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Kinsey

2004

R

KINSEY is a portrait of researcher Alfred Kinsey, driven to uncover the most private secrets of a nation. What begins for Kinsey as a scientific endeavor soon takes on an intensely personal relevance, ultimately becoming an unexpected journey into the mystery of human behavior.

Starring:
Liam Neeson, Laura Linney
Runtime:
1 hour, 58 minutes

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By Mr. Joe TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 3, 2004
KINSEY is the story of Alfred Kinsey, here played by Liam Neeson, the author of "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" (1948) and "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" (1953), both of which raised, um, eyebrows.

As the film succinctly shows, Alfred, the son of a puritanical minister that went so far as to rail against zippers for giving idle hands easy access to occasions for sin, grew up to be a zoologist whose obsession with collecting and studying the gall wasp gained him a measure of obscurity. However, after marrying Clara McMillen (Laura Linney), with whom he achieved sexual liberation after sorting out a few physical impediments with the help of a knowledgeable physician, Kinsey achieved local notoriety at Indiana University by teaching an enlightened and graphic sex education course for students and staff. It was there that he first utilized questionnaires to elicit personal sexual histories, the methodology, administered by trained interviewers, that he later used in the thousands across the nation to build the database for his two books. In KINSEY, we also see depicted the Kinsey couple's unconventional sexual relationship, as well as those of Alfred's cadre of interviewers and their wives. Hugh Hefner would've been proud to have the investigative team over to his mansion for a frolic.

Insofar as it goes, KINSEY appears to give a reasonably accurate summary of the sex researcher's bio. I base this conclusion on my own sketchy knowledge of the subject, hastily gleaned from a website. The film does skip over a couple of minor points. It doesn't share that Alfred was an atheist who thought Judeo-Christian sexual ethics repressive.
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Format: DVD
I was prepared to have my negative feelings about Kinsey confirmed in this movie. I'd heard that he took a cold accounting approach to his sex studies, that he had basically been a taxonomist/entomologist who had transferred his skills at categorizing and dissecting insects (specifically gall wasps) to tallying human behavior. But this movie introduced me to someone a lot more sympathetic, innocent, and complicated than that. It introduced me to someone never quite in on the joke.

The film does inform viewers about Kinsey's working methods and the dynamics of his relationship with the graduate students he recruited to help with the burgeoning workload as he sought to interview a huge cross-section of the American population about their sexual habits and preferences. It shows how he attempted to train his associates in impassive objectivity, so as not to frighten any of their interview subjects into falsifications.

I would like to have learned more about how Kinsey translated the sometimes almost stream-of-consciousness reflections he elicited from study subjects (including one particularly repulsive, absolutely unrepentant pedophile) - into the crisp numeric tallies on his sheets of paper. But perhaps such details of his study are best left to documentaries about his life.

This movie wasn't meant to be a documentary. It was meant to provide some emotional insight into the man himself. The heart of the movie is his relationship with his wife, and the heart of that relationship is Laura Linney's portrayal of Clara. They had an unconventional romance from the start. One of the most touching scenes shows Kinsey celebrating Clara by giving her a clumpy pair of walking shoes. She greets these with sincere pleasure.
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Prior to watching this film, I was only nominally familiar with Alfred Kinsey and his life's work. Now, having seen it, KINSEY provides an interesting look at a man who devoted his life's work to probing the depths of human sexuality. Although Kinsey started his career as a zoologist who studied gall wasps, he later discovered that people provided just as interesting a field of study. The film, although it does cover some of his early life, is primarily focused on the landmark sex study that he began in the late 1940's. One thing that surprised me was just how funny the film was at times, but there just as many moments that struck an poignant emotional chord as well. And of course, Liam Neeson kills it as Alfred Kinsey. This is probably the best role I've ever seen him in. And Laura Linney does just as well playing his wife. Another great aspect of the film is the writing, which was tight, smart and had great attention to character. I also liked how it put America's hangups with sexuality right out front for all to see just how ridiculously prude we can be, just like Kinsey did with his study. It might be a little sad, but there is still a significant cross-section of Americans that remain set in their ways. Maybe someone should show them this film and see if they have a change of heart. Ultimately, though, the film is most effective as a biopic, and a thoroughly engrossing one at that. If you're looking for a biopic on a lesser-known subject, or want to see one of Liam Neeson's best (and probably least seen) performances, then KINSEY should do just fine.
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