Anyone who remembers Alfred Kinsey no doubt remembers the controversy
that surrounded him. The obscure
professor at Indiana University, who had published a book on insects, became
fascinated with the study of human sexuality after realizing that books by
academics and religious leaders (remember The Ideal Marriage?) were
worthless. The country was awash in
myth. Where, he asked, was the
That the movie “Kinsey” is so good is a bit of a surprise.
Liam Neeson and Laura Linney do an affecting, extremely human job of
bringing the Kinseys to life. Their
performances have an authentic air that gives the film both credibility and a
strain of humor that derives from the buttoned down ‘50s.
They show the Kinseys as a gentle team that toughens under public
Son of an authoritarian father (John Lithgow, in a fine performance),
Kinsey himself had been a straight arrow boy scout who was drawn to anthropology
and pure science. With a BA from
Bowdin, a doctorate from Harvard, he settled into a kind of earnest academic
purity at Indiana University.
As the movie begins, Kinsey seems wrapped in a protective bubble as he
studies his insects. When
he meets Clara (Laura Linney), he emerges slowly with the charming awkwardness
of a loner discovering
something new. After giving his new
wife a wedding present of a gall wasp preserved in amber, he draws her into his
world of solitary pursuits - piano, camping, research. “You’ll like insects as much as I do,” he tells her.
The focus shifts after a grim wedding night of difficult sex.
Determined to explore for public benefit the myths and silence enveloping
the subject, Kinsey begins to teach a course on sex to faculty and students.
After developing a system of straightforward interviewing, he publishes
his findings in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, followed by its female
counterpart. “We know so
little about what people do, that we don’t know what’s normal,” and that
is the driving force behind his work. His
own questions draw new waves of questions that usually boil down to the big one: Am I normal? He
brings comfort to others who begin to understand that whatever they have done
has been done by others. In a world
where man plus woman equals baby, what are the social imperatives?
In the American ‘50s, people weren’t talking about it.
After Kinsey created the dialogue, his passion for his subject took on the taint of obsession. He was walking the delicate line where human emotions mix with biological behavior, and as he did so, his colleagues, often in their own discomfort, saw him less as a scientist and more as an oddball. The Rockefeller Foundation withdrew its support. The academics decided the delicate line had been crossed, and Kinsey’s crusade to let people know they weren’t alone was cast into the shadow of ridicule. But he had achieved his goal. He had broken down the wall of Puritan silence.
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