doesn’t mean that the film itself is misogynistic. Johnny’s violence towards women is not celebrated and Jeremy’s behavior is treated with disgust. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone, particularly the intelligent audiences that would have seen Naked, who aspires to be like Johnny or Jeremy. Yes, Leigh seems to have affection for Johnny. Why else would he center the film on him? But Leigh’s contempt for Jeremy and his upper-class elitism are overwhelmingly clear. Leigh discusses the topic of misogyny directly in both his audio commentary as well as in an interview with Will Self that was recorded for the BBC’s The Art Zone that are included as bonus features. Is it possible that Leigh simply took the violence too far for some audiences? Perhaps, but where exactly would you have him draw the line? You can’t address a topic by avoiding it altogether.
This new Blu-ray release from Criterion looks remarkably better than their previous DVD release (which at the time seemed quite good). Much of the film takes place at night but the image is crisp with a nice amount of natural grain. There is also an increased sense of depth to the image that wasn’t there before. They’ve also changed the cover art (which means some of us will have to hold on to our DVD copies). Bonus features are exactly as before. The audio commentary with Leigh, Cartlidge and Thewlis is quite good (even though Thewlis was recorded separately and edited in). Playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute offers up his feelings on the film (and if anyone knows about being accused of misogamy its LeBute). Also included is the short film The Short and Curlies from 1987 starring Thewlis and is a nice representation of Leigh’s more comedic side.
Other films from Mike Leigh in the Criterion Collection
Topsy-Turvy (1999) Spine #558