It’s 1938 and Professor Alfred Kinsey (Neeson) is introducing a new course to the curriculum at Indiana University. His marriage course, open only to faculty, postgrads and married undergraduates, provokes gasps of shock and excitement when he displays a slide enlargement of an erect penis entering a vagina, and proceeds to talk frankly about sex to studentw who have never heard of the clitoris. Within days he has become a sexual agony aunt to his students, and, through his own ignorance and inability to advise them, a pioneering sexual researcher.
Obtaining funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, Kinsey, with the support of his loving wife Clara ‘Mac’ McMillen (Linney) and the University President, Herman Wlls (Platt), sets out to apply scientific methodology to human sexual behaviour. Assisted by his research team, he develops an interviewing technique that allows subjects to break through their feelings of guilt and shame and freely recount their sexual history. His research is pure science – it must be free from judgement. There is no such thing as ‘normal’ behaviour. As Kinsey investigates the homosexual underworld, he begins an affair with researcher Clyde Martin (Sarsgaard) and, as his team of researchers grows, encourages them to experiment sexually both within and outside the group.
The publication of his report, ‘Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male’ made Kinsey a household name; the follow-up study into Human Females all but destroyed him. Americans were not ready to read that their grandmothers and daughters were masturbating and sleeping with each other. Doubts are cast on Kinsey’s methods, and with his funding withdrawn, under investigation by the McCarthy administration, his inner circle torn apart by sexual jealousy, and struggling with ill health, Kinsey tries to make sense of it all.
Alfred Kinsey has been credited – and blamed – for everything from the sexual revolution to gay rights. A controversial figure in his own time, his research continues to impact on American society as right-wing activists campaign to block funding for sex education programmes, seeing Kinsey’s research as representing all that is morally corrupt in modern society. The film is a beautifully performed portrait of a passionate yet deeply flawed, possibly obsessive, individual. Told as a series of flashbacks, the device of using Kinsey’s own interview technique tells a lot of story very economically: The young Kinsey, a sickly child, is reared by his bullying patriarchal father, a Methodist preacher. We see how Kinsey rebels against him and how his love of nature saves him and sets him free. Socially inept, the young entymologist is delighted when he meets Clara, the only girl on campus as interested in gall wasps as he is. Virgins on their wedding night, sex is at first disastrous, but their problems are solved by science, and the seeds of Kinsey’s life work are sown.
It’s his early problems with sex that make Kinsey sympathetic to his students’, and later America’s, sexual hang-ups. He genuinely wants to help, and instinctively turns to science to show the way. But though Kinsey is presented as well-meaning and kindly, the movie also shows how, like many passionate people, he lacks empathy, and ultimately comes down on the side of monogamy and loving relationships. When Kinsey reveals to Mac that he has had an affair with Martin, her reaction is the normal one of betrayal, tears, and jealousy, which Kinsey dismisses as culturally imposed, not biologically imperative. But the film seems to agree with Mac that cultural restrictions are there for a reason – to stop people getting hurt – and this is reinforced when we later witness the fallout in the inner circle caused by extra-marital affairs.
As Kinsey’s research turns inwards, and his theories are rejected by society, he becomes the classic mad scientist, and when he is filming himself taking part in orgies, and practicing self-mutilation, the pendulum seems to have swung too far. Yet the film also affirms his work, showing how he freed people from ignorance, fear and guilt about sex, though he may have failed to understand the part played by love.
DVD extras: Deleted Scenes (interesting for character development), Director’s Commentary (very good and informative), and Fox trailer reel.
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