For the last couple weeks, Carey Mulligan was making the rounds to help publicize her soon-to-be-released film "Shame" before heading off to Australia to work on Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby." In the NC-17 "Shame," directed by Steve McQueen, Mulligan plays the younger sister of a man (Michael Fassbender) with a crippling sex addiction, which seems to be the result of some shared trauma between them. In one particular scene, which audiences seem to respond to as equal parts disturbing and disarming, he discovers her in his apartment using his shower. Her bold refusal to cover up as he talks to her is a signature point in the film.
A few weeks back when Elizabeth Olsen was in Los Angeles for a whirlwind promotional tour for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," the 22-year-old perked up when a conversation turned to the 26-year-old Mulligan. (It should perhaps be noted that both "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame" are being distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.)
"I've loved the movies Carey Mulligan has been in in the last year and a half or two years," said Olsen. "She's made cool choices, especially this year with 'Drive' and 'Shame.' That's amazing. Those are two movies it would be great to be a part of. I saw 'Shame' at the [New York Film] Festival. I did like 'Shame.' My personal taste, it's a little too graphic for me. I understand why all of it was there, but..."
Her response naturally (honest!) brought up the issue of Olsen's own offhanded nudity in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." In the film, written and directed by Sean Durkin, Olsen plays a young woman who is in the first stages of regaining her identity after fleeing from a cult. Certain societal norms seem for the moment beyond her, such as when she curls up on the corner of a darkened bed where her sister and brother-in-law are making love, or the way she casually shucks her clothes to skinny-dip in a lake, or unabashedly changes into a dress right in front of her sister.
Whether these high-profile actresses baring themselves marks a shift in the attitudes of young performers to nudity in the movies remains to be seen. Perhaps things are swinging back the other way from the modesty of the past few years, itself a response to the era of ubiquitous screen-capture infamy, when a moment from a film can be decontextualized to its basest, barest essentials and live forever on the Internet. While the bra-in-bed sex scene has become an accepted norm for audiences, are these few performances pointing the way to a new candor?