Kinsey (2004) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for nudity and pervasive sexual content, including some graphic images and descriptions (I'd rate it NC-17)
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O'Donnell, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, Dylan Baker, Julianne Nicholson, William Sadler, John McMartin, Veronica Cartwright, Lynn Redgrave
Director: Bill Condon
Screenplay: Bill Condon
Review published December 28, 2004
Kinsey may not be the most exciting film revolving around sex, with its clinical outlook, reducing the act to a mere biological function, although some will still find controversy within the portrayal of breakthrough sex professor Alfred Kinsey. In fact, even with the nudity and graphicness of the sexual lingo, it's a bit on the dry side as far as biopics go. However, as presented by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), it is competently made, with a standout performance by Liam Neeson (Love Actually, Gangs of New York), and as fine a group of supporting actors as one might hope for with a film budgeted at only $11 million. While his detractors blame Kinsey for much of the looseness of morals that developed in the decades following his published studies, Condon's film seeks to make him somewhat of a hero, as sexual repression and lack of adequate education were responsible for a high number of unhappy and confused people who saw anything but heterosexual intercourse as deviant behavior -- even oral sex was against the law in some parts of the United States at the time.
Kinsey tells of how a zoologist became the nation's premier sex expert, seeing an incredible lack of education as intolerable, led by moral zealots who sought to keep the public feeling puritanical about the act. In the 1940s, Kinsey began a series of interviews covering thousands of people, and came up with astonishing (for the times) figures regarding the sexual practices and tendencies of everyday people, which were completely unknown to a vast majority of the public. Through his studies and literature, people began to see that they were not alone in doing what they are doing, and could feel less shame, as what was once considered abnormal (masturbation, oral sex, etc.) was presented in a way that showed this to be quite normal behavior in most sexually mature human beings. However, pressure from fundamentalist thinkers, as well as reports of his own unorthodox studies (Kinsey and his researchers regularly has sex with their subjects in varying ways, and even included their spouses in the process), led to great resistance to his work, and soon his life's ambition to educate a nation was in doubt.
Even with the competence of the screenwriting, and the aforementioned quality of the acting, there's something missing from Kinsey that keeps it from achieving resonance, especially for a figure who was surrounded by great controversy and hatred by many powerful people in the country. It's almost as if the story has been sanitized to make it palatable -- the kind of film that Kinsey himself might have put out to try to convince the uneducated public that there is no madness to his methods, and that underneath it all, he's really a normal guy. Truth is, Kinsey is anything but normal, so why depict him this way? Most biographical dramas attempt to lionize their subject, but Condon's film tries so very hard to not ruffle too many feathers, getting us to try to accept everything Kinsey has done or said as par for the scientific course.
While it would have been nice to see Condon take a more active stance against the ignorance that drove much of the politics and education of the times, all in all, Kinsey is a well-crafted film that offers a respectful look at a pioneer who changed the lives and attitudes of millions around the world. I suppose it's the biggest irony that, just like a man who saw the most shocking of sexual behavior as little more than data for study, so too does Condon see one of the more controversial figures in 20th century America in a similar fashion -- stripped away of all emotion, showing just incidents and behavior for our analytical perusal.
©2004 Vince Leo