Sunday, February 05, 2006

Mike Leigh's Naked

I can finally knock off one film from my dying-to-see list. I saw Mike Leigh's Naked last week and it was even better than what I had expected or read about it -- darker, funnier and far more provocative and affecting. Great acting, brilliant dialogues, fantastic score and most importantly an extremely potent social criticism. It is a thoroughly unsentimental account of people who are desperate and living on the edge of the social mainstream, cast-off as they are by the Darwinian forces of market. These characters just drift into and apart from each other in the city of London, which resembles some infernal landscape. The ties that tied them together are no longer there. The rampant individualism championed by capitalist system during the Thatcher era has torn everything asunder--family, society, state and the result is this frightening Hobbesian anarchy, where people are left "Naked", without protection, completely vulnerable to being preyed by each other.

What I found specially admirable about the film was that Leigh never gets into the self-congratulatory, sentimentalist mode, as perhaps some other director could have, and let his characters "redeem" themselves in the end by showing some act of kindness or love. It is unrelentingly bleak and extremely vicious till the very end. It is as if even a slight amount of hope could have spoiled everything and indeed it would have. He also never gets into the poetic, contemplative or "spiritual" mode and thus allows the audiences to shed tears in the name of such abstractions like "the human condition". Throughout the drama remains at the physical level and result is more of anger than of sad resignation, which is exactly the effect Leigh would have wanted.

In short it's a masterpiece. I will point to a more authoritative and far better written account of the film here. Can't help but quote this line from the article: "it[the film] tries to articulate what is wrong with the society that Mrs Thatcher claims does not exist"!


km said...

For some reason, I thought you were talking about Mike Nichols (a *very* different film-maker, of course)

Never seen a Mike Leigh film before and now I want to see "Naked".

Richard Gibson said...

This is one of his better films. When it came out it was a huge cult hit, my friends and I went back several times to see this and I haven't seen it since.

Good post. You have probably made me want to go back and revisit this.

Alok said...

Richard: I have seen only one other Leigh film, Secrets and Lies and that was long back. I think Leigh softened considerably in his worldview in his later films. This is one of the angriest and grittiest films I have seen! David Thewlis was mind blowing and so was the rest of the supporting cast. I wonder what happened to his career afterwards. And all those dialogues!

Krishna: It is recommended but don't see it on the coming valentines day :)

Richard Gibson said...

Alok: I agree with you, the dialogue is razor sharp and cuts in 'Naked'. I really like 'Life is sweet'and 'Meantime'. 'Secrets and Lies' and some of the recent ones I haven't liked as much as the films he made in 1980's.

Yes, we were all expecting great things of David Thewlis after such a performance (I forget if he wrote some of his own dialogue or not). I noticed he had a part in Mallick's new opus 'The New World' which I liked a lot.

Jabberwock said...

Great, great film. I remember being astonished at how they managed to leave Thewliss out of the Oscar nominations in 1993 - especially since the film had generated a bit of buzz even in the more commercial circles around the year-end.

So Alok, we finally agree on something, huh? Mustn't make a habit of this ;)

Alok said...

Richard: I will try to get my hands around those early Leigh movies, 'Meantime' and 'Life is Sweet'. I have heard about them at other places too.

Jai: I am sure we will find many more things to agree on :) But sure, disagreements are more fun!