Review: Kinsey (2004)





Bill Condon


Bill Condon


118 min.


Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, Dylan Baker

MPAA Rating

R (For pervasive sexual content, including some graphic images and descriptions)

Buy/Rent Movie




Sex. There’s no better way to begin a review of the motion picture Kinsey than that word.

Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) was controversial in his time. At a time when moral conservatism was high, zoologist Kinsey published a book called Sexual Behavior of the Human Male. It touched off a firestorm of controversy because of its frank discussion about sex and the method in which the information is obtained.

Kinsey spent the better part of his later life working on the book. He conducted thousands of interviews with men and women about their sexual habits. The new film Kinsey by Gods and Monsters creator Bill Condon explores the relationship Kinsey had with his father, his wife and his assistants. Clara McMillen (Laura Linney) who would later marry Kinsey was one of his students and their relationship was seemingly ideal. She loved science and he was obsessed with it. However, their life together was not perfect.

“Prok”, as his friends would call him, hired three assistants, all of whom he trained personally to ask his sexual history questions in a way to make the respondent most open to answer. His prize research assistant was Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard), a bisexual male who helped Kinsey and his wife explore their sexual desires, causing great turmoil in their household.

Condon has a way with historical figures with strange quirks that make the audience sympathize with them. His study of legendary gay film director James Whale in Gods and Monsters was astounding in the way that it captured a life so antithetical to the morals of the time. Likewise, Kinsey tells us of a man whose life work earned him ridicule and contempt from those who thought that the abstinence was the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases instead of teaching about sex and promoting safe sex.

Neeson gives a performance seemingly devoid of emotion but as we see the development of his relationship with his father Alfred Seguine Kinsey (John Lithgow), we understand that his emotional repression is in direct relation. Lithgow portrays the religious superiority of Kinsey’s father with zeal. We only learn through a later examination of Al Sr.’s sexual history why he was so strict. It’s hard to see how the apple fell so far from the tree but the relationship between these two men shows us why Prok, for so long, repressed his emotions.

Clara isn’t quite Kinsey’s intellectual equal but Linney performs her as smart and loving. Through Linney, we see Clara’s emotional side as a counter-balance to Kinsey’s lack of one. Her love for him slowly saps away but rebuilds at moments when necessary. Sarsgaard is brilliant as the film’s sexual catalyst who helps keep Clara and Kinsey together by acting as a surrogate sexually for each of them. It’s his capable performance that adds much needed tension and zest to the film.

Kinsey isn’t the story of a moral man. It is about what one person’s morality can affect a culture of repression. The film takes place in the early 20th century. But as Kinsey the man sparked an open debate on sexuality in his time, Kinsey the film can open a new discourse on the sexuality of our time. He showed that sex can act as a reagent to free the world of its moral insecurities in a time when repression is consuming the human spirit. With support, this film can work to triumph over moral censorship, support sexual freedom and end the tyranny of religious conservatism. Let’s hope help is on the way.

Review Written

December 31, 2004

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