Alfred Kinsey was a zoologist at the University of Indiana who, in the 1930's, began his career methodically studying gall wasps. He then moved into sex research on humans. And not the kind of sex research on humans included in most of the movies I see. The dull, interview-heavy kind.
Basically, Kinsey interviewed thousands of subjects about their sex lives, and was shocked (shocked!) to discover that most American males regularly masturbated, had extra-marital affairs and pre-marital sex, and even homosexual encounters.
According to the new Bill Condon film that bears his name, Kinsey viewed sex methodically, coldly, the way any scientist views the subject of his intense study. He loved his wife, but cheated on her repeatedly, with both men and women, including some of his younger male colleagues. He was also prone to sexual experimentation that might strike even open-minded, easy-going, non-Puritanical persons such as myself as extreme. Examples, you say? Well, how about puncturing his foreskin to see what it would feel like? That do anything for you?
Based on my description, you might think Kinsey
a strange movie, and you would be absolutely correct. It's strange, and difficult, and unfortunately not as interesting as it should be, considering how often people are openly discussing vaginas. Most of my problem with the film lies with Liam Neeson, who plays Kinsey as a sort of bizarre, perverted dork, utterly unable to connect to any of the people around him and yet obsessed with human sexuality.
Neeson already has a kind of large, lumbering, awkward presence in some films. It's why I thought he was all wrong to play a smooth, in-tune-with-nature Jedi (one of the rare instances when I was displeased to be proved correct), and why he was a natural choice for Condon when casting the film. But, he overplays the part. His Alfred Kinsey is so disconnected from reality that it's very difficult to follow him as a lead character. More examples? Okay, well, he encourages his male staff members to sleep with each other and one another's wives, and is later surprised (even dumbfounded) and disappointed when this causes tension in the office. I mean, he's a sex professor, you know? Imagine Dr. Ruth giving that kind of advice.
All of these sequences struck me as particularly odd, considering that the real Kinsey must have had quite a way with people. He managed to get grants for his sex research from the Rockefellar Foundation, built a community of aides and graduate students who traveled with him around the country conducting his research, and, of course, managed to get thousands of strangers to tell him they liked vibrating anal thumbs.
Yet, watching Neeson ramble endlessly about the minutae of his collected sexual histories (around the dinner table, no less!) it's hard to imagine anyone could tolerate this guy for extended periods of time. Provided, of course, they were not currently contestant's on MTV's hot new game show, "You've Got a Friend."
It doesn't help matters that Laura Linney, one of my favorite working actresses, plays Kinsey's wife, Clara. She's wonderful as always, providing Clara with an earthy kind of humanity that is the stark opposite of Neeson's calculated nerdiness. We're supposed to be touched by her devotion to this brilliant genius, but instead we're wondering how she tolerates living with such a creepy bore.
It's the same problem I had with the "courtship" scenes of Ron Howard's abysmal A Beautiful Mind
. We're supposed to be taken by Jennifer Connelly's ability to see through Russell Crowe's quirks to his inner beauty, but instead we just think there must be something seriously wrong with this girl, because this dude is a SPAZ. I can think of plenty of movies about weirdos or losers who earn the love and devotion of the pretty girl, but generally the losers earn the hottie through hard work, devotion, sweetness or some 80's-teen kind of magic.
Other than the forementioned issues with Neeson's performance, everything goes along alright for a while, but the movie kind of falls apart after a stronger initial hour. John Lithgow has a nice scene about an hour in as Kinsey's stern, sex-and-God-fearing father, who provides valuable insight to his son while giving an account of his own sexual history. After he exits, it's all downhill.
There's a pretty dreadful scene with Bill Sadler as a sick child-molesting sex-crazed maniac who provides Kinsey with a particularly vile narrative for his records. I think it's supposed to demonstrate the end result of Kinsey's methods: if he is to study the sexual behavior of all people without bias, his research must therefore include even those with the most aberrant behavior. And to study and report such behavior grants it some level of legitimacy, at least statistically. His otherwise permissive attitude towards what was considered outrageous by a prudish society, then, has to have limits.But, really, the scene plays as exploitation. It's gross and disturbing, and not in that good way, like, say, Barbed Wire Doll
s. In that uncomfortable way.
Then, there's some tear-jerking melodramatic nonsense with Lynn Redgrave. It's really embarrassing stuff that I won't reveal, because I've already told you way too much about this movie. But it's surprising coming from Condon, whose Gods and Monsters
was so restrained. That movie was tender and affectionate without being pedantic. If you're going to check out a Bill Condon movie, I recommend that one highly.