The man who forever changed the way Americans look at sex was a teacher with an interest in gall wasps. Alfred Kinsey is the biologist-turned-sexologist whose groundbreaking 1948 publication, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, sent shockwaves throughout the post-war world. Writer/director Bill Condon, who paid homage to filmmaker James Whale in the exceptional 1998 production, Gods and Monsters, does fine work here, crafting not only a detailed portrait of the Kinseys, but also of the times in which they lived.
Liam Neeson wants to talk about sex in 'Kinsey'
My only complaint about the film is that Condon didn't afford the same nuance to those opposing Kinsey's work. Surely not all of the naysayers were screechy, self-righteous bullies. Then again, maybe they were. God knows that type is flourishing as of late.
But I digress.
Alfred Kinsey (robustly played by Liam Neeson in one of his best performances in years), a Harvard-educated zoologist, was the son of a bully (John Lithgow, revisiting his Footloose territory) who taught engineering and preached at Sunday school. Alfred reacted negatively to his father, as sons often do.
At IU, where he taught biology, Kinsey began seeing one of his students, sure-footed Clara McMillen (Laura Linney, in one more of a long string of outstanding performances), and they soon got married. A very awkward wedding night caused Alfred to note that very little information existed on human sexual behavior and the gall wasp stopped being his prime interest.
And so Kinsey started asking human beings about sex, at length and in great detail. As the project grew, he acquired more researchers, including Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard), Wardell Pomeroy (Chris O'Donnell) and Paul Gebhard (Timothy Hutton) and taught them how to relax their interview subjects in order to get free, full responses to the highly personal questions.
But Alfred Kinsey was not simply a research machine. He took some of the practices he heard about and tried them in his own life. As did Clyde. As did Clara.
Life became more complicated.
When the results of the studies on men were published, the reaction was sensational. People were stunned, outraged, fascinated. His scholarly text was a phenomenal best-seller and Kinsey became famous around the world. A few years later, his book on women came out and all holy hell broke loose.
Watching the beginnings of the sexual revolution unfold, one wonders what would have happened if Kinsey had stayed single. Surely someone else would have approached the subject of sex, but how long would it have taken, and in what form might it have been manifested?
Those expecting the film to be a dry, academic affair should know that this is a rich, surprisingly warm movie with a fair share of laughs. Those fearful that the film would be pornographic should feel free to relax (and perhaps to grow up). While there are sex scenes and sexual images in the movie, the most explicit material is verbal.
Like Kinsey the man, Kinsey the film is the real deal. Blunt but kind, and utterly fascinating, it deserves our respect.