danielm’s review published on Letterboxd:
Naked is the perfect specimen of a film where the sum equals the parts. That may sound easy to do, but I've never seen a film do it better than this one does. When I say that, I don't mean that it's exactly as good as the camera work, the script, the acting, directing and so forth lead to. I mean that every aspect of this film perfectly reflects the character and the world he sees.
The camera work is fairly straightforward and stays pretty much out of the way. It's involved enough to create the sense of motion in the dialogue or pacing of the mind of the character but without ever being distracting. Thewlis, for his part, plays one of those terribly difficult roles where he must carry the entire film on his shoulders. Because this is as much a character study as anything else, there is nothing else for the film to lean on if he gets flimsy or builds distance between himself and the character. Fortunately, he doesn't. He seems to travel so far into the character than you have to wonder a little about how difficult it was to crawl out of once the filming was over. In the end, you have a performance that deserves to be talked about in the upper echelons of what can be done with a performance, especially when the character/actor doesn't have any background color to fall back on.
The entire film is largely a portrait of a man who sees the world a certain way and everything about the way he lives becomes the inevitable result of the way he thinks. It's interesting to note that the character doesn't seem to make that connection, instead preferring to think that he sees the world as it is.
One could argue that no other film more perfectly illustrates Anais Nin's old gem that "we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are" and it would be hard to prove them wrong. Don't get me wrong, the way he thinks isn't the problem. He's clearly an intelligent character, but like everything else in his life, he takes everything to the beginning of something then turns it off and charges in a new direction. His total lack of commitment stretches into every aspect of him, even the way he thinks.
The best example of this may be when he's talking to the security guard about the "present moment". We see him make a very basic but very profound insight into the experience of being alive, but he doesn't take it anywhere. It just becomes an errant thought that he lets float away without considering what it means. He becomes like a caveman who discovers he can make fire with flint and steel only to drop them both on the ground and wander off never giving them another thought. In the meantime, he cannot stop shivering from the cold. But Johnny, like the hypothetical caveman, never draws a connection between the two.
Johnny's world is dark and bleak but ultimately, it is that way because it's the world he's made for himself. He sputters from thought to thought and only grazes the surface of an idea in the same way that he approaches his relationships, where he's been and where he's going. He's utterly terrified of stillness.
He flips casually between careful insight (the beginnings of them) and the total absence of rationality the way most people change clothes. It's truly a thing to behold. To leap from considering what it means to be in the middle of everything, insignificant, and meaningless to spouting about Nostradamus and The Book of Revelation shows us a turn in mind from penetrating analysis to king of the tinfoil hats. He might as well be raving about the Mayan Calendar. And yet, it all feels fluid. You can really see how he makes these leaps, how, in some ways, we all do. He becomes a portrait of cognitive dissonance with every motion he makes toward insight.
To say that the film is thought-provoking is an understatement of huge proportions, but I can't quite tell if it's for the reasons the filmmaker intended. Is it thoughtful because Mike Leigh was writing and directing a character with these aims or is it in spite of the character he wrote? Are we dealing with accidental profundity or a genuine brand of meta-filmmaking that requires several steps back to fully grasp?
I'm not sure the difference matters. What you end up with is a dark little think-piece on who and why people are who they are with some wonderful philosophical questions that are set out to dangle from the clothesline.
A criminally under-seen classic.