movie film review | chris tookey


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  Kinsey Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
7.05 /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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The Christian Right in America expressed outrage about Kinsey – mostly, I suspect, without actually seeing the movie. It 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 also prepared the way for the permissiveness of the Sixties, and 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 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!”

Where the movie is less predictable is that it 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.

Condon doesn’t go along with some of the wilder accusations levelled at Kinsey – such as that he abused children sexually – but Condon does makes it clear that Kinsey’s methods were not as ruthlessly scientific as he would have liked to believe. His over-reliance for data on sex offenders, for example, almost certainly skewed results, suggesting that certain practices and perversions were far more widespread among the American public than 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 keeping with this attempt at a balanced interpretation, 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 his 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 is sympathetic to Kinsey the man, but certainly not the hagiography that I had expected. It’s a thoughtful, well-acted examination of a complex and significant figure. I can’t see it being a hit at the box office, simply because Kinsey’s life was not all that exciting in a conventional sense, and he does not come over as the kind of unequivocal 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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