In 1948, Indiana University's Alfred Kinsey changed the way that people looked at sexuality with his study Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. It was an eye opening experience because at that time, the understanding of the nature of sexuality, and of what was 'normal,' was severely limited. Whether or not one believes in the rightness or wrongness of what Kinsey did, it is clear that his book was revolutionary. Kinsey is a standard biopic that does take pains to present him as a flawed man, but writer/director Bill Condon's (Gods and Monsters) politics do peek out more often than not. The real reason to watch is because of the performances by Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Peter Sarsgaard. The three need to evoke subtle, quiet performances that call for emotions like frustration rather than some of the easier feelings to emote like rage and happiness. It's pretty difficult, especially given the Kinsey character, but the three succeed with aplomb.
Kinsey (Neeson, Love Actually, Gangs of New York) was a zoologist by training. He made a name for himself by gathering thousands of gall wasps and noticing that they were all different. It's an extremely dull subject, and it requires a certain type of person to do it. He was not very emotional, and tended to view the world through science. He married one of his students, Clara McMillen (Laura Linney, P.S., Love Actually), because he felt that they were a good match intellectually, not because he loved her. Kinsey grew up under the harsh tutelage of his father (John Lithgow - only seven years older than Neeson, Orange County, Shrek), a religious firebrand who highly disapproved of Kinsey's desire to go into science. The Kinseys, both virgins when they married, discovered they had some problems in the bedroom that they soon fixed. Later, Kinsey found himself the provider of marital advice, and upon researching the issue, he found that students were not being taught adequately. Everything learned was antiquated or outright ridiculous.
As a scientist, this riled him, and he eventually decided to undertake a huge study on the sexual histories of men and women. He would interview people from across the United States to reach his conclusions. He found that there was a chasm between what people did and what people thought others did, and his desire to bring forth the truth became a life consuming passion for him. He was so scientific that he experimented with homosexuality, and encouraged his wife and staff to have open marriages, not out of prurient or perverse desires, but because he wanted to observe and see how this affected his conclusions. It put a great strain on his wife, and on the spouses of some of his assistants. Kinsey was detail-oriented in the extreme; Condon intersperses much of this biography with black-and-white scenes of Neeson drilling his assistants, Clyde Martin (Sarsgaard, Garden State, Shattered Glass), Paul Gebhard (Timothy Hutton, Secret Window, Sunshine State), and Wardell Pomeroy (Chris O'Donnell, 29 Palms, Vertical Limit) on how to appear non-judgmental and sympathetic to the interviewees, a highly ironic concept coming from the likes of Kinsey.
Neeson succeeds because he imbues a grand sense of purpose to Kinsey. Kinsey feels that he is the only person who can do this correctly, and as he loses himself in his work, the toll becomes greater. Linney takes the standard neglected wife role and imbues a sense of melancholy. She loves her husband enough to understand him, but it still is difficult. Kinsey wanted to uncover the truth so badly that he nearly worked himself to death His plan was to publish a companion study on females one year after the male one, then to publish volumes on things like homosexuality. Naturally, this riled everybody, especially his colleagues and funders. Kinsey ignored all of the moral implications and delved ahead. In one scene, he and Pomeroy interview a pedophile. Pomeroy becomes increasingly agitated and uncomfortable, while Kinsey maintains his scientific detachment. He would not allow anything to faze him, and while this singular vision was responsible for his work, it came at the expense of his personal life.
|Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.|
|1 hour, 58 minutes, Rated R for pervasive sexual content, including some graphic images and descriptions.|
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