The Joy of Sex: Review for Kinsey

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“Let’s talk about sex.” If it weren’t for biologist Alfred Kinsey, we would know almost nothing about the subject of sex. That includes the dangers of venereal diseases, but it also includes the fact behind myths that had been circulating back in his day, in the early 1950s. Such as, masturbation led to blindness, oral sex caused infertility, and women did not masturbate. With Kinsey’s stunning, shocking, and groundbreaking report on male sexual behavior and female sexual behavior, he was able to debunk those myths.

Bill Condon, director of Dreamgirls and Academy Award winning screenwriter of Gods and Monsters, decided to take this story of a man who grew up in a strict Methodist household with an overbearing father and who was fascinated by bugs, and curious as to the myths that lay beneath the sheets, and out it to the screen. What comes out is probably, to some viewers, just as shocking, provocative, and perhaps almost as groundbreaking of a film.

Liam Neeson takes on the role of the curious Kinsey, and with Neeson’s unique and booming voice, he really inhabits the characters. It’s not as if this biopic is so much a dramatization of Kinsey’s work, but a documentation. He shows Kinsey’s intellectual interest with his voice, with its fine tonal qualities and fine enunciations of each word. He offers dramatic depth as well, showing Kinsey not to be some pervert or mad scientist, but someone who is dedicated to helping others and helping to progress science.

He gets married to one of his adult students, a woman whom he calls Mac (and she calls him “ProK”, for Professor Kinsey). Mac is delicately and sensitively played by the elegant Laura Linney. She seems to bring a melancholy and also joyousness to each of her roles and she does it in fine turn here. Very faithful to her husband, the two share, for a long time in their marriage a torrid romance. The two are in love as ever any people ever were.

The flaws within the film have nothing to do with the acting, but the way that the subject is handled. And I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about the way they handled Kinsey studying sex. It’s a bit unsettling watching vintage reels of people having sex, and similar to the press, the audience gets  a little lost in details. The filmmaker becomes infatuated with Kinsey’s failing experiment of his second book, Sexual Behavior in Human Females, which was a complete disaster.

The film itself is not a disaster. The cinematography is gripping, the score is dramatic, and the style with which the film is told is interesting: Kinsey training one of his partners how to interview people for their sex life questionnaire. We, the audience, are at first treated like the test subject, but it turns into Kinsey telling of his life and background. But, that framework is lost halfway through. It’s thrown away, actually.

The film is a sensitive and interesting look at both the man who wanted to know about sex and the reports with which he used to reveal it. Neeson’s potrayol of the dedicated scientist is moving and nuanced, perhaps the best performance in a biopic I’ve seen in a long time. Though, controversial and thought provoking as its source material, the film itself is a powerful look into science and repression.

Grade: B

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