Never before have I across a film that encapsulated so many of my jumbled thoughts and questions and presented to me in a coherent manner as Mike Leigh’s Naked. And never did I imagine that I would come across a film that would replicate or at least come close to delivering the staggering experience that I had while watching Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. I know it’s unfair to compare the two films but Naked did exactly what Taxi Driver did and then some. I would like to call it the British equivalent of Taxi Driver but I am going to refrain myself from doing so, as both films, in spite of the fact that they explore similar themes, and feature strikingly similar characters, they are markedly different from each other.
Both films deal with loneliness and are about characters that indulge in excessive self-loathing and self-pity and have more or less concluded that their very existence is a huge mistake and they probably despise their parents for bringing them into this cruel and miserable world. They are self-destructive but not suicidal. But aren’t they both the same thing in a way? Now, let me bring up Taxi Driver once more and then I’ll stop. The only difference here is that Travis Bickle finally finds a purpose which he thinks is meaningful, but one that doesn’t make any sense to others whereas Johnny – the protagonist in Naked – leads a desultory existence. And he somehow ends up meeting others who are as confused and pathetic as he is. The film opens with Johnny’s violent sexual encounter with an unknown woman in a dark alley somewhere in the underbelly of England. He is forced to flee after the woman gets away from him and threatens to notify someone about this.
A stolen car gets him to somewhere in London and he ends up at the home of his former girlfriend. She is living with a female roommate and they share this place with a third roommate who is supposed to be arriving the next week. The first impression we get of Johnny is that he is just another vagrant but he soon reveals himself to be someone who is highly intelligent and capable of holding deep philosophical conversations. The details of his past are vague and not everything is revealed to us as the film progresses. He strikes one as a deeply cynical man but we can’t help but agree with him as we know very well that what he is saying is the bitter truth. I’m sure some of us might have tried to keep such thoughts and questions at bay when they showed up in our own heads but when watching this film, we are forced to confront them. I’ve had asked some of these questions myself in my quiet moments of solitude and I was oddly delighted and shockingly disturbed in equal measures when I finally heard a fictional character blurt all that out.
Forget Fight Club, this is the real deal. The female characters in the film all look as if they are on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and some of them do break down actually. Johnny repeats his experience in the opening scene with some of these women but they seem to gladly accept it rather than reject. They are lonely and somehow finds his presence comforting, even when he tries to hurt them. As Johnny moves from one place to another in the hope of finding a warm place to stay, he comes across various characters on the street, all of them suffering from loneliness in one way or the other. He gets into philosophical discussions with the lonely security guard of a seemingly vacant building and later manages to get himself into the apartments of two lonely women, one of them much older than him. At one point, he engages in a hysterically funny interaction on the street with a dimwit who is busy searching for his lost girlfriend. Humor is also presented to us in the form of a woman who has trouble finishing her sentences. She is the third roommate who shows up towards the end of the film.
There is also a parallel story of another young man with masochistic tendencies and his connection to the story is only revealed to us in the end. In one scene he says, “I am going to commit suicide after I turn 40 because I don’t want to grow old.” Another odd and disillusioned character who is frustrated with his existence, just like Johnny. There is a specific look and color tone that Leigh has adopted for the film and he sticks with it throughout the film. It effectively accentuates the grimness of the harsh and cold world that the characters inhabit. And most of them wear black-colored clothes. I haven’t seen many films of Leigh but of the few that I’ve seen so far, I place this one above all of them. This is hard-hitting and challenging cinema at it’s finest. Even though it’s not an easy film to watch, I’m sure those who have gone through certain life experiences will definitely be able to relate to some aspects of it.