Mike Leigh generates the ideas for his films through intense reflections on an original idea that interests him. Through his cerebral process and in corporation with the cast, he fleshes out the characters and the story around the conceptual idea, which brings both filmmaker and cast together into an enlightening experience. Before shooting the film, both Leigh and the cast can identify themselves with the characters to the very essence of their being, which offers a deeper and more meaningful character. Thus, Leigh centers most of his film on himself, as the idea originates within him. This is also the case with Naked.
The title that Leigh applied to his 1993 cerebral mesh of cinematic cynicism does tangibly imply the notion of self-exposure. Even though it might, and does, suggest a physical display of the human anatomy, the title, more accurately, provides an allusion towards the complete revelation of the character, Johnny (David Thewlis), in the film. Naked offers an absolute exposure of Johnny's thoughts, values, and other accumulated information both assimilated and adapted throughout a lifetime. Nothing is too sacred, or secret, in Leigh's film, which viciously displays Johnny's contempt for society as a whole. The contemptuous mood of the film filters through Johnny's personal confessions with strangers and outsiders, which seemingly rests within the highly intelligent, but mutilated mind of Johnny. In a sense, this confessional approach of telling the tale of Johnny, functions almost like a personal purging of Leigh's own implacable characteristics.
A dark and secluded alley strikes the audience's retina in the initial scene. The sporadic light in the alley exposes some of the bare red brick and a little of the dirty cement underneath. The camera shakily and swiftly advances through the narrow alleyway accompanied by the intensifying sound of carnal lust. A rapid succession of frames moves the audience closer to a man and a woman that, at first, seem to express their shameless desires for one another, when suddenly the man turns violent and grabs the woman's throat and wrist. He continues his repeated hip thrusting motion while the woman begins to whimper and begs him to stop. Abruptly, the man ceases his defilement of the woman, which gives the woman an opportunity to escape. This man is Johnny.
From the brief, yet disturbing opening, the audience quickly discovers the dark side of Johnny, as he truly becomes the antihero. Most viewers will deem Johnny after his actions, as a spineless beast without moral fiber that deserves the worst possible punishment. This is a notion that Johnny seems to be highly aware of, as he consequently steals a car and escapes the possible repercussions of social shame and the possibility of severe punishment. However, what trigged Johnny to commit this vile act nourishes the curiosity, as he does have a strong sense of what is right and wrong.
The lengthy cinematic rationalization of Johnny begins when he seeks refuge in London, where an old girlfriend becomes his last opportunity for temporary sanctuary. Antagonistically, Johnny thrusts his hostile and negatively skewed perspective of life on all that enter his existence such as the ex-girlfriend, Louis (Lesley Sharp), her roommate (Katrin Cartlidge), Brian the Nightwatchman (Peter Wight), a Scot with a severe tick problem (Ewen Bremner), and the sadistically misogynic Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell). Everything from childhood trauma with his mother's sinful occupation to religious debates eventually leads into existentialism in regards to predetermined existence exposed by Nostradamus to the big bang theory. Eloquent criticism oozes out of Johnny's spiteful mouth with intentional scornfulness that forms cerebral depositions in regards to the misery humanity faces. All of these lengthy viewpoints should be revered and cherished, as Johnny emerges with a conviction similar to Achilles' faith in his own invulnerability. It gets to the point where Johnny's ridicule of the society becomes intriguingly entertaining while his supreme ego crushes all verbal opposition with articulate and depressing gibberish.
Within the strong conviction of his own intelligence an immediate weakness surfaces in Johnny, as he always sees the glass as half full. One of his strongest and self-supporting comments, "...you might already have had the happiest moment in your whole life and all you got to look forward to is sickness and purgatory." In essence, Johnny's depressing cognitive skills seem to prevent himself from climbing out of the deepest of intellectual pits, as he always pushes himself down with his own negative perspectives while always assimilating newly acquired information to his already pessimistic life philosophy. Johnny is that kind of person that brings darkness and sickness into the existence, which so many attempt to escape with self-help books and expensive shrinks. However, Leigh seems to be painfully aware of this notion, as he exuberantly dives into this project to pull out something extremely dark within himself by exorcizing his own cerebral demons by fully exposing himself.
Naked opens with a despicable scene, an event that most could never see themselves accomplishing. Through this scene, Leigh captures self-hatred through Johnny's existence in darkness, shadows, and an environment from which people strive to escape. Nonetheless, Johnny seeks out these depressive times and places both physically and cerebrally, which the script and mise-en-scene so powerfully displays. David Thewlis' performance is straight-out spectacular, as he embodies physically, intellectually, and spiritually the archetype for gloominess. It is a performance that went under the Oscars radar most likely due to its negative content, but nonetheless, Thewlis mesmerizes, antagonizes, and amuses any viewer in any continent. Lastly, Naked provides a cinematic canvas upon which Leigh freely reveals the darker parts of personal self-reflection, which offers humanity a chance through understanding and deeper contemplation beyond the mere glumness of existence.