Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) is an entomologist, despite his father's (John Lithgow) wishes. After collecting a million insects, his scientific interest is taken by human sexuality. Kinsey first ignites the debate about human sexuality with his 1948 publication, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, shocking America with the extent of secret sexual activity in a society barely ready for such frankness. The work is the result of a massive series of face to face interviews, many conducted by young research volunteers Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard), Wardell Pomeroy (Chris O'Donnell) and Paul Gebhard (Tomothy Hutton). Always supported by his free thinking wife Clara (Laura Linney), Kinsey becomes a subject of both venom and veneration. By the time he is in the midst of his sequel, the equivalent work on women, Kinsey is attempting to open up society's sexuality in general, and the combination is too explosive; Kinsey's funding dries up. His work seems to have pioneered sexual science - and perhaps something more, too.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A large and complex life is hard to compress into movie length at the best of times, and in the case of Al Kinsey, it's a real challenge, even if you accept the notion that his life was his work. An intelligent man deserves an intelligent biopic, and Bill Condon gives him one, complete with the contradictions of character and peccadillos of personality that make us all unique. Indeed, that was Kinsey's starting point, after collecting a million - that's 1,000,000 - gall wasps, and finding that they were all unique. It's not hard to imagine the jump to the human race or the subsequent realisation that we are all unique not only in looks and personality - but in sexuality, too.
This is still a novel idea to many, but imagine in 1948! In an effort to convey how radical Kinsey's ideas were at the time, Condon confronts us with the images Kinsey used for his lectures. Penis. Vagina. Penis & vagina. Scientific. But even now, his delivery is probably shocking to sections of the community who prefer not to discuss anything sexual. Much of Kinsey's insensitivity to this, his absolute faith in the power of science, was the cause of his finally falling out of favour. It's only when, too late, he is confronted by a real and positive human experience of sexual honesty delivering genuine happiness that he gets the message: emotion and sexuality are inseparable, even when science is present.
Liam Neeson is remarkably convincing and affecting as Kinsey, his natural warmth and humanity a perfect vehicle for a story of a man whose honesty and sincerity were a blinding light - to himself. Laura Linney manages to convey Clara's development alongside Kinsey in a complex characterisation, and the Kinsey 'apostles' (Sarsgaard, O'Donnell, Hutton) who plough through the interviews become crucial pillars of this story.
At times the film feels as if it is dragging out this tumultuous tale, but then it snaps back into its stride and we realise that Condon is seeking context, in order to serve a truth. He neither glorifies Kinsey nor judges him, but he shows us all the facets of this man, good, bad or ugly, and does so in the Kinsey tradition of frank interviews that draw out unexpected revelations: we find there's more to Kinsey than his books.
Review by Louise Keller:
When Alfred Kinsey's Male study exploring the sexual habits and practices of males was published in 1948, its impact was compared to that of the atomic bomb. While times and attitudes may have changed considerably since then, the cutting edge nature of Kinsey's probing and frank revelations about sex remain both startling and relevant. Kinsey's ground breaking research paved the way for the sexual revolution in the 60s; we are drawn into Kinsey's obsessive world as surely as an insect dazzled by the light. Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) approaches this fascinating portrait of a man who tackled topics far ahead of his time in an intensely personal way, but is always careful not to judge.
Sex was never a topic that Kinsey set out to study. His passion as an entomologist was gall wasps, a non-stinging species of insect of which he collected over a million. It was in this research that he discovered that every single gall wasp is unique, a fact he later found to be equally true for 'the human animal.' Kinsey's initial interest in investigating man's bedroom urges 'the human animal' came as a result of his own sexual inexperience and difficulties as a newly-wed. Our interest is immediately triggered on a personal level. When Kinsey and his free-spirited student Clara ('Mac') meet one after class one day, her honesty and directness attract him instantly. Their courtship is clumsy; their wedding night a disaster. But his pragmatic approach to problem-solving not only addressing his immediate personal issues, but shines a light on a vast range of issues that had previously been closeted and never discussed.
From heterosexual monogamy to homosexuality and all the variations in between, Kinsey lives his research, experimenting as he goes. Is sex friction and fun, and what does love have to do with it? While all the elements about sex are measurable - from the size of our sex organs to the volume of semen ejaculated - where love is concerned, what can be measured? And can our sexual activity remain on a separate plane from our emotional attachments? And how do social restraints impact?
Condon addresses all these issues that Kinsey investigates, and in the telling of the narrative, there are more questions than answers. Liam Neeson brings a superbly controlled performance as the scientist who becomes possessed by his research, while Laura Linney offers an appealing equilibrium as his ever-understanding soul-mate. Each of the cast contributes to the mix, and Lynn Redgrave's cameo at the end of the film leaves a lump in your throat.
Kinsey is an enticing and engrossing journey. With its multi-layered, complex subject matter, our interest and curiosity is satisfied as Condon tackles all the issues, yet we always feel as though we have only scratched the surface.
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CAST: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O'Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt
PRODUCER: Gail Mutrux
DIRECTOR: Bill Condon
SCRIPT: Bill Condon
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frederick Elmes ASC
EDITOR: Virginia Katz
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Richard Sherman
RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 13, 2005