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Nudity in cinema: Benedict bares a bit

Benedict Cumberbatch has been an audio-visual treat, from top to bottom.

December 04, 2021 / 09:22 AM IST
Benedict Cumberbatch has starred in series and films like 'Sherlock',  'The Imitation Game', 'Doctor Strange', 'The Courier' and now 'The Power of the Dog'. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Benedict Cumberbatch has starred in series and films like 'Sherlock', 'The Imitation Game', 'Doctor Strange', 'The Courier' and now 'The Power of the Dog'. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Benedict Cumberbatch is back, and how. Here he is in The Power of the Dog, a new Netflix flick, shirtless at times, running amok nude, with a full-frontal scene that has the pause button on the remote press itself. For all the Cumberbitches out there – about whom he once said in his Cumberbatchy way: ‘Oh, it’s very flattering, but I just wish they’d call themselves something more respectable like Cumberhumans’ – this is more of him they can handle.

From his early Sherlock days, when he was sprung on us with such wit and elan, to The Imitation Game, where he leached all our sympathy for his secretive sexuality, from being Doctor Strange who goes on inter-galactic trips to a Grinch who hates Christmas, Benedict has been an audio-visual treat top to bottom. And now his top and bottom get their due – as if therein too he is trying to right the sexism of nudity being traditionally female.

This new film of his, which perhaps takes his private angst from The Imitation Game to a new level, is all about an artist going all out for his art. Unlike say a Tom Cruise who is stuck in a cinematic traffic jam of sorts as a result of a carefully but boringly curated career, Ben has a yen for the unusual, his curiosity in turn infecting us.

The story itself, addressing as it does repressed sexuality and a necessary but tragic amount of lying about the self in societies that cling to their hypocrisies, ups the game. Then he comes in, swagger and all. And then the swagger is explained and hearts are broken. He also lets a younger actor, Kodi Smit-McPhee, walk away with the larger applause, displaying a self-assured generosity in hero-dom. Directed by Jane Campion, he gets full marks for trusting a female director’s intuition on masculinity. He castrates bulls, he plays the banjo. This is how real men should be – finding and fixing the gaps in gender understandings.

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Not even Benedict’s confession about not showering so as to get into the character of the cowboy he plays in his new film, Phil Burbank, can deter his addicts. An unwashed Benedict still trumps pricy aftershaves on other men any day. And though he may say, ‘I had a biohazard zone around me. It was not a good time to cuddle up to Cumberbatch and take a selfie,’ his fans only laughed at this little bit of olfactory misunderstanding. His clothes were left unlaundered by the costume department and the weather was not conducive to keeping them fresh, but Benedict just shrugged into his cowboy gear day after day with only authenticity in mind. As an audience, it is hard not to take that personally.

At 45, this is one actor who makes the planet a better place. He will do anything to distract his fans from this damned eternity of Covid, even strip. Cumbersome it may be to other actors to reinvent their craft constantly, but to Cumberbatch it is just a spot of Cumberbatchism.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.

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