Three new films feature nude scenes with three young actresses not thought of as bombshells or sex symbols. Kristen Stewart shows a bit of PG-13-rated skin in the latest”Twilight” movie, but in the R-rated “Melancholia” and the NC-17-rated “Shame” Kirsten Dunst and Carey Mulligan show full frontal nudity. The scenes where they appear naked are not intended to be erotic but to make a statement about character and the storyline. On Reel Women, critic Thelma Adams and some of her female colleagues discuss the meaning of nude scenes in the context of the films and as a career move. Adams is perceptive and insightful:
Why does Mulligan, an Oscar nominee for An Education, feel compelled to take it off, all off? Partially, it would seem, to shed that chilly BBC debutante image: Look, it’s a Bennet sister out of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice without the empire-waist period gown to hide behind!
But nudity is only brave, really brave, in context. There has to be a characterization that stands or falls, has a reason for being, outside of the nudity….
Revealing nudity, or concealing it, works best if it’s integral to the story. Nothing seems faker than a moment of soft-lit Playboy nudity in an otherwise gritty, realistic movie. Nakedness should peel back pretense, not encourage it. And it shouldn’t throw the audience, gaping, out of the narrative. That’s the case for both Dunst and Stewart in their respective films, but not for Mulligan.