Most folks probably know David Thewlis from his fine portrayal of Remus Lupin in the recent most Harry Potter films. However, his arguably best role — and the one that garnered him a “Best Actor” award at the 1993 Cannes festival — is that of Johnny in Mike Leigh’s incendiary Naked.
As Johnny, an itinerant drifter whose cynicism makes him a walking black hole, leaving emotional and spiritual devastation wherever he goes, Thewlis gives what some have called one of the best performances of the ‘90s. There’s no denying that Johnny is a complete and total bastard — when we first meet him, he’s raping a woman in a back alley, and he goes on to ruin the lives of nearly everyone he encounters in the film — and yet it’s impossible to write him off as a villain.
It’s obvious that the man is deeply troubled — some viewers have posited, from his quirky behavior, that it’s possible he’s mentally ill. And for all of the poison and bile in his attacks on the society and mores that surround him, there is also great truth in his words. In my favorite scene, he’s talking with a former girlfriend and in one brief, spiteful speech, sums up all that is wrong with modern society:
Louise: So what happened, were you bored in Manchester?
Johnny: Was I bored? No, I wasn’t fuckin’ bored. I’m never bored. That’s the trouble with everybody — you’re all so bored. You’ve had nature explained to you and you’re bored with it. You’ve had the living body explained to you and you’re bored with it. You’ve had the universe explained to you and you’re bored with it. So now you just want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn’t matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it’s new, as long as it’s new, as long as it flashes and fuckin’ bleeps in forty fuckin’ different colors. So whatever else you can say about me, I’m not fuckin’ bored.
Naked is not an easy film to watch, and not one that I can easily recommend to most folks. But neither does it deserve much of the vilification that it has received (for being misogynistic, for example). And Thewlis’ morally and intellectually complex character — as evidenced by the scene above — is one of the reasons why.