Lots of tongues wagging this week about how Viggo Mortensen‘s naked knife fight in Eastern Promises heralds a new era of male full-frontal nudity on screen. (Exhibits B through D: Emile Hirsch’s nude scene in Into the Wild; Ang Lee’s NC-17-rated Lust, Caution, and over on HBO, that casually explicit handjob on Tell Me You Love Me.) But before you get too excited about this rising trend, remember that we hear similar talk every few years. Back in the early ’90s, indie dramas were showing us every inch of Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis, Jaye Davidson, and Harvey Keitel again. At the end of the decade, we were seeing a lot of Ewan McGregor, Kevin Bacon, and (in prosthetic form) Mark Wahlberg. Each time, however, the trend would deflate after a few movies, and there would be no penis talk for a long while.
Why the up-and-down cycles? It’s not the actors; every time I’ve interviewed an actor and the subject of full-frontal has popped up, they’ve all said they’d be willing if the script demanded it. So either the filmmakers are squeamish, or audiences are. (Or both.) It could be that we’re conditioned (by four decades of female nudity in mainstream films, not to mention the entire history of Western art) to view female nudity as beautiful and erotic and male nudity as awkward and ridiculous. (See Borat.) Will we become more comfortable watching actors go commando if filmmakers make it more commonplace? Are you eager, PopWatchers, to see your favorite actors in the altogether, or would you just as soon have them keep their packages wrapped?