Chris Pine and a banner year for male nudity
There's a spicy "blink and you'll miss it" moment in Outlaw King, the new movie from Hell or High Water's David Mackenzie. The moment occurs about 90 minutes into the new film about the war for Scottish independence, and the "it" is Chris Pine's, well, everything.
The moment really does go by in all the time it takes to snap one's fingers. It happens so fast it probably won't strike you on first viewing, which means you'll need a second viewing, possibly a sixth depending on either your obsessive compulsion or your Pine obsession. Complicating matters is Mackenzie's decision to capture Pine's glory in a medium wide shot; he rises from Loch waters, we see him in his birthday suit, and the rest of Outlaw King goes on with Pine fully clothed and frequently caked either in mud or his enemies' viscera. You may just write off Pine's brief nudity as not worth the fuss, as Mackenzie himself has done.
But 2018 is a year for male nakedness, and watching Pine bare all on screen (even on a Netflix screen, where your mileage will vary) is significant. He's a big movie star, the biggest to get naked in a movie this year: Theatrically, that'd be Steve Lemme in Super Troopers 2, Louis Garrel in Godard Mon Amour, and Linus Roache in Mandy; on home video, that'd be Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in Ken Russell's masterpiece, Women in Love, one of the first mainstream features in which the male leads let it all hang out, their swinging appendages unobscured by the camera or expunged by censors' dictates. Pine is neither a Bates nor a Reed, but he's terrific nonetheless, and recognizable to boot, whether for his roles in Wonder Woman, the recent Star Trek reboots, or others.
So the fact that Pine's at the top of the naked male heap started by Lemme, Garrel, and Roache, none of whom enjoy his cultural cachet, is significant, even as male nudity has, over time, gained more visibility in pop culture, whether on a scale grand or humble. If you keep up with Game of Thrones, you've seen your fair share of protruding peters on television, especially as the series has racked up seasons; and if you watch anything from Shameless to High Maintenance to Westworld to Altered Carbon, you may at this point consider the sight of exposed male genitalia passé, as if somehow the imbalance of flesh that has long haunted visual media has been cured.
Outlaw King perfectly demonstrates that it has not, while simultaneously taking strides to tip the scales. The film covers the events of the First War of Scottish Independence, in which Robert the Bruce (Pine), last seen leading the Scots to freedom at the end of Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning epic William Wallace biopic, rallies his countrymen against the equally sardonic and sadistic king of England, Edward Longshanks (Stephen Dillane), as well as his overcompensating psychopathic son, Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle); this necessarily includes Robert's marriage to Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh), daughter of an esteemed Irish noble, which per Mackenzie's stripped down and pseudo-realist approach necessarily includes consummating their matrimony.
You'd think this is the sequence Mackenzie would choose to reveal Pine in all his glory, but he plays it cheeky, shooting him from behind or from the waist up. Pugh, no stranger to a nude scene per her work in 2017's underappreciated Lady Macbeth, is seen au naturel instead. It's not until much later that Mackenzie scores a win for gender equality, filming Pine as he bathes in chilly Scottish waters, his most loyal friends and supporters lingering by the shore. They're unfazed at the sight of their leader's unsheathed sword. Maybe Mackenzie expects his audience to share their nonchalance. What else is Robert to do? He's fighting a war, out in the fields, deprived of privacy's luxuries, and besides, he has known many of these men forever. Ease is in the scene's atmosphere. "Hey look," the scene says. "A naked man. Cool. Whatever."
Viewers probably won't respond the same way, because there's nothing normal about movie stars displaying their junk. It's rare enough for a guy like Roache to afford us a view of his manhood; forget about a guy like Pine. Of course, we should be nonplussed over representation of the male member in movies, but that sort of representation is uncommon even in 2018, a time where we talk about gender equality in front of and behind the camera without talking about representation of the human body. Culturally, we're inured to seeing the female form naked in film and on television; it's an expectation shaped over decades of dudes being too sheepish to go before the lens in the buff. Actors don't get naked. Actresses do. (With exceptions. There are other examples of male nudity in cinema prior to now than Women in Love; say, The Piano or Forgetting Sarah Marshall.)
Men don't get naked for movies because the movies don't expect them to, which makes Pine's dangle in Outlaw King feel especially revelatory; he doesn't need to do nude scenes because he's that well-established a star, and yet here he is, doing a nude scene (however fleet) anyway. If you're a viewer prone to distraction, you might not even catch it. But it's a valuable gesture that levels the playing field for nudity between genders.
In going leafless, Pine leads by example. He's not shy. Other men shouldn't be either.