No Such Thing As Normal
Catching Up With 20th Century Sex Ed
By Cole Smithey
Writer/director Bill Condon's candid look into the life of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey renews public discourse about how we view sexuality. Condon ("Gods And Monsters") retraces the steps of entomologist/biology professor Alfred Kinsey (perfectly played by Liam Neeson) as he leads a small group of researchers on an ambitious quest to catalogue the sexual interaction of thousands of American men for his scientific report "Sexual Behavior In The Human Male." Kinsey's realization that there is no such thing as "normal" in sexuality is supported in his own wandering sexual habits that threatened to ruin his marriage. Fine performances by Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, and Lynn Redgrave make this a must-see movie.
The idea that what people really do sexually is different from what they say they do was both a personal boon and a scarlet letter for the Indiana zoologist whose study of gall wasps led him to compare the sexual behavior of men (published in 1948) and of women (1953). Alfred Kinsey's honest and frank discoveries about men's sex habits in his book on sexual behavior provided food-for-thought for a post-war America anxious to celebrate sex. But by the time Kinsey published his study of women in 1953 the country was choked by the stranglehold of McCarthyism. Kinsey became a target for the witch-hunt that ended his career; he soon died from a heart attack in 1956. Knisey's statistic that two thirds of American women masturbate was considered culturally threatening information by the government at the time.
It's paradoxical to see in "Kinsey" that America's confined social mores and sexual ignorance have remained stagnant even since Kinsey blew the doors off the barn with his studies. As we watch Kinsey grow from being a repressed college professor to a husband with a hearty sexual appetite that extends to his research associate Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard), there is an undertone of honest curiosity and a belief in the power of information to liberate people. This message of freedom bound by honesty seamlessly develops as Kinsey confesses to his wife his affair with another man.
Laura Linney plays Kinsey's wife Clara McMillen with a measured confidence that lends an intimate basis to her husband's complex and manipulative nature. We learn more about Kinsey as a person from the elements that attract and offend Clara than from any of the research activities we see him engaged in. Clara's buoyant sense of humor and passionate lust offhandedly endorses Kinsey's dedication to his work just as her disturbance at his homosexual adultery shoots daggers into her heart. In one of the film's more comical scenes Clara keeps a jealous Kinsey pacing the floor while she fulfills her own sexual attraction with his lover Clyde.
Bill Condon presents controversial aspects of Kinsey's research methods that have been severely criticized by critics over the years. There's no blushing about Kinsey's filming of sexual activities, for which Kinsey's staff copulated with research volunteers, or about Kinsey's profound interest in even the most aberrant subjects. When Kinsey and his assistant Wardell Pomeroy (Chris O'Donnell) survey an admitted pedophile (brilliantly played by William Sadler) in the privacy of a hotel room, only Kinsey has the stomach to complete his list of questions.
"Kinsey" is itself a sex education movie that uses historical fact and personal stories to articulate things that statistics can't reveal, like the uniqueness of every individual's imagination. Alfred Kinsey is presented as a hero of scientific study who put his entire being into his work in order to provide answers about sexual behavior to a largely ignorant society. But "Kinsey" is also a humble drama about a group of "normal" people caught up in the excitement of living life to the fullest. Sex is an essential component.
Rated R. 118 mins (A) (Five Stars)