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18 July 2005


Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard & Chris O'Donnell
Directed by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters)

From Hollywood Video: "Based on true events, this drama revolves around researcher Alfred Kinsey, who created a media sensation when he asked thousands of people about their most intimate sexual secrets and desires, and then compiled their responses in the now-famous Sexual Behavior in the Human Male."

Where do I begin? I defer to a quote from Sarsgaard's character Clyde Martin, a research assistant and lover to both Kinsey and his wife: "F*cking isn't just a thing. It's the whole thing." As a scientist, Kinsey was perhaps most frustrated by this unscientific emotional outburst, but that proved the crux of his obstacles and the root of his controversy. How do you examine human beings as just another mammal species when love, fidelity, morality, and society often play at odds with sexual impulse and the study thereof?

Kinsey's argument was simple: find the facts. If you want to know about the mating patterns of a species, you live among them and observe them, perhaps as Dian Fossey did in the 1970s with mountain gorillas. A scientist takes detailed notes, makes drawings, takes pictures, makes films, and presents the research as plainly and factually as possible. However, Kinsey's own attempts to apply these same techniques to the study of, say, homosexuality, the function of the female sex organs, child sexuality, and extra-marital sexual activity were met with outrage, scandal, academic ostracism, charges of pedophilia, and other challenges. As Linney says as Kinsey's wife, Clara, "You told them their grandmothers and daughters masturbate. What did you expect?"

The movie itself was a little slow, especially the montage of talking faces that symbolized the task of amassing the many thousands of sexual histories required for Kinsey's research. For such supposedly scintillating subject matter, the drama was slow, contemplative and dry. I liked Laura Linney's performance, her generosity and patience and warmth, but I generally enjoy her work and make no claims of objectivity. Neeson played Kinsey as a very fixated scientist, but also as a man who was incapable of responding to the emotional reactions his work produced. He had no patience for sentimentality or herd mentality, even from his own family and closest colleagues.

The movie was released to nearly as much controversy as the original 1948 Kinsey Report, and I can understand the discussion his work has produced through the years. The film portrayed sexual scenarios that I could not accept in my own personal life, even if I do not fall in with his detractors. As with the quote above, it isn't just about the mechanics, the friction of f*cking. We are much more complex, and those complexities cannot be removed from the science of our species. That said, I believe Kinsey would be upset these 50 years after his death to hear that our society is still stuck discussing such unscientific topics when so much of his research remains incomplete.

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