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KINSEY (R) (2004)

Fox Searchlight Features

Official Site

Director: Bill Condon

Producers: Gail Mutrux

Written by: Bill Condon

Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, John Lithgow, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O’Donnell, Timothy Hutton, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, William Sadler


Writer and director of Kinsey, Bill Condon, must be nothing short of clairvoyant to have created a period biopic that resonates so deeply in modernity. Condon’s insights, though, draw an unfortunate parallel between the puritanical ignorance of religious fundamentalists in the 1940s and 1950s and the puritanical ignorance of religious fundamentalists in 2004. Kinsey is an immensely cyclical film that chronicles more than just the life of the nation’s first sexual scientist. It also analyzes the effects of his groundbreaking studies on both personal and countrywide levels, emphasizing the beneficial and damaging aspects of sexual eruditeness and rightfully vilifying those of moral righteousness who, then and now, seek to remove “sex” from the American vocabulary.

Alfred Kinsey (Neeson), born in 1894, grew up under the influence of a chaste father of fire-and-brimstone intensity (Lithgow), whose godly and limiting system of beliefs he quickly came to reject. So, Alfred studied science, and soon found himself teaching a course on insect biology at Indiana University (where he is nicknamed ProK by his students). It was there that he met student Clara McMillen, or “Mac” (Linney), with whom he entered into a hilariously awkward courtship (according to the film, anyway) which culminated in marriage and an equally awkward and unsuccessful bout of post-marital sex for the two virgin lovers.

In their bed, because of his wife’s seemingly impenetrable hymen, Professor Alfred Kinsey’s life took an unexpected, historic turn. Unable to copulate with his wife after many attempts, but blessed with a vigorously scientific mind, Kinsey delves into the sexual records of the day with the hopes of discovering an answer, only to find, with great disgust, that no unbiased or informed sexual studies have been conducted—ever. Even after Mac’s hymen is broken, and the marriage saved—by an elementary sexual physician—Kinsey’s interest in the science of sex and sexual behavior lingers. He soon gains a reputation on the IU campus as an expert in the field, resulting in many visitations by student couples whose clueless sexual queries could today be answered by a 12-year-old. (One girl, for example, thought that babies were born out of women’s navels well into her late teens.) When one student asks Kinsey for scientific proof that there is no direct relation between oral sex and pregnancy, and ProK is embarrassingly unable to supply the student with any, his interest in sex shifts to all-out crusade, leading to a Kinsey-helmed sexual education class (for married students only), the creation of Institute for Sex Research (provided by a grant from the ultra-conservative Rockefeller Foundation), and the publication in 1948 of a book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, that would radically and permanently change the American sexual climate.

Condon’s Kinsey is a work of such vast substance that I must woefully clump all technical and performance achievements into the solitary, simple category of “impeccable” in order to further discuss the ramifications of the tale. Rest easy, though. The film is stunning on all levels, but the sheer breadth and confident audacity of the script eclipses all else. (I could just hug Condon for the work he’s done here.) While perhaps not immediately perceivable (I know it took me a good day or two of mulling over to fully understand the mind-collapsing significance of Kinsey’s work), Kinsey is about a man who almost single-handedly altered the course of an entire country. (To be fair, he was aided by the tireless contributions of his research partners, Clyde Martin, Wardell Pomeroy, and Paul GebhardSarsgaard, O’Donnell, and Hutton, respectively—and, most significantly, by his wife, Mac.) Almost all aspects of sexual prevalence in modern society can be traced back to the publication of Kinsey’s book, for better or worse, and although he would not live to witness the extent to which he would shape the future, Condon and Neeson portray the elder Kinsey as a conflicted man on the verge of understanding what he had loosed. Kinsey, in that regard, is the fascinating examination of genius and the triumphs and perils associated with all-encompassing Edison- or Einstein-like accomplishment that so very few of us will ever know.

Kinsey, more specifically, is about sex: what it is, what it means, and what it does. While the film initially plays off the populace’s ignorance about sex as comedy, there’s a sadness evident in Neeson’s expression each time a student comes to him with an absurd sexual belief and a determined fury carried in his voice when he lectures on intercourse basics (with visual accompaniment) to an exasperated class. Kinsey is, at first, quite self-assured and authoritative about his ability to control the landslide of information which he gathers through one-on-one interviews, but as he discovers that what people assume is being done sexually is not at all a reflection of what is actually being done, his grip on traditional sexual mores is severed and he engages in more sexual experimentation than your typical college-aged contemporary female with the gossamer pretext of better understanding his findings. The absolute inundation of Kinsey’s, his colleagues’, and his loved one’s lives with sex forms unforeseen rifts in their personal relationships and transforms them in often grotesque ways. Kinsey, ever the scientist, internalizes and attempts to distance himself from all emotion related to sex. His research partners devolve into promiscuous and foul-mouthed misanthropes; his wife is initially tortured by his infidelities in the name of science, but soon wanders down her own licentious path. Kinsey’s ultimate sexual revelation, however, one so grievously ignorable (Kinsey used the excuse that it could not be quantified) and yet so crucial, is the relationship between carnal desire and love. And though his findings on the matter are far from conclusive, they do serve as a moving resolution to his internal struggles, and perhaps should be applied by the rest of us on a more routine basis.

During a lecture toward the end of the film, as Kinsey’s book, institute, and reputation are being attacked by fundamentalists and labeled as scathingly immoral, he states that, “The forces of chastity are amassing once again.” This statement is not at all out of place right now, as we toil under a governmental regime focused on espousing “moral values” (whatever those are) and hell-bent on abolishing gay marriages and a woman’s right to an abortion, working to erase progress which Kinsey instigated. Perhaps such influence will bear the fruit of rekindled purity, and once again women will expectantly look toward their navels to witness the majesty of childbirth. Condon’s remarkable film goes to painstaking lengths to exemplify the significance of Kinsey’s work, and is very forthright in relating they joys of informed sex versus the dehumanizing nature of sexual deviancy. What is clear, though, is that America has progressed because of Kinsey’s work, and it is fascinating to observe how (almost frighteningly) far we’ve come since his day. Because of Kinsey, I am not afraid to admit that, after typing the last word of this review, I will proudly mosey on down to the stable and lovingly fellate every stinking horse in sight.

—Nathan Baran

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