‘Kinsey’ makes a movie about sex something more than just a movie about sex

Liam Neeson talks sex with Laura Linney in 'Kinsey'
Liam Neeson talks sex with Laura Linney in ‘Kinsey’

Let’s talk about sex.

Okay, that’s a pretty wide ranging subject. How about we narrow it down a few notches and talk about Kinsey, the biopic of Dr. Alfred Kinsey starring Liam Neeson. The film charts the good doctor’s relationship with his wife, Clara, and how he developed and fought to conduct his study on the sexual practices of human beings.

His study, which spanned the 1940s and into the 1950s, detailed male and female sexual activities, as well as the physical nature of sexual intercourse. No study of its kind had ever been done, with books and theories based largely on societal and religious beliefs and not factual evidence.

For example, before Kinsey, it was often believed that masturbation could cause blindness; oral sex could cause pregnancy; and other equally idiotic notions.

What I find most fascinating about films like Kinseyis how they provide an insight into a period of time. It may seem strange in this day and age to think that the understanding of sexual behavior and practices were so limited, and ruled largely by false rumors. Mind you, there is still a certain level of sexual repression in society today, but clearly not nearly on the same level as it was pre-Kinsey.

As Kinsey portrays it, sex was considered something solely used for procreation. That sexual behavior and thoughts were often seen as perverted and/or sinful. Kinsey helped change this stigmatism, and perhaps helped contribute to the eventual sexual revolution that would come in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The film itself is beautifully told and acted. Neeson delivers one of his best, most honest performances. He is also accompanied by a terrific cast, which includes Laura Linney, who is understated as Kinsey’s free-spirited wife. Peter Sarsgaard, Chris O’Donnell, and Timothy Hutton also do quite well in their supporting roles. John Lithgow offers a terrific dramatic performance as Kinsey’s narrow-minded and verbally abusive father.

Like Kinsey’s approach to studying the sexual behavior of human beings, writer/director Bill Condon remains true and honest about his subject. For better or worse, Kinsey is shown as a dedicated scientist whose very dedication takes a toll on his health. His emotional detachment often leaves him blind to the effect his study has on others, including the members of his research team.

This is ultimately the flaw that I think the film version of Kinsey carries. Throughout he remains determined to understand human sexuality, but refuses to recognize or acknowledge the emotional element that naturally exists. That sex carries with it feelings and emotions that are often unavoidable, as most things are when humans are involved.

Unfortunately, the DVD version of Kinsey that I received is the bare-bones edition, which has no special features other than an audio commentary featuring Condon. There are some interesting little tidbits in the commentary, but it’s a little dry.

In the end, Kinsey was one of the finest biopics I’ve seen in years, offering a sense of honesty and social commentary that didn’t feel preachy or melodramatic.

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