December 5, 2010

Queer Review: Kinsey

Alfred Kinsey became a legend when he published The Sexual Behavior of the Human Male in 1948. People were shocked, titillated, angered, outraged, and flabbergasted and it's publication made Kinsey a household name virtually overnight. However, that was nothing compared to what happened when he published The Sexual Behavior of the Human Female. People were even more shocked, titillated, angered, outraged, and flabbergasted by its' revelations. While The Sexual Behavior of the Human Male was a success for Kinsey, albeit an extremely controversial one, the publication of The Sexual Behavior of the Human Female nearly resulted in his professional ruin.

Kinsey was truly a pioneer. His work changed how people viewed our own species sexual practices. Homosexuality was considered a diseased sin by many, and whilst there are still those who do, their claims do not have the backing of credible research thanks to Kinsey. That is not to say that Kinsey's work was without legitimate criticism. For instance he relied heavily on prison populations and misrepresented testimonies that he had received from a pedophile.

Kinsey, the 2004 bio-pic of Alfred Kinsey's life, presents the details of his life story. It's competently made, but otherwise uninvolving. For a man who inspired scorn and hatred from religious conservatives and praise and adulation from liberals, Kinsey - as portrayed here - is boring. Perhaps that is the case in real life, but the movie version of Kinsey (played by Liam Neeson) is the stereotypical nerd, who develops an interest in researching human sexual behavior only after realizing how little science and academia know about the topic.

Speaking of Neeson, he does a decent enough job, but he's consistently overshadowed by the supporting cast. Laura Linney gives an entertaining performance as Kinsey's free thinking wife. John Lithgo is suitably fiery as Kinsey Sr, a fundamentalist protestant preacher who thinks that sex is only for procreation, anything else is perversion. Naturally this sets him up as the film's antagonist, to a point. Peter Sarsgaard is alluring as the assistant who first seduces Kinsey, then his wife.

Furthermore, many details are potentially tiltilating, but are otherwise underdeveloped. For instance, the partner swapping that goes on within the Kinsey Institute is presented in the film, but the consequences, with the exception of one scene, are left almost entirely to the imagination. There is also the fact that Kinsey and his associates made films of themselves having sex, but this material seems to also have been truncated. For instance, did any of the members of the project object? Was there any intrinsic value to creating what was essentially pornography in order to study sexual activity, when the main thrust of the Kinsey project was focused on interviewing human subjects?

At the end of the day, the film ultimately offers little insight into Kinseys life. The details that are used to form the structure of the film are well enough known for people who would like to know about him can just do the research. With that said, this would make for good viewing for a professor who wanted to introduce their class to Kinsey's life, but the production as a whole has little to recommend it.

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