Kinsey

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

          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 science?

          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 scrutiny. 

           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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