Reviewed by: Symon Parsons

"Condon has a wicked sense of humour and the cast make the most of a witty script with a number of laugh-out-loud lines."

Dr Alfred Kinsey's reports, published in the Fifties, caused controversy for studying sex in a purely scientific manner. It was Kinsey who concluded that masturbation, oral sex and homosexuality were common, natural practices. While the contraceptive pill and the women's movement might have provided the impetus to demolish the decaying mansion of Victorian values, it was Kinsey who supplied the scientific data that kicked in the door.

What drove him to shatter taboos and invite hatred for his conclusions? In the film, writer/director Bill Condon suggests that Kinsey was motivated by more than scientific curiosity. This sort of exploration is an area in which Condon excels. Gods And Monsters, his perceptive biopic of director James Whale, explored Whale's obsessions as expressed in his art. Here, he explores the inner life of Kinsey, as expressed through his unrelenting research.

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It is an intelligent and illuminating portrait of the man and Condon has assembled a great cast. Liam Neeson is excellent, portraying Kinsey as reasonable and well intentioned, even as he breaks his wife's heart. Other standouts are Peter Sarsgaard, as the student who introduces Kinsey to homosexuality, and John Lithgow who plays Alfred's priggish father, a man who believes that "rampant adultery causes earthquakes." Laura Linney, one of the most consistently interesting actresses around, plays Kinsey's wife, a virgin on their wedding night and, just like her husband, a sexual innocent.

It is through her and his equally clueless students, who believe that oral sex can result in pregnancy, that Kinsey realises sexual education is badly needed. His collected data shocks America and turns him into a celebrity and a pariah overnight. Unfortunately, his research is dangerously divorced from feelings, such as jealousy, insecurity and love. "Love can't be measured - and without measurement there can be no science," he declares.

It's this blindness to emotion that inevitably threatens his career and family. His coldly rational attitude to sex as a harmless pastime alienates his son and threatens to tear his research team apart. Worse, his work comes dangerously close to validating the practices of bestiality and paedophilia. So what drove Kinsey to these extremes? What turned him into a shortsighted crusader, not so different from his father?

Condon knows better than to provide simple answers and the audience will be left to draw its own conclusions. It is this quality that makes Kinsey an absorbing and challenging film, which also manages the neat trick of being entertaining as well. Condon has a wicked sense of humour and the cast make the most of a witty script with a number of laugh-out-loud lines. But there are flaws, too - important ideas are mentioned, then dropped. Kinsey's responsibility for the unfettered hedonism of his research team is never fully explored and his troubled relationship with his son is brought up, then skipped over.

Despite this, Kinsey is still a damn good film, but one that is unlikely to do well in the United States of Morality. Unfortunately, it has been released after elections fought on issues such as the invalidity of homosexual relationships and the replacement of sex education with abstinence classes. A campaign against the film has already been launched by the conservative right, who seeks to turn the clock back to the days of intolerance and ignorance.

For this reason and despite his flaws, Kinsey must be seen as a sympathetic figure. In the film's most touching scene, he manages to persuade his father to take part in his study - an encounter that leads to a heartbreaking realisation for both characters. In this moment, we understand that while Kinsey flirted with dangerous ideas he was ultimately an innocent, fighting the ignorance around him, yet hamstrung by the ignorance within himself.

A complex, confused and not always likeable man, this film does him a surprising amount of justice.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2005
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The life and ideas of a scientist who believed in sexual healing.
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Read more Kinsey reviews:

The Exile ****
Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Bill Condon

Writer: Bill Condon

Starring: Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, Chris O'Donnell, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, Dylan Baker, Julianne Nicholson, William Sadler, John McMartin

Year: 2004

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Germany


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