Kinsey (3/10)

by Tony Medley

You gotta hand it to writer-director Bill Condon. It takes something special to have such fine actors as Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, and John Lithgow, a subject matter that is purely sex, and photographs that anywhere else would be considered pornographic and turn them into something as boring as this.

With all that available to him, this is nothing more than a bunch of talking heads. Alfred Kinsey (Neeson), an expert on an insect called the gall wasp, marries a student, Clara McMillen (Linney) and embarks upon a monumental research project of the sex lives of American men that results in a nationwide bestselling book and makes him a national figure.

But the book that makes him famous doesn’t appear for the first 80 minutes of this 118-minute epic. Condon tells the wrong story, concentrating on the setup instead of the controversies that erupted following the book’s publication.

For instance, it doesn’t mention the criticisms aimed at his methodology, or the fact that many of his percentages have been proven wrong. He estimated that 10% of males were exclusively homosexual when subsequent research has reduced that number to closer to three percent. The slow tempo is exacerbated by the funereal music (Carter Burwell). If you think the script is bad, listen to the music. On second thought, don’t listen to the music.

I don’t know how accurate this portrayal is, but it subjugates love to sex. In fact it ends with a scene that’s supposed to be sympathetic to the cold, amoral Kinsey. He’s interviewing a woman who had a good, 23-year marriage to a man and had three children. But she went to work someplace and met a woman and decided she was a lesbian and it broke up her family. When Kinsey apologizes, she smiles and says that he “saved her life.” There’s no mention or concern about what it did to her husband and three children, just the selfishness of her pleasure.

Interspersed throughout are such traditional values-degrading scenes as Kinsey being seduced by one of his assistants, Clyde Martin (Sarsgaard). When Clara finds out about it, she’s devastated, but Kinsey talks “reason” to her and she subsequently embarks on a sexual relationship with Martin. So much for fidelity. However, Kinsey’s daughter has said she knew nothing of any homosexual activities or feelings of her father. She has also said he was so deeply in love with her mother. What I inferred from what she said was that she doesn’t believe it possible that her father could have encouraged her mother to have sexual relations with another man. If this is fiction, shame on Condon for slandering Clara Kinsey, not to mention Kinsey himself, who is not here to defend herself.

Near the end Martin does tell Kinsey, “F___ing isn’t just friction and orgasm. F___ing is the whole thing.” The implication being that you can’t separate sexual acts from love. If this film is accurate, it indicts the people investigating sexual mores as becoming libertines as a result of their involvement in their research, slaves to their sexual desires, their moral values destroyed.

This film is a terrible disappointment, foisting dubious facts on its audience. Although the acting is good, the script is deplorable and the directing dreadful.

November 13, 2004

The End