No such thing as normal 

A review of Kinsey

click to enlarge Liam Neeson as Professor Kinsey and Laura Linney in the - scientific sexual behavior film Kinsey.
  • Liam Neeson as Professor Kinsey and Laura Linney in the scientific sexual behavior film Kinsey.

*Kinsey (R)
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Director Bill Condon's candid look into the life of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey promises to renew public discourse about how we view sexuality. Condon (Gods And Monsters) retraces the steps of entomologist/biology professor Kinsey (perfectly played by Liam Neeson) as he leads a small group of researchers on an ambitious quest to catalog the sexual interaction of thousands of American men for his scientific report Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Kinsey's realization that there is no such thing as "normal" in sexuality is supported in his own wandering sexual habits that threaten to ruin his marriage. Fine performances by Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton and Lynn Redgrave make this a must-see movie with Oscar nominations written all over it.

The idea that what people really do sexually is different from what they say they do was both a personal boon and a scarlet letter for an Indiana zoologist whose study of gall wasps led him to compare the sexual behavior of men (published in 1948) and of women (1953). Kinsey's honest and frank discoveries about men's sex habits in his book on sexual behavior provided food for thought for a postwar America anxious to celebrate sex. But by the time Kinsey published his study of women in 1953, the country was choked by the stranglehold of McCarthyism, and Kinsey became a target for the witch hunt that ended his career; he soon died from a heart attack in 1956. Kinsey's statistic that two-thirds of American women masturbate was considered culturally threatening information by the government at the time.

It's paradoxical to see in Kinsey that America's confined social mores and sexual ignorance have remained stagnant even since Kinsey blew the doors off the barn with his studies. As we watch Kinsey grow from being a repressed college professor to a husband with a hearty sexual appetite that extends to his research associate Clyde Martin (Sarsgaard), there is a subtext of honest curiosity and a belief in the power of information to liberate that elevates the story. It's this message of freedom bound by honesty that Condon seamlessly develops, as when Kinsey confesses to his wife his affair with another man.

Linney plays Kinsey's wife Clara McMillen with a measured confidence and humanity that gives intimate context to her husband's complex and manipulative nature. We learn more about Kinsey as a person from the elements that attract and offend Clara than from any of the research or speaking activities we see him engaged in. Clara's buoyant sense of humor and passionate lust offhandedly endorse Kinsey's dedication to his work just as her disturbance at his homosexual adultery shoots daggers at his behavior. In one of the film's more comical scenes, Clara keeps a jealous and impatient Kinsey pacing the floor while she fulfills her own sexual attraction with Clyde.

Condon presents controversial aspects of Kinsey's research methods that have been severely denounced by critics over the years. There's no blushing about Kinsey's filming of sexual activities, for which Kinsey's staff copulated with research volunteers, or about Kinsey's profound interest in even the most aberrant subjects. When Kinsey and his assistant Wardell Pomeroy (Chris O'Donnell) survey an admitted pedophile (brilliantly played by William Sadler) in the privacy of a hotel room, only Kinsey has the stomach to complete his list of questions that incite the most disgusting answers.

Kinsey is itself a sex education movie that uses historical fact and personal stories to articulate things that statistics can't reveal, like the uniqueness of every individual's imagination. Kinsey is presented as a hero of scientific study who put his entire being into his work in order to provide answers about sexual behavior to a largely ignorant society. But Kinsey is also a humble movie about a group of "normal" people caught up in the excitement of living life to the fullest. Sex is an essential component.

-- Cole Smithey

Showing at Kimball's Twin Peak starting Christmas Day

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