In the Flesh: Good Naked Vs. Bad Naked on Film and TV

alice eve

I’m not a prude, I just want to get that out there right now.

There are films and television series I love in which the characters strip down on a regular basis. However, there’s a lot of nudity out there that leaves me cold and confused. (Probably it leaves the actors involved quite cold as well, but that’s another story). You hear much about “gratuitous” nudity on TV dramas like Game of Thrones and Rome, but one person’s “gratuity” is another person’s “essential character development.” Of course, the characters who are most frequently naked on screen are the young, attractive women. Where is the line, then, between storytelling and exploitation?

When Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) strips down to her bra and undies during a boring exposition scene in Star Trek Into Darkness, I wasn’t so much offended as baffled. Sure, she needed an activity to keep the scene moving while she explained the history of the mysterious torpedoes to Captain Kirk, but did it have to involve him sneaking a peek of her body? She was apparently “changing clothes” to complete the next part of the mission. In the rest of the film, however, the characters swap out outfits off-screen. Somehow, Marcus is the only one who doesn’t get to go back to her quarters to change. A very affable J.J. Abrams appeared on Conan to address the scene, explaining he tried to balance female and male (near-) nudity while acknowledging he may have edited the sequence poorly. He even offered up an “evil shower scene” featuring Benedict Cumberbatc that, although fun, didn’t belong in the movie either. It tells us nothing about Cumberbatch’s character, other than the size of his abs and his hatred of running water.

star trek-kirkWeirdly, there was a far longer bra-and-undies sequence in 2009’s Star Trek that I didn’t mind as much. Kirk is hooking up with Gaia, Uhura’s roommate at Starfleet Academy, when Uhura comes home and begins to change clothes. She figures out that Kirk is hiding under the bed and flips out. That scene, while filled with characters in a state of undress, gives us insight into Kirk (he’s the kind of guy who knows nothing about the girls he hooks up with) and Uhura (she’s that roommate who throws a fit when her roomie brings a guy home). It’s also worth noting that all this takes place during off-duty hours. Part of the appeal of highly structured science fiction universes (like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica) is that everyone has to work together, no matter what they were doing the night before. When characters do hook up (or have sexual tension), it can add complexity to tense situations on the bridge. If a nude scene doesn’t add to character or plot, then it might as well be a Victoria’s Secret ad.

Perhaps no show in the history of television is more eager to get everyone naked than Game of Thrones. Oddly enough, many of the nude scenes from George R.R. Martin’s novels are missing. When we meet Catelyn Stark in the first book, she’s nude in bed with her husband. When Bran discovers Cersei and Jamie Lannister doing their whole twincest thing, they’re naked in the book, but not in the TV scene. Instead, Ros gets naked with Theon Greyjoy, and later with Tyrion Lannister — both scenes that don’t exist in the original book. What’s going on here?

got-theon-rosIn the books, sex and nudity are complicated. Sometimes, being undressed means a character is powerless, as when Sansa has her clothing ripped off before the Iron Throne. Sometimes, characters are able to use their bodies to ensure power: Danaerys frequently describes wearing specific revealing outfits to fit in with new cultures or seduce men from other lands. Either way, it’s rare that Martin writes a truly sexy sex scene. There’s a lot of assault, and even Tyrion’s encounters with prostitutes are measured by descriptions of his horribly brutalized face. No one in Westeros gets soft lighting and smooth jazz.

That’s the difficulty with film. Although we’re obsessed with sex and nudity, it’s rare we see a body on screen that looks flawed, or a sex scene that isn’t intended to titillate. In novels, we can hear a character’s internal monologue as he or she expresses doubt, anxiety, or shame. All those emotions are a part of sex — but they aren’t terribly sexy to think about. If directors and producers can evolve past the need to excite their audiences, and work on telling real stories about human relationships, then perhaps we’ll all get to watch some less exploitative entertainment.

News From Our Partners

Comments

  • anthonybgonzalez

    Carol Marcus is the mother of Kirk’s son in the normal time-line…gotta start that romance somewhere. Typical Kirk to do that, not gratuitous imo, just a portent.

  • http://twitter.com/DoctorDeadpool Christopher Shafer

    I just don’t see the big deal here.

  • BarryTheMuslim

    It’s fun to objectify women, right JJ? Keep up the great work you champion of women’s rights!

  • D swaggy

    You sound like an idiot.

  • Hawk

    I wasn’t a huge fan of that scene, but it was nowhere near the worst; it would have been better if Kirk hadn’t turned around and we’d just seen her changing behind him.

    At least it wasn’t the cliche “woman in very little clothing gets brutally murdered” or a woman being sexually assaulted.

  • Nex

    I haven’t seen the movie so I’m not sure, but from what I’ve read that Cumberbatch shower scene Abram’s mentioned was cut from the movie.

    If so, then he can’t really cite it for balancing portrayels of female and male (near-) nudity. Not if one scene gets cut and the other makes it in.

  • http://badantenna.com/ Bad Antenna

    As anthonyb noted, Carol and Kirk eventually get together, so the scene makes sense in the long run. But I agree that most of the nudity in Game of Thrones is just plain gratuitous. It doesn’t bother me, but it doesn’t bring anything to the series (except maybe adolescent boys which may be what they were going for).

  • http://www.facebook.com/dglassman1 Doug Glassman

    One example of “useful nudity” is Jules getting topless in “The Cabin in the Woods”. It’s actually an essential part of the bad guys’ plot that the tropes of horror movies have to be executed, and that includes gratuitous horror movie nudity.

    Plus, it puts Anna Hutchison in the elite “Power Rangers We’ve Seen Naked” club.

  • ryan cordova

    A portent by definition is gratuitous. Foreshadowing is gratuitous if it doesn’t directly add to the plot, that’s the whole point.

    I know people like boobies, but just because they’re involved in a scene doesn’t mean we need to throw all logic out the window.

  • Kyle Rayner

    I chuckle about that scene a little bit and how truly insignificant it was. Yet there was a lot of emphasis on it in the trailers and TV spots. I’m surprised they didn’t use that as her character poster.

  • more eve

    She has one hell of a body and I’d have liked to see more.

  • Ayeball

    I think it was threre to develop some foundational sexual tension between the two. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that Kirk’s future baby’s mama? I just think it was fine. I don’t get it, people are fine with gore and ultra violence but they lose their collective minds over nudity? I go to the movies to be entertained and escape reality. To see things I don’t normally see on my day to day grind. That includes seeing the exceptionally attractive. lighten up folks!

  • shaunn

    The ST scene was certainly gratuitous, though it was over so quickly it’s hard to take offense. I don’t really think that there is a lot of really gratuitous nudity on GoT. Much of the nudity there is meant to demonstrate different levels of power and much of it involves prostitutes. One point that I will agree with is the idea that we rarely put ugly people on film. This is true even in GoT. In the books, Tyrion is decidedly ugly, a condition made worse when his nose is cut off. In the TV show, Peter Dinklage is a very handsome guy and he still has his nose. Indeed, Margaery even comments on how handsome he is to Sansa and even suggests that the scar makes him even better looking. This is an important dimension of the character that is absent in the series. I would be curious to see if Tyrion’s popularity would be affected if he were truly portrayed as ugly in the TV show.

  • TF_Loki

    I don’t get why people give it a pass because Kirk & Carol are ‘destined to be together’. No, IN ANOTHER UNIVERSE THEY DID. All bets are off now…that was the point of the reboot. And that scene adds nothing to their character dynamic to be honest,,,,

  • Steve

    Well she’s not saying nudity is bad, she’s saying there’s good nudity and bad nudity (it’s right there in the title). Look, I love sci-fi and robots, does that mean I’m going to love Transformers: Dark of the Moon? No! (Bit of a cliche to use Transformers as an example, I know, BUT you get my point). As with anything when dealing with fiction, there is a right and wrong way to portray sex and nudity, it’s either going to be entertaining in some fashion or other, or it isn’t. And that usually depends on how it serves the story or character development. Transformers gets criticized for it’s mindless explosions and action scenes in the same way that this Star Trek scene is being criticized, it is completely pointless.

    The Alice Eve bit stuck out for a lot of people because it was there because they hadn’t had a naked woman in the movie yet. That’s it. Abrams said it was there to balance out the earlier male nudity of Kirk. And that’s no reason to have a naked woman in your story. The scene from the first Star Trek that Anna mentions in her article was certainly also there to titillate, but it works much better because it adds to the characterization of Kirk and Uhura.

    Now if you’re specifically looking for something mindless that’s another thing, and perfectly ok, but by and large people are looking for quality. Empire recently did a feature of gratuitous nudity in sci-fi (http://www.empireonline.com/features/sci-fi-gratuitous-scenes) and it occurred to me that I was much more put off by this scene than the actual nudity in Species, for example, because that movie is all about trashy fun and the nudity is perfectly in keeping with it. Even in less trashy movies like Starship Troopers it seemed to be handled much better. The Alice Eve scene simply didn’t belong in Star Trek, at the very least, not in the way it was done.

  • Art Salmons

    Whenever somebody starts off a 1000 word rant with “I am not a prude”, they’re probably a prude.

  • Red Pepper

    Americans are so uptight about nudity however give them as much violence as they can take and they are happy. No wonder they love their guns so much. Foolish Americans #obama #guncontrol

  • http://twitter.com/JackSaat Jack Saat

    Tyrion is the best character in the complete GoT show thanks to Peter Dinklage! The book writer was there for the casting process and approve him for that role! The nose thing is for budget reasons and not really needed!

  • Mikael

    No one blinked an eye when Scarlet Jo was changing in the back seat of Happy’s car, with him sneaking a peek, in Iron Man 2.

  • Scott

    Felt needless to me. The world has come a long way since the original series portrayed women serving as part of the crew, but there’s still more progress to make. And it’s just disappointing that this incarnation of Star Trek doesn’t seem to realize this.

    I want to see a Star Trek that is about humanity’s progress… and these past couple movies have focused very much on destroying things (e.g., continuity, Vulcan, San Francisco).

  • movieartman

    explain to me what the bloody hell is wrong with Titillation for the sake of titillation in movies? we see movies not just for the story, but for the VISUAL stimulation that seeing a story unfold on screen, and the visual elements that go along with it, why the Hell should titillation not be among them? women are gorgeous and sexy, its not a bad thing to show there beauty on screen for thoose that enjoy such. and no it does not at all reduce them JUST to objects, that is complete bull, i loved alice eve’s sexy scene, but i also still cared plenty about her story, i thought she really brought the emotion in the scenes with the father, and im very interested / hopeful for her role in the further star trek films, the randomness of the scene did not reduce my interest in her character or story in anyway. and it added to the appeal of her also.

  • movieartman

    but why would we WANT to see un attractive bodies in entertainment? what does that add to the film but repulsiveness, and further the shame of our own unperfect bodies. its a fantasy we see fantasies to escape from our bleak sad and boring realities.

    this statement

    “””If directors and producers can evolve past the need to excite their
    audiences, and work on telling real stories about human relationships,
    then perhaps we’ll all get to watch some less exploitative
    entertainment.”””

    THE POINT of film and telling a story is excit and entice the audience with what happens thru the visuals, EVREY type of entertainment is explotative of something we the audience wants to see, wether it be boobs or starships. its the nature of the beast, with out exploiting and giving us what we want to see, there is no point in making the films in the first place.

  • movieartman

    also i would add that i am NOT a judgemental person when it comes to looks and attractiveness, i personally prefer bigger women to thinner women, but im just saying what i know to be the general audiences preference in what they want to see and not.

  • MasonTGanes

    it wasnt out of knowhere persay…. Kirk has a rep of being a womanizer. She knows hes flirting with her. She was toying with him because either A) she was getting revenge for her freind Nurse Chapel. or B) she was into kirk also.

  • MasonTGanes

    In a movie where the enterprise is under water ( heck the entire opening sequence from a story perspective does not make sense) The enterprise underwater was done just to look cool. there is no logical reason for it…. So in a movie like that the scene with Carol actual makes sense from a story perspective:

    Kirk has a rep of being a womanizer. She knows hes flirting with her. She was toying with him because either A) she was getting revenge for her freind Nurse Chapel. or B) she was into kirk also.

  • MasonTGanes

    only total nerds who cant even pay for arse like her OR fat old chicks have a problem at all with that scene……

  • MasonTGanes

    lol you might want to go back and rewatch the original 60s series. Women were ALWAYS portrayed as weaker or submisive to the males.
    Point to an episode where there was ” strong women indipenent of a mans help”….

  • Andrzej Jeziorski

    So, this article objects to ‘Into Darkness’ showing Alice Eve in her underwear and the lead picture is … Alice Eve in her underwear, in all her considerable glory. Oh, but it’s not GRATUITOUS here? We’re making a point ABOUT nudity, so this picture transcends the fact that it’s actually just a hot babe in bra and panties, and becomes educational? Or are we just being completely hypocritical?

    What kills me about this, is that this scene in the picture was not gratuitous at all. In the traditional Trek timeline, Carol Marcus was the mother of David Marcus – Kirk’s son. She has a VERY significant romantic role in Kirk’s life. This movie didn’t have a lot of time to explore that, but Abrams needed to build up some sexual tension between her and Kirk, to show that Kirk is strongly attracted to her. That’s what this scene did. Lightheartedly, in shorthand, but NOT gratuitously.

    And in the end – get over it. It’s a woman in bra and panties, she’s not naked and frankly you see more skin on the beach. Anna can deny all she wants that she’s being a prude. But the truth is that this whole debate arises from both prudishness and hypocrisy.

  • Andrzej Jeziorski

    Foreshadowing is not gratuitous. It hints at future plot development, which is both justified and warranted (in this case, Abrams had to show that Marcus was not just another babe aboard Kirk’s ship, but a woman Kirk was insanely attracted to) and therefore not gratuitous. It may only seem gratuitous to those who don’t get what it is.

  • workinpana

    In every movie there are a few or even a lot of elements, sequences or shots that are gratuitous in narrative terms, but oddly enough it’s only those of sexual nature that seems to bother some people.

    All this fuss about the decidedly gratuitous shot ofAlice Eve is but the usual moral crusade.

  • JozefAL

    Absolutely. What Alice Eve is wearing is no less than what countless Bond women wore in the 60s. It’s also certainly no worse than what the female characters were seen wearing in the early scenes in “Alien.”
    And yes, it does seem a bit hypocritical to be highlighting such an “exploitative” picture while condemning the “exploitation.”

  • Chuck777

    He included a scene where Kirk wakes up in bed with two alien females.

  • Chuck777

    HBO and Showtime both add a lot of nudity to their shows (the Tudors, the Borgias, GoTs, etc). I think it adds a level of risque to their products that helps attract a certain demographic.

  • Chuck777

    You can establish romance without nudity.

  • J

    Lots of great directors, writers, cameramen, actors, etc. got their start in exploitation flicks. Nothing wrong with a little exploitation. Gratuitous T&A is less offensive, in my opinion, than spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make and market a film with a lousy script.

    Also, I don’t really understand the contrast the writer is trying to make. Game of Thrones has plenty of scenes of sex and nudity every bit as gratuitous as Alice Eve’s scene in Star Trek.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Billys-Kingdom/100002933798378 Billy’s Kingdom

    massively overblown. saw the film on saturday thought it would be so much worse than that, all the scene shows is that Kirk is a bit of a perve. The whole point of the movie is to make Kirk seem this way (as with the last one) until he has to do something that matters. It’s a dumb thing for people to get mad over, but really I want this conversation to continue- because the film has taken a lacklustre amount of money, the prequel opened better. ff6 has already made 400 million, and imo is an incredibly moronic film. Im not speaking as a star trek fan, and I loved the movie- so lets keep having this dumb conversation because hopefully it’ll encourage more people to c which imo (man of steel not withstanding) will probably be the best film of the summer.

  • Scott

    There’s always more progress to be made, and the show portrayed what was progress at the time.

  • Manuel Lopez

    Writing about this is ridiculous. And yes you are a prude. The article makes it so.

  • Chuck Findlay

    articles like this make the internet a waste of time

  • Brandon

    You are a prude. I just want to get that out of the way right now.

  • Rob

    This article is three weeks too late. This entire conversation has been gone over again and again by every single other person on the internet that has a blog, twitter or job in entertainment… Maybe you should have written something about how horrible After Earth was, or how surprisingly entertaining Fast and The Furious 6 was?

  • Aaron Wexler

    Foreshadowing, by definition, adds to the plot. Carol Marcus in her undies, however, was not foreshadowing; it was a t & a shot. Save that for the cover of Maxim. The character of Carol Marcus deserves better than that.

  • Alex W

    Yeah that scene was kinda pointless. Still, it’s not like this is the only movie this ever happened in.

  • Tim Grimm

    Come on, she has a beautiful body but how gratuitous was this shot really? It’s not like she was topless. The underwear wasn’t even sexy, just utilitarian. You see much worse on broadcast television.

    The EVIL DEAD remake brought Americans’ up-tightness with nudity front and center for me. In a movie that had graphic scenes of violence such as a woman splitting her own tongue with an electric carving knife, another woman ripping her arm off to get out from under a car, and chainsaws doing to human bodies what chainsaws do, there was zero nudity. Zero. Here’s the problem: gratuitous violence is okay, while the natural beauty of the naked human form is not. Our society is FUCKED!!!

  • West

    I hear you. That body was bangin, though.

  • Sam Robards, Comic Fan

    The Into Darkness scene was gratuitous. ‘Nuff said. Did it destroy the film? No, but it was pretty jarring (to say nothing of unnecessary) to have a shot of Alice Eve posing in her skivvies.

    You know where the “girl changing while the characters deliver exposition” scene was done WELL? The Fifth Element.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.grace.3 Dominick Grace

    Re : who’s nude and who isn’t, on GoT or elsewhere, it’s worth keeping in mind that actors’ contracts are also an issue here. Nudity (or no nudity) is stipulated in contracts–hence, no naked Catelyn Stark, as the actress has a “no nudity” clause.

    Given how amazingly graphic the violence can get even in prime-time network TV these days, though, I’m somewhat surprised that a woman in her underwear (“gratuitously” so or not) can generate such a fuss. Watch the great huge blood splashes every time someone gets shot on, say, Revolution. But a woman in her underwear is exploitative/offensive/gratuitous/whatever? Whatever.

  • bcarter3

    Whenever someone starts a conversation by saying “I’m not a prude, but…”, you know you’re listening to a prude.

    Same way that hearing “I’m not a racist, but…” means you’re listening to a racist.