Written and Directed by Bill Condon
Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton
- Running audio commentary by writer/director Condon
- Documentary: “The Kinsey Report: Sex on Film”
- Featurette: Sex Ed at the Kinsey Institute
- Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by Condon
- Gag reel
- Interactive Sex Questionnaire
- Theatrical trailer
Released by: Fox Home Entertainment.
My Advice: Rent it.
[ad#longpost]Alfred Kinsey (Neeson) was a mild-mannered, somewhat geeky biology professor at Indiana University. His research on gall wasps was very thorough but wasn’t going to set the academic world on fire. Because of his own experience and confusion with sex and hearing what some of his students thought they knew about it, Kinsey moves into a new research area. He wants to replace misguided morality and misinformation with rigorous scientific study. So he began a quest to record the sexual histories of Americans of every variety and determine what Americans are doing between the sheets, in the back seat of their cars, and the stalls of their public bathrooms. The process and the results will change not only America but the lives of Kinsey and his wife Clara (Linney) as well.
Biopics are tricky. You have to fit a complicated life into a standard movie length and into a standard linear plot line. By necessity, events get changed, truncated, and removed. It’s important that, despite all of this, the spirit of the person being depicted is shown. And Kinsey does do this, to an extent. I did like how Condon got the movie through Kinsey’s early life by the device of Kinsey’s research associates practicing their interview skills on the professor. I also like how when the movie got its momentum, he didn’t slavishly keep cutting back to the interview. Another technique is the constant visual theme of grids and boxes throughout the movie. This subtle symbolism represents Kinsey’s need to analyze and categorize and get a handle on this most perplexing subject. These touches show genuine craftsmanship, but it is the acting that is the standout in this piece.
Neeson make himself to look like a socially challenged geek with a bow tie and a funny hairdo and Linney even shows a bit of flabbiness that some middle-aged housewives acquire. Neeson really brings across Kinsey’s near desperate need to understand himself and the world around him and his frustration when that world doesn’t act rationally. O’Donnell, Sarsgaard, and Hutton must also be complimented for bringing depth and presence to supporting characters with limited screen time.
Condon does make some missteps. He focused far too much time on Kinsey’s relationship with his conservative minister father. I can appreciate that your parents can have an influence on you, but the movie puts too much emphasis on this. It’s far too Freudian. Conversely, very little attention is placed on Kinsey’s relationship with his kids. During the only scene with them, Kinsey discusses sex frankly with his daughters but his son is uncomfortable and leaves the table. But it’s never shown why the son is upset by the topic of conversation while the daughters don’t seem to mind. That is really the biggest fault of the movie. While the main reasons for Kinsey to go into sex research are explored, other points are given short shrift. I would have been more interested how someone who is visibly uncomfortable at a faculty party dealt with recording the intimate details of thousands of people.
I also felt that Condon missed the main reason as to why people were troubled by Kinsey’s research. Some of it could definitely be put to Puritan prudery, but in my opinion, it’s more basic than that. Man is an egotistical creature and Judeo-Christianity hasn’t discouraged this attitude. So when Galileo came around and said that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, but was simply another planet like Mars or Venus, the Church’s reaction makes some sense. And when Darwin said that mankind isn’t God’s special creation, but made through environmental factors and random chance, you can understand the controversy that caused. And so with Kinsey, who said that sex wasn’t just the sacred duty between man and wife to produce children, but could be and was enjoyed by many people in many different ways–and that this isn’t new. The knowledge that all this fucking is going on around you can be very troubling to people who believe man is essentially a moral creature. Essentially, Condon made a good movie, but he doesn’t dig deep enough to really understand Kinsey or That Beast With Two Backs.
The DVD comes with an extra disc for extras and it’s needed. There are the usual suspects: deleted scenes (though they have director commentary included), a gag reel, and trailers. There a featurette of the Kinsey Institute: we see the small museum where they display a small selection of ancient porn, marriage manuals, and antique sex toys. There is also a sex questionnaire that you can take. It’s not the same as the histories Kinsey and his team gave because the questionnaire is multiple choice, so you have to find the answer that fits the best, not the actual answer. But the best is the documentary of the making of the film. It goes into every detail from trying to get funding to the premiere of the film. What’s cute is that each phase of the film making process is represented by one of the phases of coitus. The six phases are stimulation, lubrication, erection, increased sensitivity, orgasm, and nervous release. And it actually works. For instance, lubrication covers the hunt for money to make the film and the compromises needed to be made. Another nice touch is they ask cast and crew from the questions from the sex survey like “When did you first hear about sex?” and “When did you first experience sex?” While a few make a joke about it, many are quite honest about their experiences. The commentary by Condon covers a lot of the material in the documentary but he manages to put more in. One thing he mentions is that while filming in New York was more expensive, it did give him access to their pool of first class actors.
So while it has its weaknesses, this is still a good portrayal of a man who changed the way we look and talk about sex. Along with the impressive features, Kinsey is worthy of a rental.