A look at the life of Alfred Kinsey, a pioneer in the area of human sexuality research, whose 1948 publication "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" was one of the first recorded works that saw science address sexual behavior.
In the 1970s, a young trans woman, Patrick "Kitten" Braden, comes of age by leaving her Irish town for London, in part to look for her mother and in part because her gender identity is beyond the town's understanding.
Called Prok as an adult (short for Professor Kinsey), Alfred Kinsey has been interested in biology since he was a child growing up in the early twentieth century, despite the criticisms of such being evil nonsense from his overbearing and devoutly Christian father, professor Alfred Seguine Kinsey. Prok goes on to become a biology professor at Indiana University, initially focusing on the study of gall wasps. But those studies in combination with questions from his students, coming to terms with the needs of sex with his own wife, a former student of his named Clara McMillen (who he calls Mac), and what he sees as the gross misinformation on the subject currently within popular belief makes him change his focus to human sexuality. Many of those gross untruths - as he sees them - are that oral sex and masturbation cause a slew of maladies, which are perpetuated by what is presented in the university's hygiene class taught by Professor Thurman Rice. With the approval of faculty head ... Written by
At the end of the film (following the main cast credits), a montage featuring Kinsey Institute footage of the mating habits of various animals is accompanied by "Fever" by Little Willie John. See more »
"We've got a couple of hours before dinner; time for a couple of sex surveys. Who wants to go first?"
This line from KINSEY is a great representation of the movie. It illustrates the film's offhanded sense of humor and shows that the otherwise taboo topic of sex is tossed about in a way that can be seen as being either casually shocking or mundanely trivial. And, logically enough, numerous scenes do happen at the dining table: sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, as played by Liam Neeson, chatters about sexual statistics over family backyard cookouts with his teenaged children, regales guests with graphic details of sexual minutiae at elegant affairs and ultimately ends up becoming a crashing bore at dinner parties as his compulsion to ramble on about all things sexual dominates his every conversation and waking thought.
What begins as a healthy interest and a professional curiosity becomes a tiresome obsession. In a way, Kinsey becomes a sex addict, but in a scholarly, detached sort of way. He's like a sports nut who's neither a player nor a spectator, but loves to collect the memorabilia and obsessively keep track of trivial statistics. He measures his sexual conquests less by the number of his bed partners than by how many people he seduces into answering his probing sex surveys. Research itself becomes a sexual fetish.
A disturbing, or at least revealing, aspect of the film is the implication that Kinsey seemed to blur the line separating the personal and professional in his pursuit of carnal knowledge. There is a scene where Kinsey and his assistant Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard) go to a gay bar to round up people to interview and various men treat his request to answer questions as a joke, assuming that the survey is really a cheesy come on. And they might not be entirely wrong. Watching the film, one gets the feeling that Kinsey had a substantial sexual appetite, both physically and intellectually. The film suggests more than it reveals, but it hints that the lingering concerns over Kinsey's moral and ethical behavior might reflect more than just a germ of suspicion.
Though the film tries to memorialize Kinsey as a social pioneer, it doesn't shy away from (nor does it condemn) his dubious breaches of ethical standards, such as encouraging intramural sexual activities among his staff and their wives. At one point, Kinsey interviews a creepy subject played by William Sadler who has maintained a detailed record of all of the thousands of people he has had sex with (including children) and the implication is clear that he and Kinsey are two sides of the same coin -- both justifying their amoral pursuits in the name of intellectual enrichment.
Throughout the movie all things sexual are treated comically and seriously, trivially and ponderously, casually and obsessively. But only fleetingly is sex treated erotically. The film is graphic about sex, but in a textbook sort of way, not a pornographic way. Even the few sexual scenes involving Kinsey and his wife (Laura Linney) seem designed to illustrate an academic point, coming off as being more like classroom visual aids rather than moments of passion. The film delves into the good doctor's bisexuality, but gingerly treats it with equal reticence. Indeed, though a bit of full frontal nudity is supplied by Sarsgaard, he ends up putting his pajamas on before sharing an intimate kiss with Neeson. Perhaps the film's only moment of real sexual tension comes from two Boy Scouts discussing the sins of self gratification. (And they end up praying!)
The film is mostly all X-rated talk, with only a bit of PG-13 action. And the talk isn't even all that graphic, it just seems that way compared to the traditional -- skittish -- way films always approach the subject. If the film has any point it is that even though we have come a long way in dealing with sexuality, we still haven't gone all that far: political correctness having joined religious piety as a form of censorship. Kinsey worked to bring the most private of all human endeavors into public discourse, not realizing, or caring, that most people would still rather have it continue being -- literally -- private intercourse. As such, KINSEY still carries a certain shock value and the ability to milk much of its humor from its often embarrassingly blunt approach.
And humor may be the film's saving grace. Though, towards the end, the story takes on the usual air of self-importance that plagues most film biographies, writer-director Bill Condon refuses to let the film become too heavy-handed. Some of the humor is a bit obvious, such as picking John Lithgow to play Kinsey's pompous father, a fundamentalist preacher, in a performance that echoes the actor's similar role in FOOTLOOSE. But, for the most part the humor humanize the characters and doesn't present them as crusading icons or symbols of enlightenment. Like most film biographies, the honesty of KINSEY as history is debatable, as are the doctor's contribution to the health and welfare of the society. But as a film, KINSEY is like good sex, a briefly satisfying mix of passion and amusement.
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