Naked ★★★★

What if Johnny is a secular day Jesus? Yes, he's grossly misanthropic and doesn't fit the bill, but he's also a kind of a raving madman whose knowledge of the past, present and future makes him strangely prophetic. The guy has no noticeable super powers, other than he's highly intelligent and seems to know when the world will end, and takes to the streets to warn his fellow man. He also rambles on about human evolution as though he's an emissary for orthodoxy's most daring proposal of theosis ("Because evolution isn't over, Man isn't the be-all and fucking end-all.") 

Is this what it was like during the Meridian of Time from a non-believer's perspective? There's nothing attractive about Johnny, no glory, no qualities we should desire in him. One encounter with him and we think, "This guy is nuts!" and yet he draws the strangest bunch to his corner as he wanders through the dark alleyways of London's marginalized districts, imparting peculiar mutterings to anyone who will give a listening ear. Publicans, sinners, drunkards and runaways orbit in and out of his never-ending rants. He's a disguised prophet living in a deeply secular land. 

Or maybe he's really the devil incarnate hidden in sheep's clothing, an ancient philosopher come back from dead. I kinda got the feeling he'd been roaming the earth since the beginning of time, like Cain or Bigfoot, someone seeking fellow cult-followers to listen to his motormouth prophecies of doom and destruction. He doesn't seem like he belongs to this earth. He just sorta hobbled in from another planet speaking in tongues no one can fully grasp. He's definitely too smart for his own good. And the more I think about him, the more he resembles an anti-Christ without compassion, as if the epitome of tinkling brass and sounding cymbal. In Leigh's universe, someone who leaves this much pain and anguish in his wake can only be the unspoken social conscience of Thatcher's unemployed underclass.

This film is so difficult to watch and yet it's such an absorbing character study, unlike anything I've seen from Leigh. I was also surprised by how strongly nihilistic the tone is, as it doesn't get any darker than this for Leigh in earlier or future work. The way the dialogue flows is also simply dazzling. It's the kind of film you need to revisit a few times just to catch how layered its ideas are. Sharp, witty and deeply existential in nature, NAKED is a literal and metaphorical journey through hell. A bizarre story about a human soul stripped of its spiritual clothing to be kind or civil. Without that clothing, we're all just a bunch of naked misanthropes.


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