movie film review | chris tookey


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  Kinsey Review
Tookey's Rating
5 /10
Average Rating
7.00 /10
Alfred Kinsey: Liam Neeson , Clara McMillen: Laura Linney
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Directed by: Bill Condon
Written by: Bill Condon

Released: 0
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 118

Intelligent biopic of the controversial scientist.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Kinsey comes across initially like one of those old-fashioned biopics about Galileo or Abraham Lincoln, in which a brave, free spirit triumphs over the constricting orthodoxies of his age. The most predictable aspect of Bill Condon’s film is that it celebrates Kinsey as the bow-tied Che Guevara of sexual liberation.

Alfred Kinsey was the biologist who, way back in 1948, famously uncovered and published the hitherto private sex secrets of America. According to the gung-ho publicity blurb for this biopic, he “lifted the weight of secrecy and shame from a society in which sexual practices were mostly hidden.”

Well, that might have been the prevailing view of Kinsey 40 years ago. A less charitable view nowadays would be that he faked his evidence and prepared the way for the permissiveness of the Sixties, to say nothing of the spread of social irresponsibility and sexually transmitted diseases that have become so depressingly prevalent ever since.

Kinsey grew up as the son of a stern Methodist (John Lithgow), and the film shows the adult Kinsey (Liam Neeson, pictured left) rebelling against an upbringing that preferred rigid pieties to provable, scientific truth. In keeping with this upbeat interpretation, towards the end, when Kinsey is wondering gloomily if his researches have achieved anything worthwhile, Condon produces – like a feminist rabbit out of the hat – Lynn Redgrave as an unnamed woman who thanks Kinsey for showing her that she was not alone in being a lesbian: “You saved my life, sir!”

The movie does not show Kinsey in an altogether flattering light. His attempts to analyse human sexual behaviour without reference to feelings comes across as more than faintly ludicrous, as when he solemnly pronounces “human beings are just bigger gall-wasps”.

Condon allows Kinsey’s wife (immaculately played by the Oscar-nominated Laura Linney, pictured right) to make the telling suggestion that sexual restraints may exist not only in order to stop us having a good time, but in order to prevent us from hurting each other.

Kinsey’s own personal experiments with homosexuality and self-mutilation are touched upon, albeit briefly, as are the distinctly creepy way he selected his male assistants and encouraged them to have sex with each other’s wives “with no intense romantic entanglements”. Reference is even made to his voyeuristic filming of sex sessions in his attic.

But Condon omits Kinsey’s propagandising in favour of, for example, bestiality. In Sexual Behavior in the Human Male he announced his shock at "the degree of abhorrence with which intercourse between the human and animals of other species is viewed by most persons who have not had such experience". There is no mention of the way Kinsey made light of rape, which he described as “easily forgotten”. He joked once that "the difference between rape and a good time depends on whether the girl’s parents were awake when she finally came home."

Kinsey likewise whitewashed paedophilia, claiming in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female that "the current hysteria over sex offenders" was a greater danger to children than the sex offences themselves. He blamed “cultural conditioning” as the only reason a child might be "disturbed at having its genitalia touched, or disturbed at seeing the genitalia of other persons, or disturbed at even more specific sexual contacts." Condon chooses to ignore the accusation that Kinsey himself abused children sexually .

However, Condon does make it clear that Kinsey’s methods were not as ruthlessly scientific as he would have liked to believe. His over-reliance for statistical data on sex offenders, for example, was bound to skew results, suggesting that certain practices and perversions were far more widespread among the American public than any previous or subsequent studies have suggested. And there’s a memorable scene with a paedophile (played with poisonous self-regard by William Sadler) where Kinsey’s studied non-judgmentalism comes close to turning the stomach.

In defence of the film, Liam Neeson gives a fine, complicated performance, capturing Kinsey’s humanity, drive and determination, but also suggesting a man whose upbringing and sexual tastes considerably distorted the objectivity of his research.

In a quiet, non-hectoring way, Condon suggests that sex divorced from feeling and commitment is a good deal more dangerous than Kinsey was able to realise. There’s a final love scene between the elderly Kinsey and his wife in a forest where Kinsey seemingly realises in a dim sort of way that relationships are, in the long run, less about the excitement of sex than about becoming rooted in a caring, nurturing environment.

Kinsey the film bends over backwards to be sympathetic to Kinsey the man, but it’s not the hagiography that I had expected. It’s a thoughtful, well-acted examination of a complex and significant figure. I don’t care for the movie’s attempt to make Kinsey more heroic (and less sleazy) than he really was. Nor can I see it being a hit at the box office, simply because Kinsey’s life was not all that exciting in a conventional sense, and - even with all that whitewashing - he does not come over as the kind of hero that the moviegoing masses would ever root for. But the film does tell his story with more integrity than most biopics, and intelligently exposes the limitations of the permissiveness which followed on from his research.

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