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.
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 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 Herman ... Written by
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A Politically Pointed Re-Creation of a Past that Could Be Prologue
Just as the focus of "Kinsey" thought he was being objective about a topic that had only been treated subjectively, the film is not an objective bio-pic.
For the first half of the movie, the exquisite production design, costumes and make-up effectively recreate middle America before World War II, as Kinsey's rigid upbringing and equally rigid scientific life as a zoologist are established.
Laura Linney as first his student then his wife adds an earthy and warm element and her excellent acting adds womanliness beyond the script to the movie that is missing otherwise. Their gradual move into teaching and studying sexuality is shown convincingly in contrast to the prigs around them, with, ironically surely, Tim Curry playing his puritanical academic rival.
Accurate details include showing and reading from a popular marriage manual, Theodoor H. van de Velde's "Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique;" when I ran a used book sale at my local synagogue we would get many unread copies donated from now elderly couples who had received it as part of pre-marital rabbinical counseling and it was hilarious how sexist and inaccurate it was.
But writer/director Bill Condon takes considerable interpretive leaps as he moves on to "the inner circle," as T. Coraghessan Boyle terms it in his fictionalized interpretation, when Kinsey hires, trains, works and lives closely with male assistants for his first research project on men.
Peter Sarsgaard is the stand out in the trio, as outstanding as his role in "Shattered Glass" and as all holds barred as in "The Center of the World." But his characterization leans toward a cavalier attitude towards women that is emblematic of this film until literally the last minute. I don't see why his character would be jealous to the point of fisticuffs of the attentions Timothy Hutton's flirtatious assistant would be paying to his wife when he seemed to condescend to marriage only for appearance's sake anyway.
The film dwells on gay men and skips through the research done to produce the second tome on women, pointing out mostly Kinsey's corrective biological information, therefore gliding over how it was the revelations about women that shocked the nation and led to difficult political and other consequences, though Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman had promulgated similar information about women decades earlier (and had been hounded out of the country for their efforts). The Kinsey Institute's FAQ on their Web site point out the active partnership of female research assistants for this work, who simply don't exist in the film. (And the Congressional investigations of foundations in the 1950's didn't just focus on the Rockefeller Foundation's funding of Kinsey, but they haven't yet posted their correctives on their Web site.)
Similarly, as Kinsey is shown taking the leap from taxonomy to adviser as an avatar of the coming sexual revolution, the psychological component of relationships, let alone sex, only comes up once such that Liam Neeson's characterization ultimately seems naive. But Condon is more interested in the political component, as he clearly sees a similar tide of conservative criticism rising across the land again.
One also gets the feeling that someone either read the script or saw a working print of the film and had to gently point out to Condon that women simply get short shrift, so suddenly an extremely poignant coda is added, with Lynn Redgrave as a very moving interviewee on how Kinsey's work affected her life directly.
The aging make-up and cinematography are beautiful in indicating the passage of time, matching seasonal passings and making early discussions seem to have been documented in black and white.
The casting of the many research subjects is wonderfully varied and the New York metropolitan area locations, recognizable only to the cognoscenti, stand in very well for varied cities, academic and sylvan locales.
The closing credits are surrounded by fun period songs and zoological interactions.
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